There is a great deal of information available on diet on the internet with many people offering dietary advice. If you have liver disease, it is important to seek advice from your doctor and ask to be referred to a dietitian. Registered dietitians are regulated, whereas other professionals such as Chinese herbalists are currently not.
Many complementary and alternative medicines are available that are suggested to ease the symptoms of liver disease. Most of these are processed by the liver, so can be toxic to people with liver problems38. Some can damage the liver and make you more severely ill. At present, healthcare professionals are not clear on the role and place of some therapies in managing liver disease. More research needs to be done on the use of such therapies.
Many products are not classified as a medicine and therefore are not licensed, which means you cannot be sure how much of the active ingredient you are getting or how pure it is. Traditional herbal medicines do not have to undergo the stringent regulatory processes that medical drugs have to; therefore manufacturers do not have to prove effectiveness in well designed large trials39. It is wise to be cautious about the claims made for herbal remedies, particularly those advertised on the internet, as they can offer false hope.
It is a good idea to discuss the use of these remedies with your doctor.
Does milk-thistle help the symptoms of liver disease?
Milk-thistle (also known as Silybum marianum) is an over-the-counter supplement, which some people believe can be beneficial to people with liver disease. Some laboratory studies have shown the herbs active components (silymarin) have a positive effect on liver cells38. However, milk-thistle is not licensed as a medicine and so studies into its effectiveness in the body have been limited, with conflicting results. There is not currently enough evidence to prove or disprove any beneficial effects on the liver. Milk-thistle may lower blood sugar levels and people with diabetes or hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar) should use caution40,41. If you are thinking of using milk-thistle, it is a good idea to discuss this with your doctor.