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Complementary Medicine

Does Milk Thistle Reduce Liver Damage From Alcohol?

07/16/2004

Question:

I read an article by Dr. Andrew Weil and he said that people who drink alcohol regularly should take milk thistle. Do you agree with this and if so what dosage would you recommend? He said that the milk thistle helped to protect the liver from toxins. Thank you so much for your time.

Answer:

Milk Thistle has been shown in many studies to be protective against liver damage from a variety of toxins.  It has been shown to prevent cirrhosis in baboons fed high doses of alcohol over a three year period.  People who drink regularly may not need milk thistle, depending on how much they are drinking.  One or two alcoholic beverages per day have been shown to be safe, and may even prevent certain diseases.  I would consider milk thistle for patients who drink > three drinks per day and who refuse to stop drinking.

The reported dose of milk thistle for active alcoholic hepatitis is 240mg twice daily.  There is no current recommended dosage for prevention of cirrhosis.

Caution is advised for patients taking contraceptives as milk thistle has been shown to decrease the effectiveness of these medications.  Patients taking benzodiazepines (Valium, etc.), ketoconizole, statins, and warfarin should be advised that milk thistle may increase the levels of these medications, increasing the possibility of side effects.

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Response by:

Tanya I Edwards, MD, MEd Tanya I Edwards, MD, MEd
Formerly, Associate Professor of Medicine
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University