Milk Thistle: A Potent Ally for Liver Health and Cancer Support
Milk thistle is a time-honored herb with a long history of use for liver and bile duct disorders, dyspepsia, and detoxification. Recent research highlights its potential to protect against chemotherapy and radiotherapy toxicity and enhance treatment outcomes.
What is Milk Thistle?
Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) is a herb renowned for its liver-supporting properties. The seeds are the source of the medicinal extract silymarin, a potent antioxidant that protects against cell damage. Silymarin is composed of four active ingredients: silybin (the most active and well-researched), silychristin, isosilybin, and silydianin.
The Benefits of Milk Thistle
Milk thistle offers numerous health benefits, such as cleansing the liver and combating depression. In Germany, it is a regulated herb for treating dyspepsia, cirrhosis, and liver damage caused by toxins. It has demonstrated effectiveness against poisoning from Deathcap mushrooms and blocking viral polymerase, essential for virus replication. Studies on Hepatitis C and HIV have shown clearance within two weeks of IV use.
Milk Thistle and Cancer
A 2010 study from Columbia University Medical Center found that milk thistle may help prevent toxins from accumulating in the liver through the active ingredient silibinin, which prevents toxins from crossing cell walls. In this study, children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) taking milk thistle experienced significantly lower levels of liver toxicity during chemotherapy treatment.
Research on milk thistle's direct action against cancer is limited, but some studies have shown its potential in enhancing the effects of cancer treatments. Milk thistle's cellular protection benefits have also been observed in whole brain radiotherapy, with significantly improved survival rates.
A 2020 review suggested that milk thistle has two actions: protecting healthy cells against toxicity and blocking cancer cells' progression, making them more vulnerable to cell death and more susceptible to chemotherapy.
Milk Thistle in Lung Cancer and Brain Metastasis
A 2017 study found that lung cancer patients with brain metastasis who received silibinin during whole brain radiotherapy showed significantly superior overall survival. The researchers hypothesized that silibinin might have effects on all brain cancers, regardless of the original source.
Milk Thistle and Cushing Disease
Silibinin, an active component of milk thistle, is currently used for treating liver disease and poisoning and has a good safety profile. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich have discovered that silibinin can be applied to treat Cushing Disease, a rare hormone condition caused by a tumor in the pituitary gland in the brain. This research paves the way for clinical trials using silibinin as a non-invasive treatment strategy, potentially eliminating the need for complicated brain surgery.
Milk Thistle and Turmeric: A Powerful Combination
A recent study showed that milk thistle and turmeric have a potent anti-inflammatory effect on gut problems such as IBS and colitis, particularly when combined with sunshine and vitamin D. Other studies have shown that milk thistle may protect the liver during chemotherapy and suppress metastasis to the brain in lung cancer patients.
In conclusion, milk thistle is a versatile herb with impressive health benefits, particularly for liver health and cancer support. Its dual action of protecting healthy cells and blocking cancer cells' progression makes it a valuable adjunct to conventional cancer treatments.
1. Lancet oncology 2013, Sept; Milk Thistle, Early Seeds of potential; Abbey B. Siegel and Justin Stebbing
2. A randomised, controlled, double-blind pilot study of milk thistle for the treatment of hepatotoxicity; Cancer, 2010, Jan 15, 116; E.J. Ladas et al.
3. The Mayo Clinic - Milk Thistle
4. Silibinin enhances UVB- induced apoptosis in breast cancer cell lines; Journal of Breast Cancer 2011