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Milk Thistle and Hepatitis C

Some people with hepatitis C take milk thistle as a supplement because of its potential benefits to the liver. However, some studies showed a possible a benefit, while other studies did not. If you are currently taking milk thistle for hepatitis C, or are considering it, let your healthcare provider know.

What Is Milk Thistle?

Milk thistle (scientific name Silybum marianum) is a plant from the aster family. Other plants in this same family include:
  • Ragweed
  • Chrysanthemum
  • Marigold
  • Daisy.
Milk thistle contains a substance called silymarin, found in the fruit, which is believed to be responsible for any medicinal properties. It has been used in Europe as a treatment for liver disease and jaundice since the sixteenth century. As an herbal medicine, milk thistle comes in both tablet and capsule forms.

Is Milk Thistle Effective for Hepatitis C?

Studies in laboratory animals suggest that milk thistle may have various benefits to the liver, such as:
  • Promoting the growth of certain types of liver cells
  • Having a protective effect on liver cells
  • Fighting a chemical process called oxidation that can damage cells
  • Inhibiting inflammation.
However, thus far, scientific studies have found no clear-cut evidence that milk thistle helps in treating hepatitis C. Some studies showed a possible a benefit, while other studies did not. Currently, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine is sponsoring a clinical trial to look at the possible benefits of milk thistle in people with hepatitis C. Until these study results are published, the actual, definitive benefits are unclear.

What Are the Possible Risks of Treating Hepatitis C With Milk Thistle?

For people with hepatitis C, milk thistle is generally considered safe to use and has shown few side effects in clinical trials. However, the supplement can have a laxative effect and cause:
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Fullness, bloating, or pain in the abdomen (stomach).
It also can produce allergic reactions, which tend to be more common among people who are allergic to plants in the same family (e.g., ragweed, chrysanthemum, marigold, and daisy).
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