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The oldest reported use of milk thistle was by Dioscorides, who recommended the herb as a treatment for serpent bites. Pliny the Elder (A. 23–79) reported that the juice of the plant mixed with honey is indicated for “carrying off bile.”[1,2] In the Middle Ages, milk thistle was revered as an antidote for liver toxins.[1,2] The British herbalist Culpepper reported milk thistle to be effective for relieving obstructions of the liver.[1,2] In 1898, eclectic physicians Felter and Lloyd stated the herb was good for congestion of the liver, spleen, and kidney.[1,2] Native Americans use milk thistle to treat boils and other skin diseases.
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In Europe, silybin is administered intravenously as the only effective antidote for (Fr.). Humans exposed to this mushroom toxin develop serious liver failure that ultimately progresses to death.
Several companies distribute milk thistle as a dietary supplement.
This cancer information summary provides an overview of the use of milk thistle as a treatment and adjunct agent for people with cancer.
The summary includes a brief history of milk thistle, a review of the laboratory studies and clinical trials, and a description of adverse effects associated with milk thistle use.Silymarin has also been shown to neutralize a wide range of free radicals.Reports that associate the flavonolignans with potential estrogenic effect (e.g., via mediation of the estrogen receptor) are sparse and currently not supported by experimental evidence. Laboratory experiments conducted using cancer cell lines have suggested that silibinin enhances the efficacy of cisplatin and doxorubicin against ovarian and breast cancer cells. Silybin appears to have direct anticancer effects against prostate, breast, and ectocervical tumor cells. Silybin may also affect the cell cycle in cancer cells by slowing down cell growth, as demonstrated with prostate cancer cell lines. Laboratory studies using leukemia cell lines found that silybin did not stimulate growth of leukemia cells. Most clinical trials have investigated silymarin’s effectiveness in the treatment of patients with hepatitis, cirrhosis, or biliary disorders.[24-33] These studies have employed a wide range of doses (120–560 mg /day) and have yielded conflicting results.[34,35] The most commonly reported adverse effects are a mild laxative effect and gastrointestinal upset.Homeopathic practitioners use preparations from the seeds to treat jaundice, gallstones, peritonitis, hemorrhage, bronchitis, and varicose veins. The German Commission E recommends milk thistle use for dyspeptic complaints, toxin-induced liver damage, hepatic cirrhosis, and as a supportive therapy for chronic inflammatory liver conditions. Research studies conducted in the laboratory have investigated the properties of silymarin or its isomer silybin using cell lines and animal models.Other substances in milk thistle have not been extensively studied.Silymarin is most well known for its purported effects on the liver.