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Milk Thistle Cancer Treatment: Your Complete Guide

The bright-purple flowering plant with glossy, marbled leaves known as Milk Thistle, has been shown in many scientific studies to kill cancer cells, with no side effects.

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Used in herbal medicine in the treatment of liver diseases for years, Milk thistle was originally native to Southern Europe through to Asia, but can now be found almost everywhere in the world.  Silymarin from milk thistle (Silybum marianum) plant has been reported to show anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and hepatoprotective effects.

One roadblock to successful treatment with Silymarin is a result of its extremely poor water solubility.  With recent advances, as you’ll see in some of the studies summarized below, researchers have begun encapsulating Silymarin in nanoparticles for enhanced delivery.  Whereas Vitamin C is primarily water soluable, and people like Dr. Thomas Levy have figured out a way to encapsulate the vitamin C molecules inside a lipid (fat) layer for enhanced delivery inside cells, Milk thistle doesn’t dissolve well in water, and researchers have developed ways to encapsulate the Milk Thistle compounds to make them more water soluable and bioavailable to the human body.

10 Studies on Milk Thistle vs Cancer

Milk thistle, and its assortment of medicinal bioflavonoids contained within the plant, such as silibinin, silymarin, and the more recently discovered isosilybin B, have been studied and published extensively in the scientific literature.  Here are 10 studies demonstrating their effects against cancer.

  1. In a 2014 study researchers examined how milk thistle would effect Basal Cell Carcinoma, which is currently the most common type of cancer worldwide.  They used silibinin and its oxidation product 2,3-dehydrosilibinin (DHS) both in vitro and in vivo, and researchers discovered that “Both silibinin and DHS significantly inhibited cell growth and clonogenicity while inducing apoptosis”.  More specifically, “oral administration of silibinin and DHS (200 mg/kg body weight) strongly inhibited the ASZ tumor growth by 44% and 71%”
  2. In this study on human ovarian cancer, researchers explored the effects of silymarin on ovarian cancer cell lines A2780s and PA-1.  The results indicated that “silymarin effectively suppressed cell growth”, and “significantly induced apoptosis in A2780s and PA-1 cells”.
  3. The anti-cancer efficacy of silymarin on oral cancer was studied by researchers in 2014.  They used a novel form of silymarin, which was encapsulated in nanoparticles for enhanced delivery, and found that the nanoparticle-encapsulated silymarin induced apoptosis in oral carcinoma cells.
  4. A study conducted in 2014 sought to examine the efficacy of the Milk Thistle containing compound Silymarin on colorectal cancer cells.  “The treatment of silymarin suppressed the cell proliferation in HCT116 and SW480 cells”, concluded researchers.
  5. In a 2007 study, human hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) cell lines were treated with Milk Thistle compound silibinin.  “We demonstrated that silibinin significantly reduced the growth of HuH7, HepG2, Hep3B, and PLC/PRF/5 human hepatoma cells.”  Cancer cell “apoptosis”, or cell death, was also induced by the silibinin compound in HuH7 cells.
  6. Swiss albino mice, with induced stage-2 skin cancer, were used in 2014 to determine the worth of Milk Thistle-component Silibinin in treating this condition.  “We found that topical application of silibinin at the dose of 9 mg/mouse effectively suppressed oxidative stress and deregulated activation of inflammatory mediators and tumorigenesis,” concluded study researchers.
  7. In 2014, researchers investigated the effect of silibinin on breast cancer in tumor-bearing laboratory mice.  “Treatment with silibinin increased overall survival in mice harboring tumors”, and resulted in “reduced tumor volumes”.  Interestingly, the study included treatment on immunosuppressed mice and found that the medicine didn’t work for them, which strongly suggests that the silibinin medicine works by boosting the immune system and improving the body’s ability to fight the cancer.
  8. A study conducted in 2014 added different concentrations of silibinin to human colon cancer cells, which showed “a progressive decline in cell viability”, and serves to “re-enforce the anticancer potential of silibinin”.
  9. In the year 2013, Milk Thistle-derived bioflavonoid Silymarin was tested for its antitumor activity in human hepatocellular carcinoma cells.  A solid conclusion, consistent with other research on this substance, the study found that “Silymarin [SIL] treatment resulted in a dose- and time-dependent inhibition of HCC cell viability.”
  10. The less studied compound contained within Milk Thistle, called Isosilybin A, was put to the test against advanced-stage human Prostate Cancer cells by researchers in a study in 2010.  As the study notes, prostate cancer cells possess both an unlimited potential for replication, but also are resistant to apoptosis.  The very promising results “Showed that isosilybin A (90-180 µM) treatment significantly induces apoptotic death.”

How does it Work?

Although the specific mechanisms by which milk thistle components (silibinin, silymarin, and isosilybin B) help kill cancer cells is likely unique for each and is not well understood, there are things we do know about how Milk Thistle heals.

Traditionally, herbalists recommend milk thistle because it provides an important substance for assisting the liver in optimal function, leading to improved detoxification of the blood and body.  Because of these properties, alcoholics and drug addicts using various other substances have employed milk thistle in their programs to detoxify and heal.

After a night of heavy drinking, milk thistle is a great choice to protect the liver from alcohol-induced damage.  Study #7, which I summarized above, provides evidence that the medicinal anti-cancer effects of milk thistle derive from its ability to boost the immune system.

[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]The study included treatment on immunosuppressed mice and found that the medicine didn’t work for them, which strongly suggests that the silibinin medicine works by boosting the immune system and improving the body’s ability to fight the cancer.[/quote]

It is reasonable to conclude that the immune-boosting effects of silibinin occurred by way of improved liver function, and the resulting reduction in toxicity of the blood.  This would then permit a more optimal functioning of the body, allowing it to focus on the destruction and elimination of cancer cells, rather than protecting itself from various toxins, and oxidizing substances circulating in the bloodstream.

Conclusion

In addition to its functional use as a plant substance that can boost the immune system, and detoxify the liver of alcohol, drugs, or prescription medications, current research on milk thistle shows clearly that it is a powerful medicine capable of reducing tumor size, and effectively killing many types of cancer cells in humans.

Resources Used:
PubMed
Wikipedia

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