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Keywords:

  • chronic hepatitis B;
  • chronic hepatitis C;
  • chronic viral hepatitis;
  • milk thistle;
  • Silybum marianum

Summary.  Silymarin from the milk thistle herb (Silybum marianum) is used by many patients with chronic viral hepatitis, but its efficacy remains unknown. We performed a systematic review of silymarin for the treatment of chronic viral hepatitis B and C. An exhaustive search strategy identified 148 papers that studied silymarin compounds in liver disease. Of these, four trials included patients with hepatitis C, one included hepatitis B patients, and two, unspecified chronic viral hepatitis. However, only one trial exclusively studied patients with hepatitis C, and none involved patients with only hepatitis B. Silymarin treatment resulted in a decrease in serum transaminases compared with baseline in four studies, and compared with placebo in only one study. There is no evidence that silymarin affects viral load or improves liver histology in hepatitis B or C. No studies were found that investigated the use of silymarin concomitantly with interferon, nucleoside analogues, or other conventional treatments for hepatitis B or C. In conclusion, silymarin compounds likely decrease serum transaminases in patients with chronic viral hepatitis, but do not appear to affect viral load or liver histology. Nevertheless it may be worthwhile to determine its effects in conjunction with standard antiviral treatment.