Herb May Treat Chemotherapy Liver Damage
Study Shows Milk Thistle May Fight Inflammation of Liver
Dec. 14, 2009 -- Substances in the milk thistle plant may help treat
inflammation of the liver in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, a new
The herb, used for as long as 2,000 years to battle a variety of ailments,
may help protect against liver damage from chemotherapy, researchers say in
Cancer, the journal of the American Cancer Society.
Chemotherapy drugs can cause liver inflammation, and doctors often must
lower patients' doses or stop administering the therapies completely, the
Previous studies have looked into whether milk thistle could be used to
treat liver damage from hepatitis and cirrhosis, the researchers note.
Elena Ladas, MS, RD, of Columbia University Medical Center and colleagues
set out to test whether milk thistle could help treat people with chemotherapy
associated liver problems.
They conducted a study in children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL)
with liver toxicity related to chemotherapy. The researchers enrolled 50
children, and participants were randomly assigned to receive either milk
thistle or placebo for 28 days.
All children at the start of the study had evidence of liver inflammation as
measured by elevations in blood levels of the liver enzymes aspartate amino
transferase (AST) and amino alanine transferase (ALT).
The researchers measured liver enzymes on all the children at day 56, which
was 28 days after receiving either milk thistle herb or the placebo. Children
who had received milk thistle had improvements in their liver enzymes compared
with the children in the placebo group.
The youths who took milk thistle had significantly lower levels of AST and a
trend toward significant lower levels of ALT, the researchers say.
Milk thistle also seemed to help keep fewer patients from having to lower
the dose of their chemotherapy drugs.
Chemotherapy doses were reduced in 61% of those on milk thistle, compared to
72% in the placebo group. Milk thistle appeared to be safe for consumption, the
The researchers also studied the effects of milk thistle with chemotherapy
on leukemia cells in the laboratory and found that the herb does not interfere
with chemo's cancer-fighting properties.
"Milk thistle needs to be studied further to see how effective it is for a
longer course of treatment and whether it works well in reducing liver
inflammation in other types of cancers and with other types of chemotherapy,"
says co-researcher Kara Kelly, MD, of New York-Presbyterian Hospital.
The researchers write that scientists have begun to understand more about
the workings of milk thistle in the past two decades. It is available in the
U.S. as a dietary supplement but most often is used for its effects on the
"This is the first randomized, controlled clinical study to investigate the
feasibility and safety of the herbal plant milk thistle," the researchers
write, "in combination with the administration of chemotherapy in children
undergoing treatment for cancer."