Protect Your Liver with Milk Thistle

milkthistletopIn our ever-increasing toxic world, we are placing an enormous burden on the main organ in our body designed to detoxify these poisons. I have written about liver functions in previous articles and have mentioned the herb milk thistle. This article will center on the herb milk thistle and its importance in healing and maintaining proper liver functions. Hepatotoxicity is being considered by many healthcare practitioners to be an underlying cause of many disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, eczema, psoriasis, migraines, and PMS, to mention a few.

Let’s look at the history behind this valuable plant. Since ancient times, many thistles were widely used for their curative effects on the liver; and recently chemical compounds from the seed of Silybum marianum milk thistle have proven scientifically to aid in the protection and rebuilding of liver cells. Milk thistle was recommended by the Greek herbalist, Dioscorides, for snakebite; the English herbalist, Gerald, for bilious disorders; and Culpepper recommended it for jaundice and liver obstructions. During the early part of the last century, the Eclectic School of Medical Herbalists used milk thistle for menstrual difficulty, congestion of the liver, spleen and kidneys. As you can see, it has been used for thousands of years.

Milk thistle is known by many names: St. Mary’s thistle, lady’s thistle, holy thistle, and wild artichoke. It is a member of the compositae or daisy family. All thistles are edible and benefit the liver, but only the Silybim marianum is known to contain the active compounds referred to as silymarin. Silymarin is the collective name for a combination of three of the flavanolignans: silybin, silydianin and silychristin. Research into the efficacy of milk thistle began with a German doctor, Dr. Madaus, in the early 1900s. The mechanism of action was not known until 1980 with the research done by Dr. Sonnenbichler from Munich, Germany.

The liver has a very complex system of how it reduces toxins into harmless substances. Phase one liver detox processes involve recognizing and altering the poisons entering the liver. This is done with a set of enzymes called the P450 enzyme system. The compounds generated by phase one must be further broken down by what is called the phase two detox system. A compound produced in the liver called glutathione aids this process. Milk thistle is known to increase the production of GSH.

Silymarin is a potent antioxidant and is considered to be at least ten times more potent than Vitamin E. The protective effects against liver damage have been demonstrated in numerous clinical studies over the last few years. It has been shown to protect the liver against the toxic effects of carbon tetrachloride, alcohol poisoning, chemotherapy, environmental poisons, pharmaceutical drugs, and the poison from the Amanita mushroom or Poison Death Cap.

It is a standard protocol in Europe to have injectable silymarin in emergency rooms just for the antidote for Amanita mushroom poisoning. Many Europeans eat woodland mushrooms with many cases a year being reported. Why is this an issue? The effect of Amanita mushroom poison is death if treatment is not administered within 24 hours of ingestion. Milk thistle is that antidote.

Let’s look at some of the clinical applications of milk thistle for a variety of liver disorders. Numerous clinical studies have proven the positive effects in the following conditions: Cirrhosis, chronic hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E, fatty liver, gallstones, psoriasis, toxemia during pregnancy, liver inflammation, and cancer.

The leading cause of liver disease is alcohol which causes cirrhosis. It is estimated that 10 million Americans suffer from cirrhosis with over 200,000 deaths per year. In one study, eighty-seven cirrhotics received either placebo or silymarin over a period of 41 months. Dosage of a standardized extract of 140 mg three times per day showed the control group to have a four year survival rate of 58 percent to the placebo group that had a 38 percent survival rate. This was attributed to the use of silymarin that is non-toxic even with use over a long period of time.

One of the most amazing uses of silymarin is with hepatitis sufferers. There are over 300,000 new cases annually in the United States alone, and that is on the increase. Again, milk thistle extract has been shown to improve liver enzymes in many cases. I have personally worked with a number of hepatitis cases, and in most cases improvements have been seen within thirty days. Of course, we are all biochemically different, and outcomes will be different for everyone. It is important to select the proper substance when taking this herb for a specific condition. I have researched and prefer the German formula due to its being used in the clinical studies.

Milk thistle is effective in a variety of preparations with the traditional method as a tea or decoction. Silymarin is poorly soluble in water, but historically it is more bioavailable if the seeds are crushed and soaked overnight before boiling for fifteen minutes. Another method is to make a tincture of the freshly powdered seeds mixed with 9% alcohol. Standardized capsules are available; and when used for specific conditions, this is easier. Extracts are typically made up of a 70% silymarin complex with doses of 140 mg per capsule.

There are no known side effects or contraindications, and this herb is safe during pregnancy and lactation.

As with any substance, I encourage you to do some research before use. There are many references to milk thistle, including: Milk Thistle – The Liver Herb by Christopher Hobbs, The Green Pharmacy by Dr. James A. Duke, and The Healing Power Of Herbs by Dr. Michael T. Murray.

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