Many people may wonder, "Does milk thistle work?" Some studies have suggested that milk thistle may help with various liver diseases, such as cirrhosis and hepatitis. Other preliminary research has indicated that milk thistle may also help to lower blood sugar levels, hemoglobin A1c, cholesterol, and triglycerides. However, more research is necessary to prove milk thistle's effectiveness for any use.
Does Milk Thistle Really Work?
Milk thistle is a flowering plant often used as an herbal supplement. You may have heard claims that milk thistle works wonders for a variety of different medical problems, especially liver diseases. But are these claims really true? This article will address some of the questions you may have about the effectiveness of using milk thistle for various uses.
Does Milk Thistle Work for Liver Diseases?
Milk thistle has been studied quite a bit for various liver diseases, such as cirrhosis, hepatitis, and several others. However, these studies were generally small and poorly designed. Most studies looked at liver function tests (blood tests that estimate liver function), but they did not look at other, more important outcomes (such as survival rates or worsening of symptoms). It is not clear if milk thistle really provides any true benefit for the treatment or prevention of liver diseases.
Does It Work for Diabetes?
One study suggested that adding milk thistle to standard diabetes treatment may help to lower blood sugar levels, hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c, a measure of long-term blood sugar control), LDLcholesterol ("bad" cholesterol), and triglycerides. However, more research is necessary to confirm these findings.
Does It Work for Other Uses?
It is not clear if milk thistle is effective for most other uses. One combination product that contains milk thistle and several other active ingredients has been shown to be effective for heartburn or indigestion, but it is not clear which ingredient(s) actually contribute to these effects.
For other milk thistle uses, no reliable studies have been done (or research is in very preliminary stages).
Written by/reviewed by: Kristi Monson, PharmD;Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last reviewed by: KristiMonson, PharmD;
List of references (click here):
Jellin JM, editor. Pharmacist's Letter/Prescriber's Letter Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database Web site. Available at: http://naturaldatabase.com/. Accessed August 11, 2008.
Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Milk thistle: effects on liver disease and cirrhosis and clinical adverse effects. Summary, evidence report/technology assessment: Number 21 (September 2000). AHRQ Web site. Available at: http://www.ahrq.gov/clinic/epcsums/milktsum.htm. Accessed August 11, 2008.
National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine. National Institutes of Health. Herbs at a glance: milk thistle (March 2008). NCCAM Web site. Available at: http://nccam.nih.gov/health/milkthistle/. Accessed August 11, 2008.
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