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There are some people who take milk thistle to offset or repair the liver damage caused by chronic alcoholism.

Example here

Milk thistle and silymarin are commonly used in the United States and Europe to treat liver disease caused by chronic alcoholism.

How It Works

The silymarin in milk thistle contains a group of flavonoids, which includes silibinin, silidianin and silicristin. These compounds are believed to repair liver cells that have been damaged by chronic exposure to alcohol. The silymarin may also protect new liver cells from damage caused by the toxins in alcohol. The anti-inflammatory properties of milk thistle can also reduce liver inflammation caused by alcohol abuse, referred to as alcoholic hepatitis.

But also

Many studies show evidence that milk thistle may improve the liver function and increase survival rate in those with cirrhosis caused by alcoholism. MayoClinic.com notes that most of these studies are poorly designed and more research is necessary before definitive statements about the use of milk thistle for cirrhosis treatment can be made.

Do we have any definite evidence/studies either way yet about the effects of milk thistle on the progression of alcohol induced liver disease?

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if you trust the Mayo clinic, you've already answered your own question. Or do you mistrust them, and claim that there is evidence out there that Mayo doesn't want to disclose? –  jwenting Dec 5 '11 at 6:36
@jwenting That is a false dichotomy: maybe the OP isn't familiar with Mayo clinic. Or maybe the article is outdated. Or maybe... –  Sklivvz Dec 5 '11 at 8:07
that's why I ask if he trusts them or not :) –  jwenting Dec 5 '11 at 12:05
I don't trust a random website saying "studies exist but MayoClinic.com says they are poor" without citing such studies or even saying why a third party said they are poor. I was also wondering if the "more research is needed" part was outdated since I first heard this claim in the 80's, that's 30 years of time for more research. –  Sam I Am Dec 5 '11 at 23:22

1 Answer 1

up vote 8 down vote accepted

The scientific evidence for benefits of milk thistle for liver damage is non-existent or poor.

Where the evidence seem contradictory from multiple studies, a good way of resolving it is with a meta-study. Fortunately, the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (a fantastic resource!) has a meta-study on the topic.

Rambaldi A, Jacobs BP, Gluud C. Milk thistle for alcoholic and/or hepatitis B or C virus liver diseases. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2007, Issue 4. Art. No.: CD003620. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD003620.pub3

Aside: The dates of this study are confusing: It was published on-line in 2009 from a 2007 Journal. Assessed as still up to date on January 14, 2005. It was originally based on literature search in December 2003. It is hard to see if this is actually up-to-date research. I did a very perfunctory search for newer articles, and didn't see anything that looked relevant.

They looked at research on liver damage from both alcohol and hepatotoxic viruses (such as Hepatitis B & C).

Generally, they found a lot of the trials were of poor quality:

The methodological quality was low: only 23% of the trials reported adequate allocation concealment and only 46% were considered adequately double-blinded

They found no significant effect on mortality, complications of liver disease nor liver histology.

They did find that :

Liver-related mortality was significantly reduced by milk thistle in all trials (RR 0.50, 95% CI 0.29 to 0.88), but not in high-quality trials (RR 0.57, 95% CI 0.28 to 1.19).

They concluded more high-quality research is needed:

Our results question the beneficial effects of milk thistle for patients with alcoholic and/or hepatitis B or C virus liver diseases and highlight the lack of high-quality evidence to support this intervention. Adequately conducted and reported randomised clinical trials on milk thistle versus placebo are needed.

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+1 for this answer. I particularly like the emphasis on the need for more high-quality research. –  Randolf Richardson Dec 6 '11 at 6:22

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