The researchers randomly assigned 50 children undergoing chemotherapy for acute lymphoblastic leukemia which caused liver inflammation a milk thistle treatment or a placebo.
After 56 days of oral treatment with milk thistle in capsule form, patients who received the treatment showed significantly lower levels of aspartate aminotransferase (AST) and trends toward lower alanine aminotransferase (ALT) and bilirubin compared with those who received the placebo.
Endure higher doses
Also, milk thistle treatment seemed to help patients to endure higher doses of chemotherapy. Sixty-one percent of the children receiving milk thistle needed dose reductions compared with 72 percent of the children receiving placebo. But the difference was not significant, noted the researchers.
Their report concluded that the study: "…provides preliminary evidence that milk thistle may be a safe, effective, supportive-care agent."
In a statement issued by the American Cancer Society, lead researcher Dr Kara Kelly, New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center's Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center, commented: "Milk thistle needs to be studied further, to see how effective it is for a longer course of treatment, and whether it works well in reducing liver inflammation in other types of cancers and with other types of chemotherapy. However, our results are promising as there are no substitute medications for treating liver toxicity."
Chemotherapy drugs often cause liver inflammation requiring lower than optimal doses or a temporary suspension of treatment until the inflammation subsides which can compromise its effectiveness.
Further research is needed to determine the appropriate dose and duration of milk thistle therapy and its ability to prevent chemotherapy induced liver inflammation, according to the researchers.
Milk thistles are flowering plants of the daisy family (Asteraceae). Native to the Mediterranean Europe, the seeds of milk thistle have been used for 2000 years to treat chronic liver disease and protect the liver against toxins.
The name milk thistle derives from the plants’ mottled leaves which contain a milky sap.
Extracts are available from drugstores, herbal medicine shops and internet vendors.
The study was funded by the American Institute for Cancer Research, the Tamarind Foundation and the National Cancer Institute.
Drugs used in the study were donated by Thorn Research, which produces the milk thistle extract.
Primary source: Cancer American Cancer Society journal
Title: A randomized, controlled, double-blind, pilot study of milk thistle for the treatment of hepatotoxicity in childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL)
Authors: Ladas E, et al.