A report published in the October 28, 2007 issue of the World Journal of Gastroenterology described the finding of hepatologist Ke-Qin Hu, John J Lah and Wei Cui at the University of California, Irvine that silibinin, derived from milk thistle, significantly reduces the growth of several human liver cancer cell lines. The compound has previously demonstrated an inhibitory effect on prostate, colon, skin, bladder and lung cancer cell cultures.
Silibinin is a polyphenolic flavonoid and the major biologically active compound of the milk thistle plant. Milk thistle has long been used as an herbal remedy for liver disease and has been shown to have a protective effect on the organ against alcohol or drug related damage.
In the current study, Dr Hu's team treated four different human hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) cell lines with varying doses of silibinin, and examined the compound's effect on cell growth and proliferation, apoptosis, cell cycle progression, histone acetylation, and other related processes.
The team found a dose-dependent inhibition of tumor growth associated with silibinin compared to untreated cells in all lines tested. They discovered that silibinin decreased cancer cell proliferation and cell cycle progression, enhanced apoptosis (programmed cell self-destruction), and altered the genetic structure of the cancerous cells. At a higher concentration, silibinin also showed an inhibitory effect on two markers of angiogenesis.
"Our results defined silibinin's in vitro anti-HCC effects and possible mechanisms, and provided a rationale to further test silibinin for HCC chemoprevention," the authors conclude.Health Concern: Complementary alternative cancer therapies
Complementary alternative medical therapies (CAM) is a collective term for an array of remedies that lie outside what is traditionally considered conventional medical treatment for cancer. These include the use of herbal, vitamin, and nutritional supplements, as well as physical and psychological interventions such as exercise, relaxation, massage, prayer, hypnotherapy, and acupuncture (Deng G et al 2005; Hann D et al 2005; Molassiotis A et al 2005). The use of CAM as a component of integrated cancer treatment regimens may help patients reduce the side effects associated with conventional cancer treatments, alleviate symptoms, enhance immune function, and provide greater quality of (and control over) life (Deng G et al 2004, 2005).
Natural strategies known to prevent the development and progression of cancer include:
- Green and black teas
- Folic acid
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin K
Silymarin, a milk thistle extract, demonstrates anti-cancer properties against prostate cancer cells and may be useful in preventing and treating prostate cancer (Singh RP et al 2004; vis-Searles PR et al 2005).