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Curr Gastroenterol Rep. 1999 Feb-Mar;1(1):50-6.

Is there any use for nontraditional or alternative therapies in patients with chronic liver disease?

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  • 1Division of Gastroenterology, UCSF Medical Center, Box 0538, Rm 357-S, San Francisco, CA 94143-0538, USA.


There has been a substantial increase in the use of so-called complementary and alternative therapies by patients with liver disease. Although many such modalities are available, herbal therapies are the most popular, and of these remedies, silymarin extracted from the milk thistle is most widely subscribed to as a remedy for liver diseases. Available evidence points to a potential, but unproven, benefit for this as well as other therapies based on free radical scavenger or antioxidant principles in treating patients with liver disease. These therapies deserve further investigation through experimental studies and well-controlled clinical trials. Benefits to patients from these therapies, especially to patients with established cirrhosis, are most likely to be modest and insignificant. Conversely, the hepatotoxic potential of some alternative treatments is well recognized. As practitioners educating and treating patients with liver disease, we are obliged to be informed about popular alternative therapies, understanding of our patients' need to be partners in their care, and open-minded to the possibility that some benefit may come from some therapies currently regarded as alternative. We need to be effective and tolerant in learning about which alternative treatments our patients are taking, so that we can monitor their effects if any and counsel appropriately against those that may cause harm.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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