Silymarin is a component of the herb milk thistle (Silybum marianum). Silymarin is 70% of standardized milk thistle and most of silymarin is a flavonolignan called silibin. (Silibin is also known as silibinin.) Milk thistle is used to treat viral hepatitis, yet it is uncertain whether it is beneficial. This article is a review of previous studies of silymarin use in chronic hepatitis B and C.
Milk thistle tea has a low dose of silymarin, which is poorly absorbed in water. A product of milk thistle or silymarin attached chemically to phosphatidylcholine is well absorbed. A dose of 100-200 mg. silymarin two or three times a day is used in liver disease. Milk thistle is believed to be beneficial in hepatitis A, alcoholic cirrhosis and chemically damaged livers.
Silymarin is a strong antioxidant that increases superoxide dismutase (S.O.D.) enzyme in red blood cells and lymphocytes, and it prevents glutathione depletion in liver cells. Silymarin seems to inhibit both skin and prostate cancers. Milk thistle is considered safe in general but side effects include diarrhea and stomach discomfort.
Silymarin therapy in chronic hepatitis B and C resulted in lower serum transaminase levels. Silymarin did not lower the viral load, nor did it improve liver structure under the microscope. None of the studies included silymarin in conjunction with usual hepatitis therapies, such as interferon or ribavirin.
CONCLUSION: Silymarin treatment of chronic hepatitis B and C resulted in blood tests showing reduced liver damage. No change in viral load or liver histology was seen. Future studies of silymarin in conjunction with usual medical hepatitis therapy are suggested.
NOTE: Serum transaminase is elevated when there has been liver damage. The viral load is a count of the number of virus particles per volume of blood. Histology is the microscopic study of cells.
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