Hepatitis C, or HCV, is a common viral infection of the liver that affects up to four million people in the United States and over twenty million worldwide. Despite the fact that the hepatitis C virus can be present without symptoms, the consequences of this silent disease can be grave, giving rise to irreversible liver damage and even liver failure. In many people, the hepatitis C virus becomes chronic – further increasing the risk of serious liver problems. Although there are anti-viral drugs available for treatment of HCV, they aren’t effective for all people. For these treatment non-responders, there could be good news on the horizon. A study shows a new treatment for HCV may be effective at stopping the proliferation of the virus. Best of all, it’s natural.
Hepatitis C is a disease that can be present in the bloodstream without causing symptoms for periods of up to twenty years. Despite its silence, the virus may be replicating and causing unseen liver damage. Researchers at the University of Miyazaki in Japan wanted to explore new, natural treatment options for stopping the HCV virus from replicating and damaging the liver. After screening more than three-hundred agricultural plants, they found that leaves from the rabbit-eye blueberry plant seem to stop replication of the hepatitis c virus and might serve as a new treatment for HCV.
Rabbit-eye blueberries are a popular plant grown in the south. Why might they be effective for treatment of HCV? Researchers are unsure of the exact mechanism, but they were able to isolate a group of natural polyphenols known as proanthocyanidins from the leaves of the plant. It’s these proanthocyanidins that appear to hold the key to stopping HCV replication. Their goal now is to determine why rabbit-eye blueberry leaves stop the multiplication of the hepatitis C virus and how it could be put to clinical use.
Although this new treatment for HCV isn’t ready for primetime yet, researchers believe it’s safe. Proanthocyanidins are found in a variety of plant based foods including pine bark, apples, cocoa, cranberries, and grape skins, among others. Proanthocyanidins have long been thought to have health properties and are believed to be the ingredients in red wine that accounts for the lower risk of heart disease among wine drinkers. They seem to exert their effects, at least in part, through their strong antioxidant capabilities. Their antioxidant power is fifty times more powerful than that of vitamin E, another strong antioxidant.
Could proanthocyanidins from rabbit-eye blueberry leaves be a new treatment for hepatitis C in the near future? Japanese researchers hope so.
J. Med. Food 6(4): 291-9