While some studies found that liver-related mortality may be significantly reduced in patients treated with milk thistle, these findings were not duplicated in the higher quality clinical trials.
However, milk thistle was found safe to us with no serious side effects and with participants perceiving improvement in symptoms -- although no more than with placebo.
Dr. Andrea Rambaldi, visiting researcher at the of the Centre for Clinical Intervention Research at Copenhagen University Hospital, led a team that reviewed 13 randomized clinical trials involving 915 patients who were treated with milk thistle or its extracts.
Participants had acute or chronic alcoholic liver cirrhosis, liver fibrosis, hepatitis and/or steatosis, and viral-induced liver disease (hepatitis B and/or hepatitis C). Patients with rarer specific forms of liver disease were excluded.
All the trials compared the efficacy of milk thistle or any milk thistle constituent versus placebo or no intervention in patients with liver disease. "There is no evidence supporting or refuting milk thistle for alcoholic and/or hepatitis B or C virus liver diseases," the authors found.
The review appears in the most recent issue of The Cochrane Library, a publication of The Cochrane Collaboration, an international organization that evaluates medical research. Systematic reviews draw evidence-based conclusions about medical practice after considering both the content and quality of existing medical trials on a topic.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 170 million people worldwide are infected with hepatitis C, and 2 billion are infected with hepatitis B.