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Milk thistle shows potential -- documented potential -- in helping cancer patients

December 14, 2009 |  1:04 pm

ThistleGood research on herbs and supplements is hard to come by -- and small wonder. The key ingredients aren't exactly new, being the product of nature rather than hefty research-and-development budgets, and are thus unlikely to yield much in the way of patentable compounds. Without a big payoff, there can be little incentive to explore potential simply because of scientific merit.

But when it happens, such research can yield results. A new study, published online today in the journal Cancer, finds that milk thistle may help reduce the liver inflammation associated with chemotherapy. Many people may nod knowingly -- the herb has been used for centuries to treat liver problems. (More on the plant from the University of Maryland Medical Center. Of note, it can treat deathcap-mushroom poisoning.)

The new study is important because liver inflammation often leads to lowered doses of the life-saving, if grueling, drug regimens faced by cancer patients. The study was conducted in children being treated for acute lymphoblastic leukemia. (More on that disease from the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.)

Here's the abstract and a story from MedPage Today. 

And here's additional information on milk thistle from the American Cancer Society, plus a rundown from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

Herbs are part of a greater whole when it comes to outside-the-mainstream medical treatments and their potential. For a recent look at alternative medicine in the United States, there's Alternative medicine is becoming mainstream. And for an examination of its place in the current healthcare debate, there's A broader definition of healthcare.

-- Tami Dennis

Photo: Milk thistle may not be flashy, but it's got potential in the liver-protection department.

Credit: Los Angeles Times

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