A new piece of research, published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology suggests that a flavanone compound in milk thistle, silibinin, may stop the growth and spread of liver cancer. This laboratory study from the University of California at Irvine used human liver cancer cells exposed to different doses of the compound. Researchers found that the biochemical could inhibit the spread of the cells and as well as promote programmed cell death. (This work did not use milk thistle dietary supplements, but pure silibinin, the active component in milk thistle; it is unclear by this report that you could achieve these results through supplements.)
Liver cancer is the sixth most commonly diagnosed cancer in the world, and third most common cause of death from cancer. The highest incidences of the disease are in East Asia and Southeast Asia, particularly China.
Measurements of cell death in the cancer showed that, at a dose of 240 micromoles per litre, silibinin killed off the cancer cells by a factor of nine. The researchers states that further work is necessary to fully elucidate the mechanism, as it is unclear right now how it is that the Milk Thistle component produces this effect. It is also not known if the doses required to offer the potential anti-cancer benefits could be achieved using milk thistle supplements, which are relatively big sellers in North America. (!2th largest selling herbal product in the US mass market).
"Our findings not only indicate silibinin's novel anti-cancer mechanisms, but also provide additional targets for the search for new agents," concluded the researchers. Previously, silibinin has linked to similar benefits against lung cancer growth (Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Vol. 98, pp. 846-85).
Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) has been used for a long time as a food in Europe. Young leaves are used in salads, the stalks eaten like asparagus, and the heads boiled like artichoke. Read about the plant by using the link at the headline of this article.