Research on silymarin milk thistle suggests that this herb may be useful not only for promoting liver health, but also protecting cells in the pancreas from damage in type 2 diabetes mellitus. A toxic protein can accumulate in the beta islet cells of the pancreas, which make our own natural insulin for blood sugar control. The toxic protein is a type of amyloid deposit from misfolded proteins (a similar problem occurs in the brain with brain proteins as part of developing Alzheimer’s disease).
In the new study, investigators looked at one of the main flavonoids from milk thistle (silymarin herb) to see if it would interfere with the accumulation of the toxic protein in human islet cells. The result was protecting the islet cells from dying and losing the ability to make insulin. In type 1 diabetes, the body makes autoantibodies against the beta islet cells. However, even though a type 2 diabetic may not start with direct damage to the pancreas itself, the toxic amyloid becomes a different, but also undesirable way to lose the ability to make your own insulin.
The end result of the disease process in either type of diabetes is that you need to inject insulin to keep your blood sugar from getting dangerously high. But, insulin that your body does not make is very very tricky to manage safely. If you guess wrong about how much you need and you take too little, your blood sugar still goes too high and causes damage to your cells. If you guess wrong about how much you need and you take too much, your blood sugar will fall too far too fast — and you run the risk of a serious sudden event. It will include anxiety, fuzzy thinking, and shakiness — but it can be much worse with passing out, having a seizure, and developing brain damage over the long term. If the blood sugar drops into a very serious range, you can even die for lack of enough blood sugar to support your brain and other bodily organs.
So, any steps you can take to reduce or perhaps eliminate the advanced stages of diabetes when you need to inject insulin are important. If you were to take natural remedies that support your pancreas health, you may be able to delay the need for taking insulin. No promises, of course, but it is worth considering and discussing with your health care provider. Silymarin supplements are widely available online and in health food stores.
With any herbal product, also be a wary consumer. Products can differ widely in quality, standardization (for the islet protection you would be looking for “silibniin” as an extracted flavonoid), and contaminants. Try to get products by companies with a long history of being in business and testing their products properly for safety and ingredents.
So, silymarin milk thistle ingredients might be another tool to help you control blood sugar in type 2 diabetes.