The beneficial properties of milk thistle have been known for centuries. It’s healing benefits were first recorded as early as the first century by Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder who wrote about it’s ability to “carry bile” throughout the body. From liver-health to indigestion, this prickly-looking plant has several long-standing perks. But, scientists with the University of Colorado Cancer Center have demonstrated yet another, perhaps previously unknown benefit: skin cancer prevention.
Researchers have found that silibinin, an extract from milk thistle, can actually combat skin cancer and photo-aging in two specific ways. According to their work, milk thistle is both able to repair skin cells damaged by radiation and destroy those that may go on to cause cancer.
In regards to UVA radiation, which according to GreenMedInfo, makes up 95% of the radiation reaching earth, silibinin-treated skin cells reacted far better to radiation, with a dramatic number of damaged cells dying off of their own accord. In addition, the silibinin was completely non-toxic to undamaged cells. In other words, the silibinin seemed to intelligently differentiate between damaged and non-damaged skin cells, killing only those that could go on to cause cancer.
The same researchers looked at silibinin and UVB radiation in another study. UVB radiation accounts for 5% of the sun’s radiation reaching Earth. In that study, the silibinin didn’t kill off the cells damaged by UVB radiation, but instead protected them from the DNA damage that could lead to cancer. It repaired them.
Some of their research was recently published in Phytochemistry and Photobiology.
The ways in which nature can almost intelligently act within the body are truly remarkable. In 2007, research published in Integrative Cancer Therapies reviewed numerous clinical studies suggesting milk thistle’s positive effects on cancer. After examination and according to the abstract: “there is strong preclinical evidence for silymarin’s hepatoprotective and anticarcinogenic effects, including inhibition of cancer cell growth in human prostate, skin, breast, and cervical cells”.
Although the research directly on humans has not been carried out, you can find milk thistle in seeds, supplements, and liquid extracts. It can be used for appetite improvement, heartburn, liver disorders, inducing menstruation, increasing lactation, depression, malaria, and even hangovers.