Milk thistle reduces chemotherapy-induced liver toxicity, study says

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According to research published online in the journal Cancer, the herb milk thistle may provide cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy with much-needed liver protection.

One of the many toxic effects of chemotherapy occurs in the liver; chemo drugs can cause liver inflammation, a serious enough side effect to force doctors to either lower chemotherapy doses or stop the treatment altogether, compromising the patient's cancer care.

Liver inflammation is measured by examining liver enzymes in blood levels, specifically the enzymes aspartate amino transferase (AST) and amino alanine transferase (ALT).

The new randomized, controlled, double blind study—carried out by Kara Kelly, MD and colleagues of the New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center’s Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center in New York City—examined children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). Results showed that the patients who received milk thistle showed substantially lower blood levels of both AST and, to a lesser extent, ALT.

Furthermore, milk thistle did not interfere with the anti-cancer mechanisms of the chemotherapy itself.

By Ross Bonander

Source: E Ladas et al. A randomized, controlled, double blind pilot study of milk thistle for the treatment of hepatotoxicity in childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). Cancer; Published Online: December 14, 2009 (DOI: 10.1002/cncr.24723).

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