High percentage of Hepatitis C patients take herbs and vitamins, according to Rush survey

December 06, 1999

A survey conducted by Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center found that 87 percent of Hepatitis C patients are currently taking vitamins, herbal preparations or both.

"Use of alternative therapies is increasing in the United States and many patients with chronic liver disease may use herbal and over the counter medications believing that these are harmless and potentially beneficial," said Dr. Donald Jensen, director of the section of hepatology, Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center.

However, there is little information on the safety and almost none on the efficacy of these medications with an existing health population, and less still in a patient population with chronic Hepatitis C, he added.

Hepatitis C is a virus that people contract through blood transfusions or sexual contact. There are approximately 3.9 million Americans with Hepatitis C and 36,000 new cases are diagnosed each year. Patients are treated with antiviral therapy, which has been found to be effective in 10 to 40 percent of patients.

Jensen and other Rush hepatologists noticed patients were taking these therapies and were concerned about the medication's effect on their health and on the clinical trials

Rush is conducting. "It is not known what effect, if any, these therapies have on the data that comes from clinical trials," he said. "This is the first step toward understanding the role alternative therapies play in Hepatitis C treatment." The patients surveyed were undergoing treatment with antiviral therapy for their condition.

In response, Rush asked 60 patients between April and June 1999 about their use of alternative therapies. Half of those patients indicated they take vitamins or minerals, with 55 percent reporting regular use of folic acid, 52 percent taking multivitamins, 28 percent using vitamin E, 23 percent taking vitamin C and 20 percent on calcium.

Forty percent of those questioned said they take herbal preparations, with milk thistle (25 percent) and St. John's Wort (8 percent) leading the way. Milk thistle has been touted by some as a liver-protecting herb, because it contains an ingredient called silymarin. Many people take St. John's Wort to relieve depression, which is a common side effect of the Hepatitis C medication interferon.

"We think this study will lead to future prospective studies to further characterize the safety and efficacy of vitamin and herbal use in Hepatitis C treatments," Jensen said.

The Rush survey found that Hepatitis C patients took the following:
Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center includes the 809-bed Presbyterian-St. Luke's Hospital; 154-bed Johnston R. Bowman Health Center for the Elderly; Rush University (Rush Medical College, College of Nursing, College of Health Sciences and Graduate College); and seven Rush Institutes providing diagnosis, treatment and research into leading health problems. The medical center is the tertiary hub of the Rush System for Health, a comprehensive healthcare system capable of serving about three million people through its outpatient facilities and eight member hospitals.

Rush University Medical Center

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