A general tonic and restorative to the liver, used for fatty liver, particularly in alcohol addiction; adjunctively for chronic hepatitis; adjunctively for the post-acute stages of acute hepatitis; adjunctively for cirrhosis of the liver; and as a protectant of the liver for use during hepatotoxic drug regimes
Milk thistle has been a favourite herb of Western herbalists and physicians for liver conditions since at least the mid 16th-century. English herbalist John Gerard, for example, called it "the best remedy that grows against all melancholy [liver] diseases." A century later, Culpeper extolled its use for removing obstructions in the liver, while in the mid-18th century, Von Haller wrote about his use of the herb for liver complaints. Nineteenth-century German physician Johannes Rademacher was perhaps most influential in bringing this medicine into popular use.
German herbalist and physician Rudolf Fritz Weiss, MD describes some of the current indications for milk thistle: "In cases of chronic hepatitis of all types, there is an improvement in the general condition within the first two weeks of treatment, particularly where gastrointestinal symptoms are concerned, there being a reduction of meteorism and relief of the tension or pressure felt in the right epigastrium. At the same time, there was a remarkable improvement in appetite, and in almost all cases a feeling of well-being and improved physical performance. Apart from chronic hepatitis and the post-acute stages of acute hepatitis, the drug is also particularly suitable for the treatment of fatty liver, particularly in alcoholics, and good results have been reported even with cirrhosis of the liver. In most cases, the bilirubin level rapidly returned to normal, an effect that persisted, and serum tolerance and transaminase activities became normal. These tests are known to provide effective monitoring of progress in hepatitis."
Medical herbalist Chanchal Cabrera adds that, "When toxicity states occur such as in chronic (even low grade) alcohol abuse, drug use (recreational or pharmaceutical), coffee habituation, intake of chemically raised meats and vegetables, poor quality water or any other situation of liver overload, milk thistle is chosen for its ability to tonify the liver and aid in regeneration".
A World Health Organization monograph confirms the following as uses supported by clinical data: "supportive treatment of acute or chronic hepatitis and cirrhosis induced by alcohol, drugs or toxins".
Several studies have shown that milk thistle helps protect the liver, kidneys and pancreas from the damaging effects of chemotherapy regimens for cancer.