Milk thistle and probiotics improve liver health

Milk thistle improved hepatitis symptoms, low folate levels in the blood is linked to liver cancer in those with hepatitis B infection and probiotics improved liver function in liver disease, three studies reveal.

In a hepatitis study, about 100 participants with acute clinical hepatitis and inflamed liver took 140 mg of milk thistle (silymarin) three times per day or a placebo for four weeks. Doctors measured hepatitis symptoms and liver function during and four weeks after the end of the study. Compared to placebo, symptoms such as dark urine, and yellowing skin and whites of the eyes, subsided faster in the milk thistle group. Doctors concluded that, even though it was a small study, a standard dose of silymarin is safe and may improve symptoms of acute clinical hepatitis.

In another hepatitis study, researchers measured blood levels of folate in over 400 participants who had tested positive for hepatitis B infection, increasing their chances of liver cancer. Over the next five years, 20 participants got liver cancer. Compared to those whose blood levels of folate were the lowest, those with higher folate levels were 67 percent less likely to have liver cancer. Folic acid has been shown to raise folate levels in the blood.

In a liver damage study, doctors gave about 70 severely alcoholic men the probiotics Bifidobacterium bifidum and Lactobacillus plantarum or standard vitamin supplements as a placebo, while the men abstained from alcohol. Researchers also compared participants to a group of 24 healthy, non-drinking men of similar age and found the alcoholic men had higher levels of the liver enzymes that signal alcohol-induced liver damage. After five days, compared to placebo, the probiotics group had lower levels of liver-damage enzymes, and had restored healthy levels of probiotics in the gut. 

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