Milk thistle is a flowering herb used for thousands of years as a liver remedy and for a variety of ailments. Its extract standardized to 80% silymarin in a dietary supplement helps the body support healthy liver function by regenerating liver cells so that damaged areas of the liver may be renewed.
The liver is the only internal human organ capable of natural regeneration of lost tissue; as little as 25% of a liver can regenerate into a whole liver. This regeneration capacity is one of the intriguing survival mechanisms of the human body (the skin, hair and portions of bone also have this capability).
Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) is sometimes called silymarin, which is actually a mixture of the herb’s active components, including silybinin. Silymarin also inhibits the factors responsible for causing liver damage. In so doing, it increases the liver’s content of a substance called glutathione, which is responsible for detoxifying many industrial pollutants, chemicals, drugs, hormones, excess alcohol or fat consumption.
Its natural bioflavonoid complex has antioxidant properties that help maintain liver cell integrity. A healthy liver is essential to normal nutrient metabolism, filtration, bile production, detoxification and immune function affecting overall health.
Nutritional deficiencies and imbalances add to the production of toxins, which increases the stress on the liver by requiring a strong detoxification capacity. The burden on the liver today is heavier than ever before in history. Toxic chemicals are found in the food we eat, in the water we drink and the air we breathe, both outdoors and indoors.
According to the U.S. government’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), milk thistle is believed to have protective effects on the liver and improve its function.
Silymarin, which can be extracted from the seeds (fruit) of the milk thistle plant, is believed to be the biologically active part of the herb. The seeds are used to prepare capsules, extracts, and infusions (strong teas).
It is typically used to treat liver cirrhosis, chronic hepatitis (liver inflammation), and gallbladder disorders. Treatment claims also include:
According to the NCCAM, there have been some studies of milk thistle on liver disease in humans, but these have been small. Some promising data have been reported, but study results at this time are mixed.
Although some studies conducted outside the United States support claims of oral milk thistle to improve liver function, there have been flaws in study design and reporting. To date, there is no conclusive evidence to prove its claimed uses.
Recent NCCAM-funded research includes a phase II study to better understand the use of milk thistle for chronic hepatitis C. Additional research, co-funded by NCCAM and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, includes studies of milk thistle for chronic hepatitis C and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (liver disease that occurs in people who drink little or no alcohol).
The National Cancer Institute and the National Institute of Nursing Research are also studying milk thistle, for cancer prevention and to treat complications in HIV patients.
According to the NCCAM, in clinical trials, milk thistle generally has few side effects. Occasionally, people report a laxative effect, upset stomach, diarrhea, and bloating.
Milk thistle can produce allergic reactions, which tend to be more common among people who are allergic to plants in the same family (for example, ragweed, chrysanthemum, marigold, and daisy).
Tell your health care providers about any complementary and alternative practices you use. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your health. This will help ensure coordinated and safe care.
The plant is actually the most researched and best understood of all the medicinal herbs. In fact, study after study has confirmed its most significant property: namely, the ability to protect and actually regenerate the liver with new cells.
Its seeds have been the subject of interest among herbalists, physicians, medicinal manuals, health care professionals, researchers and authors who have documented their propensity as a liver protecting agent dating back to at least the first Century.
Many professional herbalists recommend milk thistle as a liver decongestant to stimulate the flow of bile through the liver and gallbladder. This improves digestion and can prevent the formation of gallstones and bile-induced liver damage.
For the past three decades it is the historical and modern use of dietary supplements in the supportive treatment or prevention of liver disease that has attracted attention.
When milk thistle seed is formulated in a supplement complex with schizandra and reishi mushroom additional antioxidant protection is delivered. When the formulation is further enhanced with dandelion, turmeric and artichoke it helps to maintain healthy bile flow important for the removal of toxins and lowering cholesterol levels. Scientific evidence in support of these ingredients in a featured liver detox supplement :
Detoxification is an essential part of the human body's metabolism, and the liver plays a key role in this process. Toxic chemicals, both of internal and external origin, are constantly bombarding the liver.
Supplying the body with herbal compounds that have antioxidant properties and eliminating toxins from the body by maintaining normal bile flow can help keep your liver functioning at an optimum level.
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Disclaimer: Health statements on this page have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.