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The Herbal Remedy Getting Attention

Learn more about an herbal remedy that is garnering the attention of the western medical community as a natural alternative in preventing the progression of liver disease.

The universal goal uniting the different manifestations of liver disease is preventing its progression. One of the unique characteristics of the liver is that it can function even when parts of it are removed, and can regenerate those portions until its original weight is achieved. Whether managing hepatitis or a fatty liver, the primary therapeutic aim is to prevent the disease from progressing to cirrhosis or liver cancer. Excessive consumption of alcohol, hepatitis or other hepatic diseases can permanently destroy liver cells by reducing hepatic circulation or through fostering abnormal cell growth. The herbal formula, Sho-saiko-to has repeatedly demonstrated substantial ability to prevent the progression of liver disease.


Cirrhosis occurs when liver cells are damaged beyond the point of repair and are replaced with scar tissue. The fibrous tissue characteristic of cirrhosis renders the liver incapable of performing its many critical duties. As this scar tissue accumulates, blood flow within the liver diminishes, causing even more cell death. The loss of liver function that accompanies this degenerative condition results in gastrointestinal disturbances, jaundice, enlargement of the liver and spleen, emaciation and accumulation of fluid in the abdomen and other tissues.

Treatment of cirrhosis typically consists of eliminating the underlying cause to avoid further damage, if possible, and preventing or treating complications. Care is mostly supportive, often including a specialized diet, diuretics (water pills), vitamins and abstinence from alcohol. Although a liver transplant may be a treatment option, this procedure does not eliminate the original cause of cirrhosis, and the condition may resurface in the new liver.

Liver Cancer

Liver cancer is the fifth most common cancer in the world. Approximately 14 percent of people with cirrhosis develop liver cancer. If a virus or other hepatic dysfunction alters the genetic material of a liver cell, the development of liver cancer can ensue. The most common type of primary liver cancer is called hepatocellular carcinoma. There are a wide range of treatments currently in development to battle hepatocellular carcinoma. (See the previously posted article for more information on western medicine’s liver cancer treatments.)


Sho-saiko-to is the Japanese standardization of a centuries old Chinese herbal formula. Prescribed to over 1.5 million people with liver disease, doctors in Japan rely on Sho-saiko-to more than interferon therapy for treating hepatitis C.
According to Japanese research, Sho-saiko-to may be useful in delaying or preventing the onset of liver cancer in some people with cirrhosis of the liver. Researchers studied the viability of Sho-saiko-to as a useful cancer chemoprevention agent in those with cirrhosis of the liver. Consisting of seven different ingredients, this formula is an herbal combination shown in animal studies to have anti-fibrotic and anti-cancer activity.

Japanese Study: Two hundred sixty patients with cirrhosis were assigned to receive either A) Sho-saiko-to plus the conventional drugs usually given; or B) only the conventional drugs usually given. The patients were then monitored for 60 months. The results showed that fewer persons in Group A developed hepatocellular carcinoma compared with those in Group B. After 5 years, 75% of patients receiving the Sho-saiko-to were alive compared with 61% receiving only the conventional medicines. In addition, this discrepancy in survival rate was more pronounced in individuals who had both cirrhosis and hepatitis B.

These findings suggest that using Sho-saiko-to may help prevent or slow down the development of hepatocellular cancer in persons with cirrhosis. It may be that this herbal product slows or prevents the progression of fibrosis, thus also preventing its progression into cancer.

There is evidence that Sho-saiko-to benefits patients by helping to improve their liver function and slow down the progress of liver damage. In fact, the research data supporting Sho-saiko-to was so strong, that two clinical trials are currently underway to further document its value:

Doctors at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York are conducting a clinical phase II trial of Sho-saiko-to as an FDA-approved Investigative New Drug. This study is entitled “Sho-saiko-to for Patients with Chronic Hepatitis C Who are Intolerant to or have Contraindications to Interferon-Based Therapy: A Phase II Study”. There are 31 patients involved in the 52-week trial, where they receive sho-saiko-to granules at 7.5 grams per day.

Sho-saiko-to is also being tested in another trial taking place at the San Diego California Medical Center as an FDA-approved Investigative New Drug. This trial is aimed at establishing the safety and tolerability of Sho-saiko-to in patients with liver cirrhosis resulting from HCV infection. In this study, 40 patients will be broken into groups of 20, where half will receive Sho-saiko-to and the other half will receive placebo. All patients will be regularly evaluated throughout the 1-year test period.

Preliminary results of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering study strongly suggest that Sho-saiko-to contains anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and anti-fibrotic effects. In addition to lowering liver enzyme levels, liver biopsy scores are improving with participants taking Sho-saiko-to.

Physicians treating liver disease would be serving their client’s well by investigating and consider recommending Sho-saiko-to. Growing evidence supports the conclusion that when these seven herbal ingredients are combined in a standardized formula, the consequences of liver disease are diminished., Initial Results Reported in Clinical Study of Honso Sho-saiko-to -H09- for Hepatitis C; Data Presented at the First Annual Society of Integrative Oncology Conference New York, Business Wire, November 28, 2004., Hepatocellular Carcinoma, MedicineNet Inc., 2006., Herbal Product, Sho-Saiko-To, May Reduce Risk for Liver Cancer in Persons with Cirrhosis,, 2006.

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About the Author

Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., MTCM, Dipl. Ac. (NCCAOM)®

Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., MTCM is a long time advocate of integrating perspectives on health. With a Bachelor's degree in Neuroscience from the University of Rochester and a Master's degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine from Five Branches Institute, Nicole has been a licensed acupuncturist since 2000. She has gathered acupuncture licenses in the states of California and New York, is a certified specialist with the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association, has earned diplomat status with the National Commission of Chinese and Oriental Medicine in Acupuncture and Chinese Herbology and is a member of the Society for Integrative Oncology. In addition to her acupuncture practice that focuses on stress and pain relief, digestion, immunity and oncology, Nicole contributes to the integration of healthcare by writing articles for professional massage therapists and people living with liver disease.

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