Milk Thistle and Chemo: Questions Continue

The medicinal herb milk thistle may reduce the liver inflammation often caused by chemotherapy, researchers say.

A recent study, reported in the December 14 online edition of the journal Cancer, examined how the herb affected liver inflammation over a 28 day period in 50 children undergoing chemotherapy for acute lymphoblastic leukemia, HealthDay News reports.

Compared to a placebo group, the patients who received milk thistle had significantly lower levels of the enzymes AST and ALT, indicating a reduced impact on the liver, according Dr Kara Kelly, the study's lead researcher from Columbia University Medical Center's Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center.

"If these results are confirmed, milk thistle may allow us to treat liver inflammation or prevent it from occurring, which will allow better delivery of chemotherapy drugs," she told the news source.

Aside from reducing a harmful side effect of the cancer treatment, the herb seemed to help the study's participants tolerate higher doses of chemotherapy as well. 61 percent of the children who received milk thistle needed dose reductions, compared to 72 percent of the control group.

However, the National Cancer Institute has an informational page on milk thistle that is cautious at best, saying “there are no published clinical trials of milk thistle in patients with cancer. Two published case reports describe the use of milk thistle as either a treatment or an adjunctive therapy in individuals with cancer.”

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