Early research published online in the journal Gut suggests that patients with chronic hepatitis C receiving the standard HCV treatment could significantly benefit by taking vitamin B12 supplements.

According to the researchers, adding vitamin B12 supplements to standard therapy may boost the body’s ability to fight the virus.

Results from the study showed that the effects were particularly strong in patients whose infection was difficult to treat effectively.

Around 60% to 80% of individuals with hepatitis C develop chronic hepatitis, and around one third develop cirrhosis and terminal liver disease. Standard treatment of interferon (peg IFN) and ribavarin fails to clear the virus in around 50% of individuals affected with the disease or the infection returns after treatment is stopped.

Genotype 1 is the most prevalent type of Hepatitis C genotype in the US and the most difficult to treat. Patients with genotypes 2 and 3 are nearly three times more likely than patients with genotype 1 to respond to therapy with alpha interferon or the combination of alpha interferon and ribavirin.

The liver is the body’s main storage center for vitamin B12, but this capacity is impaired by diseases, such as hepatitis C. As a result, the researchers set out to determine whether adding vitamin B12 supplements to standard treatment would make a difference.

The researchers enrolled 94 patients with HCV to participate in the study. The team then randomly assigned patients to receive either standard treatment or standard treatment in addition to vitamin B12 (5,000 ug) every four weeks for between 24-48 weeks.

After 4 weeks the researchers evaluated how effectively the body was able to clear the virus (rapid viral response). This evaluation was conduced again at 12 weeks (complete early viral response), at the end of treatment and then again at 24 weeks after stopping treatment (sustained viral response).

Although no difference was observed between the two groups at four weeks, the researchers found considerable differences in response at all other time points, particularly 24 weeks after stopping treatment.

In addition, they found that patients who carried the type 1 strain responded significantly better than patients who carried the type 2 or 3 strain.

Results from the study indicated that adding vitamin B12 supplements to standard therapy increased the rate of sustained viral response by 34%.

The researchers state that adding vitamin B12 to standard therapy is a safe and cheap alternative to new generation antiviral drugs, especially for patients who carry the type 1 strain.

The researchers note: “This strategy would be especially useful in those countries where, owing to limited economic means, the new generation antiviral therapies cannot be given in routine practice.”

Written by Grace Rattue