Background/aims: Silymarin has protective effects in different experimental conditions, but its efficacy in human liver cirrhosis has not been completely established. Therefore, this study was carried out to determine the effect of silymarin in alcoholics with liver cirrhosis with respect to survival and clinical and laboratory changes.
Methods: From February 1986 to June 1989, we enrolled 200 alcoholics with histologically or laparoscopically proven liver cirrhosis in a randomized, double-blind multicenter trial comparing 450 mg of silymarin (150 mg/ three times per day) with placebo. The primary outcome was time to death, and the secondary outcome was the progression of liver failure. Additional analyses were also performed in 75 patients in whom anti-hepatitis C virus antibodies were measured after completion of the trial.
Results: One hundred and three patients were assigned to receive silymarin and 97 to receive placebo. The two groups were well matched for demographic and baseline clinical and laboratory features. A 2-year study period was completed in 125 patients (57 receiving silymarin and 68 receiving placebo). Twenty-nine patients (15 receiving silymarin, and 14 receiving placebo) died during the trial. Survival was similar in patients receiving silymarin or placebo. The effect of silymarin on survival was not influenced by sex, the persistence of alcohol intake, the severity of liver dysfunction or by the presence of alcoholic hepatitis in the liver biopsy. Silymarin did not have any significant effect on the course of the disease. No relevant side-effects were observed in any group.
Conclusions: The results of this study indicate that silymarin has no effect on survival and the clinical course in alcoholics with liver cirrhosis.