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Hepatitis C and Dietary Supplements


What’s the Bottom Line?

What do we know about the effectiveness of dietary supplements for hepatitis C?

  • No dietary supplement has been shown to be effective for hepatitis C.
  • Several studies of silymarin (milk thistle) dietary supplements in people with hepatitis C did not find beneficial effects.

What do we know about the safety of dietary supplements for hepatitis C?

  • Colloidal silver, which has been claimed to be helpful for hepatitis C, is not safe; it can cause irreversible side effects.
  • In studies of silymarin (milk thistle) supplements for hepatitis C, side effects were uncommon and usually mild.
  • Data on the safety of other supplements is limited. However, some can have side effects or may interact in harmful ways with medications.

About Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by a virus. It’s usually chronic (long-lasting), but most people don’t have any symptoms until the virus causes liver damage, which can take 10 or more years to happen. Without medical treatment, chronic hepatitis C can eventually cause liver cancer or liver failure. Hepatitis C is usually treated with a combination of medicines.

Hepatitis C virus is contagious. People usually get the virus through contact with blood from a person who’s already infected or, less commonly, through having sex with an infected person. The infection usually becomes chronic.

An estimated 2.7 to 3.9 million people in the United States have chronic hepatitis C.

To learn more about hepatitis C, visit the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) Web site.

About Dietary Supplements for Hepatitis C

Several dietary supplements have been studied for hepatitis C, and many people with hepatitis C have tried dietary supplements. The most commonly used supplement for hepatitis C is silymarin (an extract from milk thistle).

What the Science Says About Dietary Supplements for Hepatitis C

NCCIH-Funded Research

NCCIH-supported research on hepatitis C includes projects studying:

  • Potential drugs for treating hepatitis C derived from rare and endangered plants
  • The interactions of silymarin with liver cells.

More To Consider

  • Don’t use any complementary health approach to replace conventional treatment for hepatitis C or as a reason to postpone seeing your health care provider about any medical problem.
  • Be aware that dietary supplements may have side effects or interact with conventional medical treatments. To learn more, see the NCCIH fact sheet Using Dietary Supplements Wisely and the interactive slideshow Know the Science: How Medications and Supplements Can Interact.
  • If you’re pregnant or nursing a child, or if you’re considering giving a child a dietary supplement, it’s especially important to consult your (or the child’s) health care provider. Many supplements have not been tested in pregnant women, nursing mothers, or children.
  • Tell all your health care providers about any complementary or integrative health approaches you use. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your health. This will help ensure coordinated and safe care.

For More Information

NCCIH Clearinghouse

The NCCIH Clearinghouse provides information on NCCIH and complementary and integrative health approaches, including publications and searches of Federal databases of scientific and medical literature. The Clearinghouse does not provide medical advice, treatment recommendations, or referrals to practitioners.

Toll-free in the U.S.: 1-888-644-6226

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A service of the National Library of Medicine, PubMed® contains publication information and (in most cases) brief summaries of articles from scientific and medical journals. For guidance from NCCIH on using PubMed, see How To Find Information About Complementary Health Approaches on PubMed.

Hepatitis C and Dietary Supplements—Systematic Reviews/Reviews/Meta-analyses


National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse

A service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, the clearinghouse responds to inquiries and offers publications.

Hepatitis C

Toll-free in the U.S.: 1-800-891-5389


NIH Clinical Research Trials and You

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has created a website, NIH Clinical Research Trials and You, to help people learn about clinical trials, why they matter, and how to participate. The site includes questions and answers about clinical trials, guidance on how to find clinical trials through and other resources, and stories about the personal experiences of clinical trial participants. Clinical trials are necessary to find better ways to prevent, diagnose, and treat diseases.


Key References


NCCIH thanks D. Craig Hopp, Ph.D., and David Shurtleff, Ph.D., NCCIH, for their contributions to the 2018 update of this publication.

This publication is not copyrighted and is in the public domain. Duplication is encouraged.

NCCIH has provided this material for your information. It is not intended to substitute for the medical expertise and advice of your health care provider(s). We encourage you to discuss any decisions about treatment or care with your health care provider. The mention of any product, service, or therapy is not an endorsement by NCCIH.

Last Updated: May 2018