What is Hepatitis C?
The Hepatitis C Virus infects the liver and it can spread to other body tissues such as the thyroid gland. Once inside the thyroid gland, it multiplies and may cause Hashimoto’s disease. Hepatitis C has also been found to trigger arthritis, diabetes, autoimmunity to the liver, Sjogren’s syndrome, and autoimmunity to the kidney. Chronic infection of the liver causes liver cirrhosis and even liver cancer.
What are the symptoms of Hepatitis C?
This can be the tricky part because some people don’t have any symptoms. The virus could be silent for many years before you get symptoms. You could have Hepatitis C along with Hashimoto’s disease and not know it. The main symptoms include:
Yellowing of your skin and eyes (jaundice)
Loss of appetite
Swollen blood vessels that look like a web
Fluid in your abdomen
Swelling in your legs
Bruising and bleeding easily
How do you get Hepatitis C and how is it tested?
This virus is transmitted by sexual intercourse, blood transfusion, or sharing drug needles with someone who is infected. Antibody tests to Hepatitis C are readily available through most commercial labs such as Labcorp.
One of the things I will see on blood testing is elevated liver enzymes including AST and ALT in Hepatitis C infection. I’ll also look at a CBC (complete blood count) which usually reveals elevated lymphocytes indicating viral infection. Inflammatory markers such as c-reactive protein and erythrocyte sedimentation rate may also be elevated. The ANA (anti-nuclear antibody test) has been shown to be positive in up to 33% of cases.
How does Hepatitis C trigger Hashimoto’s disease?
At the time of this writing, the exact cause is unknown but there are a few different theories. These include triggering the immune system to attack thyroid cells when the Hepatitis C virus is actively infecting the thyroid gland. The immune system may be tricked into attacking thyroid cells instead of the virus.
We do know that the Hepatitis C Virus can leave the liver via the bloodstream and infect the thyroid gland. It can remain there in a chronic state resulting in autoimmunity and inflammation in the thyroid gland.
How is Hepatitis C treated?
Interferon is the standard treatment but using interferon can actually trigger Hashimoto’s disease. It is recommended that patients with Hepatitis C be tested for thyroid antibodies prior to interferon treatment. Elevations in thyroid antibodies prior to interferon treatment are a big risk factor for developing Hashimoto’s disease.
There are a number of natural agents that may work well for the Hepatitis C Virus. These include:
St. John’s Wort
Another important factor is to focus on improving glutathione levels in the liver with the following:
Glutathione itself can be taken as a supplement in the liposomal or reduced form, but make sure it is a quality brand with good absorption.
The other important factor is to help with “liver congestion” due to all the inflammation and damage the Hepatitis C virus does to the liver. These compounds can help:
In addition to fighting the Hepatitis C virus and supporting the liver, we must also use our normal protocols for viral infections inside the thyroid gland in patients who have Hashimoto’s disease as well. The focus is reducing inflammation inside the thyroid gland, reducing viral activity, and balancing the immune system. These protocols are unique to each patient so I won’t get into them here. Your functional medicine practitioner will identify the best treatment approaches for your Hashimoto’s disease as well as the Hepatitis C virus.
This can result in improvement in thyroid antibody levels and thyroid function. If you have had Hepatitis C virus then I would definitely recommend getting tested for Hashimoto’s disease. Or if you have Hashimoto’s disease and potentially have some of the risk factors for Hepatitis C, then you may want to get a hepatitis panel blood test to rule this out.