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Cancer Health Center

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Milk Thistle (PDQ®): Complementary and alternative medicine - Health Professional Information [NCI] - History

Milk thistle has been used for more than 2,000 years, primarily as a treatment for liver dysfunction. The oldest reported use of milk thistle was by Dioscorides, who recommended the herb as a treatment for serpent bites.[1] Pliny the Elder (A.D. 23-79) reported that the juice of the plant mixed with honey is indicated for "carrying off bile."[1,2] In the Middle Ages, milk thistle was revered as an antidote for liver toxins.[1,2] The British herbalist Culpepper reported it to be effective for relieving obstructions of the liver.[1,2] In 1898, eclectic physicians Felter and Lloyd stated the herb was good for congestion of the liver, spleen, and kidney.[1,2] Native Americans use milk thistle to treat boils and other skin diseases. Homeopathic practitioners used preparations from the seeds to treat jaundice, gallstones, peritonitis, hemorrhage, bronchitis, and varicose veins.[2] The German Commission E recommends milk thistle use for dyspeptic complaints, toxin-induced liver damage, hepatic cirrhosis, and as a supportive therapy for chronic inflammatory liver conditions.[3]


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Approximately 1.6 million new cases of cancer are expected to be diagnosed in the United States in 2014.[1] Many patients diagnosed with cancer will eventually require support from a family caregiver. In fact, family caregivers form the foundation of the health care system in the United States, supporting advances in treatment such as multimodality treatment protocols given in outpatient and home settings.[2] Definition: Who Is the Caregiver? Also referred to as informal caregivers, family...

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  1. Flora K, Hahn M, Rosen H, et al.: Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) for the therapy of liver disease. Am J Gastroenterol 93 (2): 139-43, 1998.
  2. Foster S: Milk Thistle: Silybum marianum. Rev. ed. Austin, Tex: American Botanical Council, 1999.
  3. Blumenthal M, Busse WR, et al., eds.: The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Austin, Tex: American Botanical Council, 1998.

    This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http:// cancer .gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.

    WebMD Public Information from the National Cancer Institute

    Last Updated: May 28, 2015
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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