Ethnopharmacological relevance: Hepatitis C is a major public health problem internationally. Many patients cannot benefit from the current treatment regimen (interferon/ribavirin combinations) due to its side effects or ineffectiveness. Xiao-Chai-Hu-Tang or Sho-sai-ko-to (SST), a compound of seven botanical extracts used for liver diseases traditionally in East Asia, was shown to reduce transaminases and the incidence of hepatocellular carcinoma in hepatitis B patients. We conducted a phase II trial of SST in hepatitis C patients who were not candidates for interferon-based therapy to determine whether this agent is worthy of further study.
Materials and methods: Twenty four chronic hepatitis C patients received SST at 2.5 g per os (p.o.) three times daily (t.i.d.) for 12 months. Liver function, hepatitis C virus (HCV) viral load and liver biopsy histology were assessed before and after the intervention.
Results: Improvement of aspartate aminotransferase (AST) was observed in 16 (67%) of study participants. Improvement of alanine aminotransferase (ALT) was seen in 18 (75%) patients. Viral load response was mixed, with 7 patients showing reductions, 10 increases and 7 indeterminate due to assay limitations. Among the 9 (38%) subjects who showed improvement per Knodell's histology activity index (HAI) scores in paired comparison of pre- and post-treatment liver biopsy (the primary endpoints of the study), 5 (21%) showed an improvement of 2 points or greater, meeting the pre-defined criteria for "response.
Conclusions: Sho-sai-ko-to (SST or Xiao Chai Hu Tang) may improve liver pathology in selected hepatitis C patients who are not candidates for interferon based treatment. Larger, controlled studies of this botanical formulation may be warranted.
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