Recent research, funded in part by NCCAM and published in the journal Gastroenterology,
has shown that an extract of the milk thistle plant may help treat hepatitis C virus infection. Hepatitis C, a liver disease caused by a virus, is usually chronic (long-lasting), with symptoms ranging from mild (or even none) to severe.
Researchers from the University of Washington School of Medicine, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Harvard Medical School, and the University of North Carolina used cells from healthy volunteers and
those with chronic hepatitis C infection to test the effects of silymarin, an extract of milk thistle. Specifically, they tested peripheral blood nuclear cells and T cells—immune cells that multiply and increase inflammation. Results of the study showed that silymarin was able to inhibit the production and secretion of proteins called cytokines—tumor necrosis factor?alpha, interferon?gamma, and
interleukin?2—that trigger inflammation and respond to infections. Other extracts of milk thistle—silybin A, silybin B, and a combination of the two called silibinin—similarly inhibited cytokine production and cell production.
These findings suggest that silymarin could potentially control the inflammation that is characteristic of chronic liver disease in humans. Researchers indicated that these findings, combined with knowledge from previous studies, could lead to clinical benefits for patients with hepatitis C virus infection, but more studies are needed.