True or False?

Is milk thistle good for the liver?

The seeds of the milk thistle plant have been promoted for centuries as a remedy for liver ailments. These days they are widely available as an herbal supplement.

Extracts of the plant, a member of the daisy family, are said to contain compounds that protect the liver against toxins with few, if any, side effects. But large studies have yet to provide clear proof of their benefits.

In an extensive report in The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews in 2007, researchers combined data from 18 randomized clinical trials of the effects of milk thistle on 1,088 patients with liver disease. They found that many of the studies were poorly designed or had methodological problems. But they ultimately concluded that milk thistle had “no significant effect” on mortality or complications from liver disease when compared with placebos and other interventions.

Since then, other studies have produced some interesting findings, including a small 2009 study led by Columbia University scientists which found that milk thistle reduced liver toxicity in children undergoing chemotherapy. The National Institutes of Health says it is financing research into the effects of milk thistle on hepatitis and other liver disorders. But in the meantime, the agency says, the results from most studies are mixed and inconclusive.

The verdict
Studies do not lend much support to milk thistle’s reputation as a liver protector.


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