Milk thistles are native plants of the Europeans. But they are also cultivated and grown in South America and the US. This edible plant boasts many health benefits. Its seeds and fruit are well known to give protection to the liver. They have been in use for this purpose for many centuries. People of the olden days also used Milk thistle to treat various disorders of the liver. The healing abilities of this plant are probably due to the abundance of flavonolignans in it. The flavonolignans in milk thistle are called “silymarin”. The main element of silymarin is silibinin, which delivers great health benefits. Nowadays, we can find herbal supplements of milk thistle for use as alternative and complementary medicine. Recently, researchers are beginning to explore milk thistle for breast cancer benefits. Recent research suggests that milk thistle may have potent anti-cancer capabilities.
From the results of various laboratory studies, milk thistle can help fight cancer. But a lot of research studies and expert analysis still need to be done to validate the use of milk thistle in cancer care. We need randomized controlled trials on humans to prove definitively that milk thistle is effective for treating breast cancer, as well as other cancer types. So far, we don’t seem to have enough evidence yet to either support or discourage milk thistle as a treatment option for cancer. From what we know so far, however, milk thistle is not likely to harm your health if you don’t take an overdose. If you want to learn more about milk thistle and what it can do for breast cancer, read on.
What You Should Know About Milk Thistle
Do you know that the use of milk thistle for health purposes dates back to more than 20 centuries? Since the BC’s, people have been using milk thistle seeds and fruit to treat bile duct problems and liver disorders.
Milk thistle primarily grows in the European climate. But you can also find this amazing plant on American soil, as well as in South America.
Silymarin is the type of flavonolignans present in the seeds of milk thistle. We mentioned earlier that the main component of silymarin in silibinin. Most of the studies on milk thistle have focused on either silibinin or silymarin and not the entire plant.
However, aside from silibinin, milk thistle contains many other active compounds. They include:
Milk thistle has many other names too. Some people call it holy thistle. Other names include Mary thistle, Saint Mary thistle, and Marian thistle. Don’t also be surprised if someone calls it wild artichoke or Our Lady’s thistle. They also refer to milk thistle. The Germans call it Mariendistel and the French call it Chardon-Marie.
The route of Milk thistle administration is usually oral. This means that people usually take it by mouth. It comes in the form of tablets or capsules. But in Europe, they give silybin by intravenous (IV) infusion. This is the only way to treat Amanita phalloides. Amanita phalloides is a lethal mushroom toxin. It is a poison that leads to death.
In lab studies, experts use tumor cells to test if a substance will exert any form of anticancer effects. But animal studies, on the other hand, usually test a drug, treatment, or procedure to see how effective and safe it is for living things. Experts usually carry out both lab and animal studies before they test a substance on human beings.
Milk Thistle Breast Cancer Benefits
Experts have done many small studies to examine the usefulness of milk thistle for decreasing the adverse effects that usually occur due to cancer treatment. One observational study examined women who had breast cancer. They found that silymarin-based creams may help skin rashes (a common side effect from radiation therapy).
Another study examined how silibinin affects MCF-7 tumor cells (common in breast cancer). The results show that this compound somewhat inhibits the growth of these cells. The experts even found that silibinin may induce the death of MCF-7 tumor cells. The study established that silibinin may be a great complementary drug with chemo for a better preventive response while treating cancer.
Another study also on silibinin and MCF-7 tumor cells also concluded that it kills the tumor cells and makes them lose viability. The result of this study also showed how combining silibinin with UV light (B-light) was better than UV light for killing the tumor cells.
Many other studies have shown that some milk thistle’s components may help improve chemo effectiveness against tumor cells in breast cancer, as well as ovarian cancer. They say some of its components can even prevent the development of cancer cells altogether. These components might also be effective for slowing the growth of specific cancer cells.
Aside from breast cancer, experts say that milk thistle can also help with some other cancer types as well. Some of them include:
- Lymphoblastic leukemia
- Prostate cancer
- Head & neck cancer
Aside from cancers, experts also suggest a possible alternative or complementary treatment for the following conditions:
- Liver cirrhosis
- Mushroom poisoning
- Bile duct problems, and many others
Adverse Effects and Approval
There are little to no reports of milk thistle side effects. But then, silymarin may sometimes have laxative effects or cause stomach upset, nausea, or heartburn. If you take extremely high doses, you may have allergic reactions, albeit mild.
The U.S. FDA does not approve milk thistle for treating breast cancer or other medical conditions. This does not, however, negate milk thistle breast cancer benefits. It is mainly because milk thistle, like every other dietary supplement, is not regulated by the FDA. However, if you are thinking about taking milk thistle as a part of your treatment regimen for breast cancer, ask your doctor for his opinion before you proceed.