Background & aims: Chronic hepatitis C is a serious global medical problem necessitating effective treatment. Because standard of care with pegylated interferon plus ribavirin therapy is costly, has significant side effects, and fails to cure about half of all infections, many patients seek complementary and alternative medicine to improve their health, such as Silymarin, derived from milk thistle (Silybum marianum). Milk thistle's clinical benefits for chronic hepatitis C are unsettled due to variability in standardization of the herbal product.
Methods: In the current study, we focused on the anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties of a standardized Silymarin extract (MK-001).
Results: MK-001 inhibited expression of tumor necrosis factor-alpha in anti-CD3 stimulated human peripheral blood mononuclear cells and nuclear factor kappa B-dependent transcription in human hepatoma Huh7 cells. Moreover, MK-001 dose dependently inhibited infection of Huh7 and Huh7.5.1 cells by JFH-1 virus. MK-001 displayed both prophylactic and therapeutic effects against HCV infection, and when combined with interferon-alpha, inhibited HCV replication more than interferon-alpha alone. Commercial preparations of Silymarin also displayed antiviral activity, although the effects were not as potent as MK-001. Antiviral effects of the extract were attributable in part to induction of Stat1 phosphorylation, while interferon-independent mechanisms were suggested when the extract was biochemically fractionated by high-performance liquid chromatography. Silybin A, silybin B, and isosilybin A, isosilybin B elicited the strongest anti-NF-kappaB and anti-HCV actions. These effects were independent of MK-001-induced cytotoxicity.
Conclusions: The data indicate that Silymarin exerts anti-inflammatory and antiviral effects, and suggest that complementary and alternative medicine-based approaches may assist in the management of patients with chronic hepatitis C.