Milk thistle is used in the treatment of alcoholic, viral, nonalcoholic and toxic liver cirrhosis.
Studies have shown that its hepatoprotective properties occur through many ways.
It increases the activity of superoxide dismutase and glutathione peroxidase which leads to enhanced clearance of free radicals.
It is considered to be a very powerful antioxidant but has not affect on the p-450 enzymes and therefore does not affect the action of other drugs.
It has an additive effect with other treatments of liver disease increases the reduction of elevated AST, ALT, and bilirubin.
Milk thistle has demonstrated improvement of the depressed immunoactivity of patients with chronic alcoholic liver disease by increasing lymphocyte proliferation, normalizing the low T cell to CD8+ percentage, and reducing the antibody dependent and cytotoxicity of lymphocytes against hepatocytes.
Its membrane stabilization and antioxidant properties also help liver cell regeneration and decrease the inflammatory reaction thereby inhibiting the fibrogenesis in the liver.
Milk thistle has been shown to increase the survival rate of patients with cirrhosis.
A pilot study has uncovered a possible role of milk thistle in the treatment of patients with primary sclerosing cholangitis.
A study conducted on patients with viral hepatitis showed an accelerated rate of regression of disease.