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Liver supplements don’t seem to offer protection


5 Star

Liver supplements don’t seem to offer protection

Our Review Summary

This engaging piece examines the claims that milk thistle is a natural detoxicant that is good for the liver and enhances vitality. The story nicely summarizes—and then debunks—the claims that commercially available brands found in the local health food store are likely to help much.


Why This Matters

The market for herbal supplements is huge, but the marketing is largely unregulated and fueled by dubious claims. This piece does a nice job of explaining why one supplement may not live up to the hype.


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

The costs are so clearly stated that an enterprising reader could calculate them down to pennies per milligram of silymarin, the antioxidant in milk thistle that is believed to protect the liver from harm.

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

According to the story, there don’t appear to be any benefits to quantify. It offers one example of how researchers have measured this absence of benefit. For a piece whose purpose is to examine the research behind a medical claim, the reporting feels a bit light when it comes to evaluating the evidence.

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

The story points out that adding other herbs and ingredients to milk thistle may uNPRedictably alter the way silymarin works, and suggests that the long-term safety of silymarin needs more research.

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Not Satisfactory
The story provides hints about the types of studies that have tested the potential benefits of silymarin, and employs articulate and appropriately skeptical sources to interpret the meaning of the research. However, a systematic review on this topic concluded that the herbal supplement provided no clear benefit.  When you have that kind of evidence available, you should cite it.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?

The story’s transparency, good-humored homage to the liver (“let’s take a moment to honor the liver, the best detox device a body can have”) and sensible advice (“go easy on the Tylenol and tequila”) are reassuring to readers too-often bludgeoned with scary marketing about modern life’s toxic threats.

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?

The balance feels about right. Web sites selling milk thistle tout its prowess. Two researchers weigh the evidence and find it wanting.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?


The story points out that one option to protecting the liver with herbs that don’t seem to work is “to avoid bombarding it with too many poisons in the first place.” The story doesn’t mention medical treatments for alcoholic liver disease, fatty liver disease, Hepatitis C, or other diseases that put the liver at dire risk of failure—though this is arguably beyond the scope of the piece.

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

The story makes is abundantly clear that milk thistle is widely available in drug and health food stores.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?

The story leaves the accurate impression that milk thistle and silymarin are not new, though their properties still remain inadequately evaluated.

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?

The story does not appear to rely solely or largely on a news release.

Total Score: 9 of 10 Satisfactory


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