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Silymarin and Cancer: Strategy in Chemoprevention and Chemosensitivity

Silymarin and Cancer: Strategy in Chemoprevention and Chemosensitivity

Cancer incidences are rising, and despite substantial progress in chemotherapy and other therapies, additional measures are urgently needed to help cancer patients. In this regard, finding the supplements that can help in prevention and recovery, can prove to be lifesaving for humanity.

Prevention and therapeutic intervention by phytochemicals are newer dimensions in the arena of cancer management. In this regard, the cancer chemopreventive role of silymarin (Silybum marianum) has been extensively studied and has shown anticancer efficacy against various cancer sites, especially skin and prostate.

Extensive preclinical findings have supported the anticancer potential of silymarin. Now evaluation of its efficacy in cancer patients

Where do we get Silymarin?

Milk thistle is a flowering plant grown in the Mediterranean region; it is a relative of the flowers daisy and dandelion. Some people also call it Mary thistle and holy thistle. Silymarin is a flavonoid of milk thistle dried fruit. These two words actually mean the same product.

Scientific studies suggest that Silymarin has the ability to protect the liver from toxins; it also has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It can help maintain a healthy liver and protect it from medicine like Tylenol, which can cause liver damage when given in high doses. Milk Thistle can also assist the liver in repairing itself helping with new cell growth.

Today it’s available in the market in the form of Milk Thistle extract or silymarin. One can take it as a supplement or medicine. Therefore, more scientific research is happening and suggesting its various health benefits including anti-cancer properties.

Silymarin as cancer chemo preventive agent

Silymarin and silibinin possess most of the characteristics of an ideal cancer chemopreventive agent; they are non-toxic to normal cells, selectively inhibit the growth of cancer cells, and are biologically available. Because of these characteristics, silymarin and silibinin have been extensively studied for their anticancer efficacy and a brief account of their activity against various malignancies. 

Silymarin causes cell cycle arrest and apoptotic cell death 

Deregulated cell cycle progression and inhibition of apoptosis have been described as hallmarks of cancer cells,52 and therefore chemopreventive agents that could affect the deregulated cell cycle and induce apoptosis should be effective in inhibiting the growth of cancer cells.53 In this regard, silymarin has shown dose- and time-dependent growth inhibition and death of human epidermoid carcinoma. Quantitative and qualitative analyses of cell death showed that apoptosis is a major contributor in cell death caused by silymarin at higher doses.

Anti-inflammatory effect of silymarin

Various studies have shown that silymarin possesses strong anti-inflammatory potential. The cytokines tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α and interleukin (IL)-1α have shown to interact with skin inflammation and tumor promotion. The upregulation of TNF-α, an endogenous tumor promoter, is one of the common mechanisms of tumor promotion that mediates the effect of exogenous tumor promoters, including phorbol ester (eg, TPA) as well as nonphorbol ester (eg, okadaic acid). Inhibition of TNF-α mRNA expression and its release could be an important strategy in cancer chemoprevention.

Can you get silymarin naturally from foods?

People sometimes eat the stem and leaves of milk thistle – the source of silymarin in salads. There are no other food sources for this herb.

How to use silymarin

Silymarin is available on ZenOnco website as Milk Thistle capsules.

To know about how to take it, please connect with anti-cancer experts on

They will guide you on how to take this medicine. Alternatively, you can take 2

capsules per day after a meal. Though we strongly recommend you connect with an expert before taking it.

Alternatively, you can make Milk Thistle Tea at home. It’s available for purchase as loose or ground seeds and leaves or in tea bags.

Steep a teabag or 1 teaspoon of loose tea in 1 cup (237 mL) of hot water for 5–10 minutes.

If not using a teabag, strain the tea before drinking it.

Conclusions and future perspective 

Silymarin, a crude mixture of various flavonolignans, and a relatively pure form of this supplement, silibinin, have shown to exert strong anticancer and cancer chemopreventive efficacy against various cancer sites, especially prostate and skin cancer.  In this regard, clinical studies have shown that silymarin treatment in combination with chemotherapeutic agents reduces the toxicity associated with chemotherapy. Silymarin treatment has also shown favorable results in clinical trials in prostate cancer patients. Therefore, It is an integral part of a nutraceutical program for cancer management. More clinical trials are going on to evaluate the clinical efficacy of standardized silymarin as well as silibinin against various human cancers in general and against skin and prostate cancers in particular.


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