Milk Thistle For Liver Detoxification? Other Herbs Helpful In Liver Detoxification

Family: Asteraceae
Genus and Species: Silybum marianum

Milk thistle is an herbaceous annual or biennial plant with a dense prickly flower head with purplish tubular flowers.
milk thistle for liver detoxification

Milk thistle is an edible plant native to southern Europe, southern Russia, Asia Minor, and nothern Africa, and has been used for food in the countries surrounding the Mediterranean for a long time as well as a tonic herb for the liver. Virtually all parts of the plant have been used as food with no known toxicity. Milk thistle was introduced to North America by European colonists.

Today, milk thistle is best known as a producer of liver protectant known as silymarin, a group of milk thistle flavonoids. The milk thistle in commerce is a standardized extracts prepared from the fruits (seeds) of Silybum marianum. Like Ginkgo biloba, milk thistle is required to be standardized and rendered to concentrated forms to be effectively used for desired medicinal purposes, which, in this case, is as a hepatoprotectant. In general, milk thistle extracts are standardized to a concentration of 70-80% of flavone lignans including isosilybinin, silybinin, silychristin, and silydianin, which are collectively called silymarin.

Milk Thistle For Liver Detoxification

milk thistle helpful for liver detoxification
Milk thistle has been known in Europe and other Mediterranean countries since ancient times. Theophrastus mentioned about milk thistle around 4th century, B.C. Dioscorides wrote about the medicinal value of milk thistle, and Pliny the Elder wrote on the improvement of bile flow by milk thistle, calling it "Silybum" around the 1st century, A.D. Nicholas Culpeper, an English herbalist mentioned in 1650 that milk thistle is effective for removing liver obstructions.

Von Haller documented the use of milk thistle for liver ailments in 1744. Milk thistle has been mentioned as a folkloric remedy for asthma, cancer , catarrh, chest pains, dropsy, fever, hepatitis, rabies, jaundice, vaginal discharge, malaria, plague, spasms, and spleen problems. Milk thistle has been under scientific and clinical investigation since turn of the last century, mainly in Germany. In the 1960s, German scientists identified a group of active ingredients from milk thistle, mainly from the seeds, and named them collectively as "silymarin". The preparation of milk thistle fruits and seeds were approved by German Commission E as a highly safe and effective herb for liver health.

German Commission E approved the internal use of crude milk thistle fruit preparations for dyspeptic complaints. Standardized extracts (usually ranging in silymarin concentration from 70 to 80%) are approved for toxic liver damage and as a supportive treatment for chronic inflammatory liver disease and hepatic cirrhosis.

liver detoxification with milk thistle
Silymarin is known to protect the liver by altering and strengthening the structure of outer cell membranes of hepatocytes (liver cells), preventing toxins from entering the liver cells, and by stimulating the regenerative ability of the liver and the formation of new hepatocytes through the activation of an enzyme nucleolar polymerase A, which leads to the increase in ribosomal protein synthesis and cell division.

Silymarin, as an anti-oxidant, may also reduce damages to liver cells caused by chronic use of certain prescription drugs. The silybin component of sillymarin has been related to cholesterol-lowering effects. Through the capability to increase bile solubility, sylimarin may also help prevent or alleviate gallstones.

Dose: 12-15 grams per day of powdered seed is recommended for making infusions or other preparations to be taken orally. For standardized extract, 200-400 mg of silymarine per day is recommended.

Side Effects: No side effects are known for crude preparation, as milk thistle is a food, and a relative of artichoke. For standardized extract with high concentration of sylimarine, a mild laxative effect has been observed occasionally.

Chemistry and Pharmacology Of Milk Thistle

A rather complete chemical composition list of milk thistle can be found in Dr. Duke's Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases. Milk thisle seeds contain 1.5-3% flavonolignans, collectively called silymarin; 20-30% fixed oils, of which approximately 60% is linoleic acid, approximately 30% is oleic acid, and approximately 9% is palmitic acid; 25-30% protein; 0.038% tocopherol; 0.63% sterols, including choleterol, campeterol, stigmasterol, and sitosterol; and some mucilage. [Herbal Medicine - Expanded Commission E monographs, by Mark Blumenthal, Alicia Goldberg, and Josef Brinckmann, first edition, 2000]. Silymarin's constituents are isosilybinin, silybinin, silychristin, and silydianin, of which silybinin accounts for approximately 50% of silymarin. [Dr. Duke's Essential Herbs, by James A Duke, 1999].

There have been very few clinical tests on milk thistle or any herb for women at pregnancy. Thus, although an extremely safe herb and food, milk thistle is recommended against women who are pregnant or lactating largely due to the lack of data and our ignorance.

Milk Thistle Protects Liver Function

As a mild food and herb, milk thistle's anecdotes and folklores may not be as fancy and splendid as those of ginseng or ginkgo. Unlike the latter two herbs, milk tistle is strictly non-Asian, and has been used in the regions surrounding the Mediterranean. Medicinal efficacies of milk thistle fruits and seeds for protecting the liver and helping with various ailments associated with liver function have been known and exploited for more than two thousand years, even before the preparation methods for standardized extracts were available.

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In addition to looking into various herbs to help detoxify your liver, don't forget the Liver Flush which you can perform at home.

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