Background: Hepatitis B virus infection is a serious health problem worldwide. Traditional Chinese medicinal herbs have been widely used to treat chronic liver diseases, and many controlled trials have been done to investigate their efficacy.
Objectives: To assess the efficacy and safety of traditional Chinese medicinal herbs for chronic hepatitis B infection.
Search strategy: Searches were applied to the following electronic databases: the CHBG Trials Register, the Cochrane Complementary Medicine Field Trials Register, the Cochrane Library, MEDLINE, EMBASE and BIOSIS. Five Chinese journals and conference proceedings were handsearched. No language restriction was used.
Selection criteria: Randomised or quasi-randomised trials with at least three months follow-up. Trials of Chinese medicinal herbs (single or compound) compared with placebo, no intervention, general non-specific treatment or interferon treatment were included. Trials of Chinese medicinal herbs plus interferon versus interferon alone were also included. Trials could be double-blind, single-blind or not blinded.
Data collection and analysis: Data were extracted independently by two reviewers. The methodological quality of trials was evaluated using the Jadad-scale plus allocation concealment. Intention-to-treat analyses were performed.
Main results: Nine randomised trials, including 936 patients, met the inclusion criteria. Methodological quality was considered adequate in only one trial. There was a significant funnel plot asymmetry (regression coefficient=3.37, standard error 1.40, P=0.047). Ten different medicinal herbs were tested in the nine trials. Compared to non-specific treatment or placebo, Fuzheng Jiedu Tang (compound of herbs) showed significantly positive effects on clearance of serum HBsAg, HBeAg, and HBV DNA; Polyporus umbellatus polysaccharide on serum HBeAg and HBV DNA; Phyllanthus amarus on serum HBeAg. Phyllanthus compound and kurorinone showed no significant effect on clearance of serum HBeAg and HBV DNA and on alanine aminotransferase normalisation compared to interferon treatment. There were no significant effects of the other examined herbs.
Reviewer's conclusions: Some Chinese medicinal herbs may work in chronic hepatitis B. However, the evidence is too weak to recommend any single herb. Rigorously designed, randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials are required.