Effect of milk thistle (Silybum marianum) on the pharmacokinetics of irinotecan

Nielka P.H. Van Erp, Sharyn D. Baker, Ming Zhao, Michelle A. Rudek, Henk Jan Guchelaar, Johan W.R. Nortier, Alex Sparreboom, Hans Gelderblom

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) is one of the most commonly used herbal therapies, and its principal constituent silybin significantly inhibits cytochrome P450 isoform 3A4 (CYP3A4) and UDP glucuronosyltransferase isoform 1A1 (UGT1A1) in vitro. Here, we investigated whether milk thistle affects the pharmacokinetics of irinotecan, a substrate for CYP3A4 and U6TIA1, in humans. Experimental Design: Six cancer patients were treated with irinotecan (dose, 125 mg/m2) given as a 90-minute infusion once every week. Four days before the second dose, patients received 200 mg milk thistle, thrice a day, for 14 consecutive days. Pharmacokinetic studies of irinotecan and its metabolites 7-ethyl-10-hydroxycamptothecin (SN-38), 7-ethyl-10-[3,4,5-trihydroxy-pyran-2- carboxylic acid]-camptothecin (SN-38-glucuronide), and 7-ethyl-10-[4-N-(5- aminopentanoic acid)-1-piperidino]-carbonyloxycamptothecin were done during the first three irinotecan administrations. Results: Short-term (4 days) or more prolonged intake of milk thistle (12 days) had no significant effect on irinotecan clearance (mean, 31.2 versus 25.4 versus 25.6 L/h; P = 0.16). The area under the curve ratio of SN-38 and irinotecan was slightly decreased by milk thistle (2.58% versus 2.23% versus 2.17%; P = 0.047), whereas the relative extent of glucuronidation of SN-38 was similar (10.8 versus 13.5 versus 13.1; P = 0.64). Likewise, the area under the curve ratio of 7-ethyl-10-[4-N-(5- aminopentanoic acid)-1-piperidino]-carbonyloxycamptothecin and irinotecan was unaffected by milk thistle (0.332 versus 0.285 versus 0.337; P = 0.53). The maximum plasma concentrations of silybin ranged between 0.0249 and 0.257 μmol/L. Conclusions: Silybin concentrations after intake of milk thistle are too low to significantly affect the function of CYP3A4 and UGT1A1 in vivo, indicating that milk thistle is unlikely to alter the disposition of anticancer drugs metabolized by these enzymes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7800-7806
Number of pages7
JournalClinical Cancer Research
Issue number21
StatePublished - Nov 1 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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