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January 27, 2010 | 2 minute read

Milk Thistle May Help Children in Cancer Treatment

Milk thistle is an herbal supplement that has a long history of use for liver problems, including disorders that come from anti-cancer drugs. (The active compound appears to be in the seeds, a flavonoid called silymarin.) For children with the most common type of leukemia, acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), chemotherapy treatments are frequently interrupted to prevent serious liver injury.

The flowerhead of milk thistle.

The flowerhead of milk thistle.

For these children, milk thistle may help, a new study suggests.

The study was published in this month’s journal Cancer; you can read the abstract here.

Funded by AICR, the pilot study started with 50 children with ALL who were in the maintenance phase of their chemotherapy treatment. For 28 days, half of the children consumed a capsule of milk thistle and the other half consumed a placebo capsule. Neither the children nor researchers knew who was taking what. Researchers measured the children’s liver toxins at the start of the study, day 28, and day 56.

When comparing the groups of children, the researchers found that milk thistle did not appear to interfere with chemotherapy. For example, there were no differences in side effects or infections between the two groups. But the children who consumed milk thistle did experience significantly fewer signs of liver damage.

This evidence is only preliminary, note the authors, and more studies are needed.

For cancer patients undergoing treatment, look here for AICR’s nutrition suggestions that may help with your side effects.

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