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Friday, April 22, 2011

Milk Thistle: Superhero or Villain?

A great deal of controversy surrounds the question of whether the herbal supplement Milk Thistle possesses exciting and almost unbelievable health benefits or carries dangerous and life threatening health risks.

One website states that since Milk Thistle contains hormonal properties, it should not be used by pregnant or nursing women or women with breast or uterine cancer. This same website, however, states that Milk Thistle may be beneficial for reducing breast or uterine tumors.

Another popular medical website discusses the health benefits of Milk Thistle with regard to diabetes. It states that clinical studies show a decrease in blood sugar levels and improved cholesterol readings in people with type 2 diabetes.

It goes on to talk about the detoxifying value of Milk Thistle, but also implies that there is little or no evidence to support the extraordinary claims of liver regeneration in patients with cirrhosis and tumor reduction in cancer patients.

It also mentions a possible dangerous allergic reaction to Milk Thistle if the individual is already allergic to plants in the same family, like ragweed, daisy and chrysanthemum. However, these types of reactions are very rare. The active ingredient in Milk Thistle, silymarin, is found in the seeds and has been used for thousands of years as a treatment for liver disorders.

The National Cancer Institute is reporting some very encouraging data about Milk Thistle. In research studies, it was found that Milk Thistle protects the liver from damage by toxic chemicals.

This same research showed that Milk Thistle inhibits the growth of cancer cells and tumors. The most exciting data comes from the research regarding liver cell regeneration. Studies have shown that silymarin accelerates liver cell regeneration by stimulating the precursors to DNA synthesis.

This process also works by enhancing the production of cellular enzymes that are required for DNA synthesis. More research needs to be done in human trials, but imagine what this could mean for patients that are living with a partially removed liver. Besides these benefits, Milk Thistle has also been used for renal toxicity, chronic hepatitis C and is the only known anecdote for death cap mushroom poisoning.

So...you decide, superhero or villain?

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