You definitely can – and should – take milk thistle if you’re being treated with interferon (for chronic hepatitis B or C, I assume). Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) is an herb that protects the liver from toxic injury and stimulates regeneration of the liver. It does this by enhancing the metabolism of hepatocytes, the working cells of the liver. Milk thistle products are available in health food stores. Look for standardized extracts in tablet or capsule form, and follow the dosage on the label. You can take milk thistle indefinitely.
I’ve known a number of patients who have reversed hepatitis C using milk thistle in conjunction with another natural remedy, Schizandra (Schisandra chinensis), the fruit of a Chinese plant. Schizandra berries, like milk thistle, are nontoxic and support healthy liver function. I usually recommend them as part of a natural treatment protocol developed by Dr. Qingcai Zhang in New York.
Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. There are several forms of viral hepatitis (the type treated with interferon, an anti-viral drug). Hepatitis C is a progressing disease that slowly destroys liver cells even while infected people remain symptom-free. It typically is diagnosed after a patient complains of fatigue or abdominal tenderness or after routine blood tests show elevated liver enzyme levels. Hepatitis C is transmitted by infected blood (via blood transfusions, hemodialysis, or by sharing needles with intravenous drug users). The disease usually becomes chronic, and in about 15 percent of cases (over a period of 20-30 years) leads to cirrhosis of the liver and, sometimes, liver cancer.
Hepatitis B, also due to a viral infection and common in parts of Asia, becomes chronic in only five to 10 percent of cases. It is transmitted via blood transfusions, IV drug use, sexual contact, or from an infected pregnant mother to her fetus. Symptoms include jaundice, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting and fatigue. Milk thistle can be safely used with the medical treatments available to treat either type of hepatitis.
Andrew Weil, M.D.