Hepatitis C and Acupuncture

By Christina Morris, L.Ac.

Hepatitis C is a liver disease that is caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). Hepatitis C is only one of several forms of hepatitis. This form of hepatitis is transferred through the blood of an infected person. Hepatitis C affects more than 4 million Americans, and symptoms include fever, headache, nausea, muscle aches, and loss of appetite, as well as light colored stools, abdominal distension, and often a yellowing of the skin and white part of the eyes. Some people have no symptoms. Symptoms usually occur 2 weeks to 3 months after exposure. A blood test specific to the hepatitis C virus is the only way to confirm the disease. The virus can be detected in the blood 1 to 3 weeks after exposure. It is estimated that 80% develop chronic hepatitis C. A person may be contagious one to two weeks before the onset of symptoms and throughout the course of the disease. Chronic carriers may remain contagious indefinitely. Long term effects of hepatitis C may include chronic infection and liver disease.

Herbal therapies and acupuncture have become popular methods of treatment for hepatitis C. Western drug therapies such as interferon and ribavirin are currently being used in the treatment of hepatitis C. These drugs, however, can have many unwanted side effects. Acupuncture and herbs can also be used in conjunction with western drug therapies to lessen the side effects of the medications.

Currently, many studies are being conducted around the world, utilizing acupuncture and herbs in the treatment of hepatitis C. Acupuncture and herbs work to treat the root condition of the disease while also treating the liver. In the treatment of hepatitis C, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) usually focuses on the organ systems of the liver, gallbladder, and spleen.

According to TCM, the liver is responsible for storing the blood and ensuring the smooth movement of energy (qi) throughout the body. If the energy of the liver is not in balance, the blood does not nourish the body properly and a person may experience fatigue or lower levels of energy. The liver’s function of storing blood also has an effect on menstruation. If this function is inadequate then a woman may experience irregular and painful periods.

The liver’s function also ensures the smooth movement of energy (qi). If the liver energy (qi) is not smooth or stagnant it can have a large impact on the emotional state of an individual, creating emotions such as anger, frustration and irritability as well as depression. Other symptoms associated with liver-qi stagnation may include side pain, tightness in the chest, a lump sensation in the throat, as well as abdominal swelling or tightness. For women other common signs include painful breasts and PMS.

Traditional Chinese medicine understands the liver and the gallbladder to be paired organs. The gallbladder is dependant on the liver for proper functioning. The gallbladder stores the bile from the liver and excretes it during digestion. An energetic imbalance of the liver can create improper bile storage and excretion, leading to digestive disorders, including nausea and belching. The HCV can disrupt the energy of the liver, gallbladder and spleen creating the various symptoms associated with hepatitis C.

Traditional Chinese medicine establishes a treatment plan according to a person’s medical history, current symptoms, tongue and pulse diagnosis. Acupuncture and herbal treatments can vary from person to person. If choosing to incorporate eastern and western therapies for hepatitis C it is best to consult your healthcare providers.