Popular supplement silymarin, a derivative from milk thistle, has been proved an ineffective treatment for liver disease. Around one third of people in the US with hepatitis C, a virus which causes liver swelling, have tried the over-the-counter extract with no effect.
A new study by the University of North Carolina found the extract was no better than a drug-free placebo at easing signs of the disease, in a test involving people who hadn’t responded to traditional remedies.
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The study looked at 154 people with chronic hepatitis C, who hadn’t got any better taking standard prescription drugs peginterferon and ribavirin. These people were randomly assigned to take either silymarin or a placebo three times a day for almost six months. Those taking the silymarin were given two different dosages: 420 mg or 700 mg, both of which are higher than the dosage found in traditional supplements.
After 24 weeks of treatments only six people – two in each silymarin group and two in the placebo group saw their liver enzymes return to normal or significantly drop.
Dr Michael Fried, the lead researcher from the research group told Reuters:"Taking (silymarin) would be unlikely to have any benefit for them. Focusing on keeping a healthy lifestyle to try to minimize liver damage - that's probably more important than taking these supplements."
Despite these findings proving milk-thistle to be an unreliable oral supplement, a fellow researcher believes that silymarin could have positive effects if administered intravenously.
Fried said the focus for people who don't respond to traditional liver drugs should be on improving their lifestyle:
"Avoiding things like alcohol and maintaining your ideal body weight will go a long way toward maintaining liver health in people with hepatitis C.”