Background: Herbal products are increasingly used for their effects on the immune system. Milk Thistle, a commonly used herbal product is known to inhibit growth of certain tumors, although the mechanism of this effect remains unknown. Previously we have shown that Milk Thistle extracts stimulate neurons in culture. Since other drugs that affect the neuronal; system also affect the immune system, we investigated the effects of Milk Thistle on the immune system.
Material/methods: Standardized Milk Thistle extract was studied in murine lymphocyte proliferation tests using Concanavalin A (ConA) as mitogen for non-specific stimulation and mixed lymphocyte culture (MLC) as allospecific stimulation. Th1 and Th2 cytokine levels in MLC were assayed by two antibody capture ELISA technique. All tests were performed in triplicate and repeated twice.
Results: We found that Milk Thistle is immunostimulatory in vitro. It increased lymphocyte proliferation in both mitogen and MLC assays. These effects of Milk Thistle were associated with an increase in interferon gamma, interleukin (IL)-4 and IL-10 cytokines in the MLC (table). This immunostimulatory effect increased in response to increasing doses of Milk Thistle.
Conclusions: Our study has uncovered a novel effect of milk thistle on the immune system. This immunostimulatory effect may be of benefit in increasing the immunity to infectious diseases.