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Milk Thistle May Slow Lung Cancer

Tests on Mice Show Smaller Lung Tumors With Milk Thistle Compound
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

June 20, 2006 -- A compound from the milk thistle plant might slow the progression of lung cancerlung cancer, according to lab tests done on mice.

The compound, called silibinin, hasn't been studied for lung cancercancer in humans yet. So the researchers -- who included Rana Singh, PhD, of the University of Colorado's School of Pharmacy -- aren't making any recommendations for people.

Lung cancer is the world's leading cause of cancer deaths. Singh's team tested silibinin to see if it could curb lung cancer in mice.

Why study silibinin? It has shown promise against other types of tumors in tests on rodents, and has few side effects, the researchers note. Their study appears in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Milk thistle is a plant native to the Mediterranean area. It's been used for thousands of years for various ailments, especially liver problems, states the web site of the National Center of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), part of the National Institutes of Health.

Milk thistle is sold in the U.S. as a dietary supplement. It's sometimes called silymarin, which is a mix of milk thistle's active components, including silibinin, notes the NCCAM.

Mouse Study

Singh and colleagues injected 90 young, male mice with a chemical that causes lung cancer. Two weeks later, they added various doses of silibinin to food for most of the mice.

For comparison, the scientists didn't give any silibinin to a small group of mice.

After the mice had been on those diets for 4.5 months, the researchers checked on the mice's lung cancer. They found smaller lung tumors in the mice with silibinin in their diets, compared with those consuming no silibinin. They also had fewer large lung tumors.

Nine weeks later, that pattern still held. What's more, the silibinin group showed fewer new blood vessels in their lung tumors and lower levels of cancer-promoting chemicals.

The study shows no side effects with any of the silibinin doses tested on the mice.

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