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D.iet & H.ealth : G.eneral H.ealth Last Updated: Nov 12th, 2006 - 20:38:00

Milk Thistle extract may help diabetics
By Diana Simms - Hicenter
Oct 31, 2006, 15:55

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Taking milk thistle extract daily appears to lower fasting glucose levels by 15 percent in diabetes patients, according to an Iranian study. Milk thistle, an herbal supplement, also favorably affects glycosylated hemoglobin levels, total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, and triglyceride levels in the participants of the trial, the study authors said.

Milk Thistle, known also as Silybum marianum, has found many applications as a food, with its leaves widely used as a salad ingredient, stalk eaten like asparagus and the heads consumed like artichoke.

The present study of 51 type-2 diabetic patients meant to test the effect of a Milk Thistle extract on the blood glucose levels. In the four-month randomized trial, patients were randomly assigned either 200 mg of Milk Thistle extract or a placebo three times a day.

During the trial, patients continued receiving the oral hypoglycemic treatment. All participants were examined at the end of each month.

The fasting glucose levels of the Milk Thistle supplementation group decreased on average to 133 mg/dL from 156 milligrams per decilitre (mg/dL) of blood, researchers found. In contrast, placebo group's fasting glucose levels increased from 167 to 188 mg/dL.

Average glycosylated hemoglobin (HbA1c) levels, a good indicator of the effectiveness of a treatment, decreased in the patients receiving the Milk Thistle extract by 1.04 percent after four months, while they actually increased by 1.16 percent in the placebo group, according to the study.

Additionally, Milk Thistle extract reduced the level of total cholesterol by 12 percent, LDL cholesterol by 12 percent and triglyceride levels by 25 percent, the researchers from the Institute of Medicinal Plants, in Tehran, Iran reported.

"The results show that although there were no statistically significant differences between the two groups of patients at the beginning of the study, silymarin [milk thistle extract] significantly lowered HbA1c and fasting blood glucose levels in diabetic patients at the end of the study," the researchers wrote in the journal Phytotherapy Research.

However, the researchers were not sure of the exact mechanism by which milk thistle affects diabetics. "The results are very encouraging, and we now need to do further large multi-centre studies," said lead author Fallah Husein.

At least 7 percent of the US population or over 20 million people suffer from diabetes, according to a 2002 report by the American Diabetes Association. The cost of treating diabetes and related complications is estimated to be $132 billion each year.

The study results suggest the Milk Thistle extract may serve as a supplementary treatment, but the study is small, and further research is needed to confirm its beneficial effect on the diabetes patients.

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