Milk Thistle can help protect your liver and improve chemo

Milk Thistle can help protect your liver and improve chemo

Milk thistle is a traditional herb used for liver and bile duct disorders, dyspepsia and detoxification; there is accumulating evidence that it can prevent toxicity in both healthy cells and the liver from chemotherapy and radiotherapy; even improving chemotherapy's results.

What is Milk Thistle?

Milk thistle is a herb that has been used for thousands of years in connection with liver problems. Milk thistle, silybum marianum, has also been called wild artichoke, holy thistle, St Mary Thistle, or Our lady's thistle. The fruit may be used medicinally, but more commonly it is the seeds, from which the medicinal extract silymarin is produced. This is a proven anti-oxidant and protects against cell damage.  Silymarin contains four active ingredients - silybin (the most researched and most active), silychristin, isosilybin and silydianin.

The benefits of Milk Thistle?

Milk thistle has a variety of benefits. It is known to clean the liver and has effects against depression; in Germany it is a regulated herb for the treatment of dyspepsia, cirrhosis and liver damage due to toxins (1). It has a 2000 person study showing effect against poisoning with Deathcap Mushrooms. It also appears capable of blocking viral polymerase (essential for virus replication in the body). Studies with Hepatitis C and HIV showed clearance within two weeks of IV use. Early reviews by Columbia University and Imperial College London indicated that Milk Thistle could reduce the Liver toxicity from Chemotherapy, with few if any side effects, 

Milk Thistle and cancer

One 2010 study from Columbia University Medical Center suggested that it may help prevent toxins accumulating in the liver, through the active ingredient (silibin), which was seen to stop toxins crossing cell walls.

In the research, two groups of children with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) were given either Milk Thistle or a placebo during chemotherapy treatment. Normally, at least two thirds of patients undergoing chemotherapy experience liver toxicity and there is currently no known treatment. However, in this study, the children taking milk thistle had significantly lower levels of liver toxicity (2).

The Mayo Clinic states on its Website that there is some evidence for Milk Thistle with indigestion (dyspepsia), liver disease, and type-2 diabetes where it appears to lower blood sugar levels (3). The review stated that oral doses of the herb appeared safe.

Research on milk thistle having direct action against cancer is patchy at best. There have been two in vitro studies with breast cancer, for example, one in 2011 from Korea which showed Silibinin could enhance the effects of UVB against breast cancer cells causing apoptosis (4).

Interestingly, there was research on Milk Thistle's cellular protection benefits when using whole brain radiotherapy (5). Significantly improved survival was recorded.

In 2020, a review (6) on Milk Thistle argued that it had two actions - the first to protect healthy cells (chemoprevention) against the toxicity of compounds by blocking the P450 gene; and secondly to block the progression of cancer cells through their lifetime, making them more vulnerable to cell death (apoptosis) because more accumulated in a single state that could be treated by chemotherapy (chemosensitiser). This double action would argue for the herb's use whenever a patient had chemotherapy.

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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

5. Milk Thistle compound suppresses brain metastases

6. Silymarin and Cancer; 2020 May 25 (9), Molecules; Dominique Delmas et al.

2021 Research
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