Q&A With Dan Lukaczer

Hepatitis C Treatment
Q: I've been reading about the prevalence of hepatitis C and wonder if there are any natural remedies to help control it.

A: Hepatitis C, transmitted through contact with blood, has emerged as a serious health problem in the United States. Currently, it is estimated that 4 million Americans have hepatitis C, and the mortality figures—now at 8,000 to 10,000—may triple in the next ten years, rivaling HIV. The disease has a latency period of 10 to 30 years and symptoms may not appear until a diagnosis of cirrhosis of the liver or liver cancer is made. Unfortunately, conventional therapy using drugs such as interferon and ribavirin have not been that successful.

Recently, an interesting report from New Mexico State University suggested that a combination of three antioxidants and liver-protective substances may be beneficial. The paper described three patients who were given daily doses of 400 mcg selenium, 600 mg lipoic acid and 900 mg standardized milk thistle (Silybum marianum) extract. All three patients showed significant improvement in symptoms and decreases in liver enzymes. While this needs further study, it does offer a safe therapy that may have some place in the long-term treatment of hepatitis C.

The Jury's Hung On Glandulars
Q: My cousin is taking something called a glandular to build up her immunity. What are glandulars, and what do they do?

A: Glandulars refer to prepared extracts of various animals' gland tissues, such as adrenal, pancreas, spleen, thymus and thyroid. They are believed to supply the raw material needed to enhance function of the corresponding gland in humans. For instance, extracts from the thymus gland, a key player in immune function, have been used to support the immune system in humans. Studies of thymus extracts show it induces maturation of T lymphocytes, a measure of immune function. Additionally, other studies show glandulars enhance function of mature T lymphocytes, which also improves B-cell and macrophage functions. Thyroid glandular from pigs, standardized to the thyroid hormones T3 and T4, are used as prescription medications in clinical medicine to treat thyroid disorders. Pancreatic supplements from various animals, generally pigs, have long been prescribed for people who have a deficiency in digestive enzymes, produced by the pancreas.

Few studies have actually investigated the ability of these extracts to enhance human glandular function. While the theory seems sound, I would urge caution. Glands are repositories for environmental toxins, and not wise to ingest. Plus, viral particles may be dormant in glandular tissue. My recommendation: Use glandulars only under the guidance of a practitioner who is well versed in this area.

Folic Acid Aids Prozac
Q: My physician suggested that I take a folic acid supplement along with the Prozac she prescribed for my chronic depression. Can you explain?

A: In a study in Great Britain, 127 patients with major depression received 20 mg a day of Prozac (fluoxetine) with or without 500 mcg folic acid in a randomized, placebo-controlled study for 10 weeks. The folic acid group experienced a statistically significant improvement in depression. Folic acid is a cofactor in the synthesis of neurotransmitters and probably works with fluoxetine to improve brain biochemistry. Interestingly, the researchers found that this improvement occurred only in women. The results were striking. Only 6.1 percent of the women in the folic acid group failed to respond (a greater than 50 percent symptom improvement), whereas 38.9 percent failed to respond when given fluoxetine alone.

The authors suggest that men were not given enough folic acid, supported by the fact that the marker for folic acid sufficiency—serum homocysteine—did not go down in men (indicating improvement in folic acid status), whereas in women it did.

According to a report by the U.S. Agency for Health Care Policy and Research in Rockville, Md., the response rate for depression has not changed significantly in the past 20 years—even with newer drugs such as fluoxetine. If this study holds true, significant improvements can be attained by adding folic acid. I would recommend taking folic acid as well as vitamin B12 so as to avoid the unlikely occurrence of folic acid masking a vitamin B12 deficiency.

Dan Lukaczer, ND is director of clinical services at the Functional Medicine Research Center, a division of HealthComm International Inc., in Gig Harbor, Wash.