Can milk thistle help you to prevent cancer?

milk-thistle-cancer healing herbs

Milk thistle is a plant whose seeds and fruits have been used as a remedy for bile duct and liver disorders for more than 20 centuries. It belongs to the same group of flowers as the daisy. While they are popularly used as a herbal remedy to treat liver disorders, their use for cancer treatment is still limited. Milk thistle is mostly grown in Europe. It can also be found in the United States of America and South America.

Milk thistle contains a medicinal compound known as silymarin. Silymarin contains compounds like taxifolin, silychristin, and silybin. Most studies have not been done on the whole plant. Milk thistle might help in treating liver diseases like liver cirrhosis. Silybum marianum is the biological name of milk thistle. It is also called Marian thistle.

Milk Thistle as an alternative cancer treatment

  • Studies of milk thistle have been done for preventing or treating various types of cancer like prostate cancer, neck cancer, liver cancer and breast cancer
  • Side effects from the usage of milk thistle are mild.
  • Milk thistle is available only as a dietary supplement

The usage of milk thistle to treat cancer symptoms has still not been approved by the United States FDA (Food and Drug Administration). However, it is used to treat liver disorders like hepatitis.

Research conducted on milk thistle with respect to preventing cancer

Several studies have been carried out to check whether milk thistle can be used to decrease cancer treatment side effects.

  • Silymarin was found to decrease the side effects of chemotherapy on the liver without affecting the cancer treatment. This study was carried out on children suffering from acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
  • A randomized clinical study was carried out in men who were suffering from prostate cancer and underwent surgery to get their prostate removed. It was found that taking silymarin lowered cholesterol and improved the quality of life among the patients.
  • Another study was carried out on 30 patients suffering from head and neck cancer and had radiotherapy. It was noticed that taking silymarin for 6 weeks had lowered the rates of radiation-related mucositis when compared to the patients who had not taken silymarin.
  • A silymarin-based cream was seen to prevent skin rashes in women who had undergone radiotherapy due to breast cancer. It was a non-randomized and observational study.

Usage of milk thistle in treating liver diseases

Several studies and clinical trials have been conducted to study the role of milk thistle in treating patients suffering from hepatitis, liver cirrhosis, and bile duct disorders. These studies used a wide range of dosages and produced mixed results.

In the trial of therapy for patients suffering from chronic hepatitis, the ones taking silymarin had fewer symptoms and a better quality of life compared to the patients that were not taking silymarin.  It was also observed that silymarin helped with iron chelation therapy. It removes extra iron from the blood of patients who have had many blood transfusions.

Milk thistle might also be used for preventive care or treatment of liver dysfunction in patients who are undergoing anticancer therapy. Silymarin is known to reduce liver toxicity that is associated with MTX chemotherapy in children suffering from lymphoblastic leukemia. Several companies and portals on the internet claim that milk thistle can help to protect and detoxify the liver. It is also claimed that milk thistle helps to protect other body organs like the spleen and the gallbladder.

Is milk thistle approved by the US FDA for cancer treatment?

The United States FDA has yet not approved the usage of milk thistle for cancer treatment. However, milk thistle is available as a dietary supplement in the United States of America. Dietary supplements are products that are supposed to be added to the diet. They are not drugs and should not be used to prevent, treat, or cure diseases. It is the responsibility of the company that is making the dietary supplements to ensure that they are safe.

How should milk thistle be consumed?

Milk thistles are taken by mouth in the form of capsules or tablets. In a few countries, silybin is also injected into the patients Amanita phalloides by intravenous infusion. It is a mushroom toxin that can be fatal. Milk thistle should only be congested under proper guidance.

Have any side effects been reported from in taking milk thistle?

Some side effects have been reported from the use of milk thistle or silymarin. Large studies were conducted on patients who were having a liver disorder and were consuming silymarin. It was noticed that they might rarely result in an upset stomach or have a mild laxative effect. It might also cause diarrhea. Pregnant women should avoid taking this herb. Diabetes patients should consult a doctor before taking milk thistle.

There is a huge possibility that milk thistle plays a role in treating diseases of the liver. However, there is not enough evidence to confirm that. A lot more research needs to be done along with reliable clinical trials to confirm whether milk thistle can be used to treat or prevent cancer. It is advised to the patients to visit the best cancer care provider to ensure that they are taken care of. Cancer patients should consult onco-nutrition specialists before taking milk thistle as a form of treatment.