Milk Thistle Fights Lung Cancer in Mice
Milk thistle, an herbal remedy used for thousands of years for liver and gallbladder problems, has proved helpful in stopping the spread of lung cancer in mice. The study is one of the first controlled trials to document a benefit of milk thistle.
Milk thistle protects more than the liver
Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) contains many components, including flavonoids called silymarin and silibinin, and linoleic acid. Previous scientific studies have suggested that silymarin protects the liver from toxins and has potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
In this new study, conducted by researchers at the University of Colorado, silibinin demonstrated an ability to remove the components responsible for allowing lung tumors to grow and spread in a mouse model of lung cancer. More specifically, the milk thistle flavonoid interrupted the chain of signals that leads to the inflammatory action of enzymes called COX2 and iNOS, both of which can promote tumor growth.
In addition to this significant discovery, the researchers, including Alpna Tyagi, PhD, of the University of Colorado Skaggs School of Pharmacy, and other team members compared the effects of silibinin to drugs that are currently used in clinical trials for lung cancer. They found that compared with these extremely expensive experimental drugs, natural silibinin blocked expression of COX2 and iNOS and also the spread of existing lung cancer cells.
Lung cancer is the number one cause of cancer death in both men and women in the United States, and also is responsible for more than 1.4 million deaths per year in the world, according to the World Health Organization. The National Cancer Institute reports that an estimated 221,130 new cases of lung cancer will be diagnosed in the US in 2011, and that 156,940 people will die of the disease.
Current treatments for lung cancer include radiation, chemotherapy (more than two dozen drugs have been approved for treatment of lung cancer), immunotherapy, and surgery. Side effects associated with chemotherapy are quite extensive and can include constipation, diarrhea, bleeding, hair loss, appetite changes, weight loss, nausea and vomiting, nerve changes, memory problems, and sexual problems, among others.
The findings of this new study are promising. Tyagi noted that “naturally derived products like silibinin may be as effective as today’s best treatments.” This could be very good news, given the high mortality associated with lung cancer, but much research remains to be done.
National Cancer Institute
Tyagi A et al. Molecular Carcinogenesis 2011; DOI: 10.1002/mc.20851
World Health Organization
Picture credit: Wikimedia Commons