Hepatitis C Treatment: Can Probiotics Help in the Battle with Hep C?

Probiotics are one of the latest nutritional trends – but can these friendly bacteria offer the body immune support in its battle with Hepatitis C?

Health science has established that the intestinal tracts is the real home of the immune system as well as barometer for good health. Under the best of conditions, the large and small intestines are populated with beneficial bacteria that help keep digestion and immune function in top form. The word “probiotic” refers to a multitude of strains of lactobacillus bacteria, and the probiotics you purchase as a dietary supplement usually contain multiple strains of lactobacillus.

Growing evidence supports the theory that those with Hepatitis C may benefit from probiotic supplementation for natural immune support.

The Role of Immune Function and Hepatitis C

Scientists believe that between 50 and 70 percent of the body’s immune cells reside in the intestinal lining. According to the Hepatitis Central web site, beneficial bacteria in the intestines play several important roles, as they:

  • improve the function of the entire intestinal tract
  • protect the body against pathogenic bacteria by blocking their entrance
  • help produce necessary vitamins and hormones
  • maintain the chemical balance of the intestinal tract
  • stimulate the immunologic function of the spleen
  • compete with harmful bacteria for nutrients, which curtails the growth of harmful bacteria

Good Bacteria on the Run

Often our intestinal tracts become hostile environments for friendly bacteria. There are many reasons for an intestinal imbalance, including:

  • Antibiotics, which kill bad bacteria but can also harm healthy intestinal bacteria.
  • Chlorine in drinking water kills healthy bacteria.
  • Diets that include heavy doses of sugar and refined carbohydrates set up an environment for unfriendly bacteria such as candida. These hostile bacteria can overwhelm colonies of healthy bacteria, creating a “hostile environment” in the gut which may then lead to other health problems including “leaky gut syndrome.”

Research bears out the fact of immune support with probiotics for those with viral infection and liver damage. A few studies are listed below.

  • As published in the May 2009 edition of the Journal of Nutrition, Italian researchers found that administrating probiotics could limit oxidative and inflammatory liver damage in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Those with Hepatitis C may or may not have a concurrent diagnosis of fatty liver disease; however, these results demonstrate that probiotics exert a liver protective effect. Such an effect would definitely benefit those with chronic Hepatitis C.
  • As published in the July 2005 edition of the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, researchers evaluated the effect probiotics therapy had on the liver for those with various types of chronic liver disease. Results of the study suggest that manipulation of intestinal flora should be taken into consideration as a possible adjunctive therapy in some types of chronic liver diseases – particularly individuals with cirrhosis.

The above studies are cited in an article, “Could Probiotics help People with Hepatitis C?” by Nicole Cutler, L.Ac.

Additionally, as published in the December 2008 edition of the Journal Alcohol, Russian researchers, working with a group of alcoholics with proven alcohol-induced liver injury (cirrhosis) found that the subjects had very low levels of healthy bacteria in their intestinal tracts. Probiotic therapy was introduced and patients with alcohol-induced liver injury had improved bowel flora (more healthy bacteria) compared to healthy controls. They also had improved liver function during the probiotic therapy. Short-term oral supplementation with probiotics was associated with restoration of the bowel flora and greater improvement in alcohol-induced liver injury than standard therapy alone.

Hep C and Liver Cirrhosis

Hepatitis C can lead to liver cirrhosis. According to Wikipedia.org, “Cirrhosis is a consequence of chronic liver disease characterized by replacement of liver tissue by fibrosis, scar tissue and regenerative nodules (lumps that occur as a result of a process in which damaged tissue is regenerated) leading to loss of liver function. Cirrhosis is most commonly caused by alcoholism, hepatitis B and C, and fatty liver disease, but has many other possible causes.”

Hepatitis C patients with liver cirrhosis may find help from probiotics. Those with cirrhosis of the liver are often found to have an imbalance of intestinal bacteria flora. In addition, probiotics reduce bacterial endotoxins that further challenge the liver. For these reasons, experts believe that those who have cirrhosis – where the liver is permanently scarred and hardened – can especially benefit from probiotics.

The scientific evidence suggests that probiotics may be beneficial in protecting and supporting the liver, and may also improve immune response offer additional immune support. There has not been a double-blind, large-scale clinical trial evaluating the effect of probiotics specifically for chronic Hepatitis C. The healthcare community is waiting for in-depth research on how the gut flora balance obstructs or assists those with chronic Hepatitis C. In the meantime, there are plenty of reasons for those with Hepatitis C to consider supplementing with beneficial intestinal bacteria


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Cited Sources

http://www.drhoffman.com/page.cfm/622, Hepatitis, Leyla Muedin, MS, RD, CDN, Retrieved October 10, 2010, Dr. Ronald Hoffman, 2010.
http://www.healthyhepper.com/probiotics.htm, Probiotics for Hepatitis C, Retrieved October 10, 2010, Healthyhepper.com, 2010.
http://www.livestrong.com/article/79842-antiviral-foods/, Antiviral Foods, Retrieved October 10, 2010, Demand Media Inc., 2010.
http://www.newswithviews.com/Howenstine/james28.htm, Superb Probiotic Substitute from Russia, James Howestine, MD, Retrieved October 10, 2010, newswithviews.com, 2010.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed, Beneficial effects of a probiotic VSL#3 on parameters of liver dysfunction in chronic liver diseases, Loguercio C, et al, Retrieved October 10, 2010,
Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, July 2005.
Probiotics restore bowel flora and improve liver enzymes in human alcohol-induced liver injury: a pilot study by: I. Kirpich, N. Solovieva, S. Leikhter, N. Shidakova, O. Lebedeva, P. Sidorov, T. Bazhukova, A. Soloviev, S. Barve, C. Mcclain Alcohol, Vol. 42, No. 8. (December 2008), pp. 675-682, doi:10.1016/j.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed, Probiotics reduce the inflammatory response induced by a high-fat diet in the liver of young rats, Esposito E, et al, Retrieved October 10, 2010, Journal of Nutrition, May 2009.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed, Probiotics restore bowel flora and improve liver enzymes in human alcohol-induced liver injury: a pilot study, Kirpich IA, et al, Retrieved October 10, 2010, Alcohol, December 2008.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed, Probiotics reduce the inflammatory response induced by a high-fat diet in the liver of young rats, Esposito E, et al, Retrieved October 10, 2010, Journal of Nutrition, May 2009.
http://www.wellness.com/reference/allergies/hepatitis-b/prevention-and-treatment, Hepatitis B, Retrieved October 10, 2010, Wellness.com, 2010.
http://www.wjgnet.com/1007-9327/16/403.pdf, Probiotics and gut health: A special focus on liver diseases, Silvia Wilson Gratz, et al, Retrieved October 10, 2010, World Journal of Gastroenterology, January 2010.

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