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What You Need to Know Before Adding Natural Remedies to Your Hep C Treatment Plan

Using supplements (vitamins, minerals, and herbs) is pretty common in the United States. And, while some may be needed medically, often supplements are used outside the direction of a medical provider.1

In my experience as a nurse, many people I’ve worked with started using supplements for two reasons: They’d had a health scare (ex: diagnosed with a new health condition) or they feared using a medication and its side effects. But, here are some things to consider before using supplements for hep C:

Natural doesn't mean safe

There are many natural things that would cause us harm if we ate them - for example, poisonous plants or mushrooms. One of the overarching concerns with supplements is that they are not regulated like medications. This means companies do not have to prove supplements work well or that they are safe before hitting the shelfs. Medications have to go through larger, longer trials showing these things. Because supplements do not have to go through this type of testing, they cannot claim to cure or treat certain health conditions (those that do, do so illegally).2

Ingredients are not guaranteed

Supplements have been recalled for having more or less product than they claim, not having the ingredient the label shows, or having ingredients that are dangerous to your health.2

Supplement research may be flawed

In general, supplement research has flaws, which can make it hard to determine who would benefit, or be at risk, from using supplements and how much of the supplement should be used. Four examples are a) small sample size (meaning a small number of people being studied), b) young, healthy people being studied (instead of those with chronic diseases), c) using different formulations (the way the supplement is made) and “doses,” and d) short timelines for studying effects (weeks to months).3,4

Liver damage can happen

A 2017 article by Consumer Reports highlighted the rise of supplement-linked liver damage.5 A 2017 review estimated 20% (or 1 in 5) drug-related liver damage was caused by herbs and supplements.6

Tips for staying safe

Here are three tips and resources to help you if you’re planning to use supplements with hep C or chronic liver disease:

  1. Talk with your medical provider and pharmacist about the supplements you’re using to make sure there are not concerns for your liver health or interactions with medications you’re taking. In my opinion, supplements should be considered a type of medication, because you can have side effects and they can interact with your other medications.
  2. Use supplements with the USP seal. USP is a voluntary program companies can use to verify “quality, purity, potency, performance, and consistency” of their supplements.7
  3. Be smart about supplement use by learning more about them from reliable resources, such as the National Institutes of Health webpage.

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