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Milk thistle

By Denise Elliot

What a wonderful, amazing herb nature has presented us with. The liver protective effect of Silybum marianum (milk thistle) has been shown in a considerable number of clinical and laboratory studies. Its primary use is as an aid to the liver, showing substantial liver regenerative properties.

It is important to note that the liver itself has an incredible power to regenerate, but to do this the body needs to be provided with the correct nutrition to produce the robust cellular activity needed to regenerate.

Milk thistle provides a number of important flavonoid compounds offering antioxidant protection that helps prevent liver destruction. The active constituents in milk thistle include silybin and silybinin, but they are often grouped together under the most active component silymarin.

Silymarin has been shown to inhibit some of the factors that are responsible for liver damage - free radicals - these are the naughty guys that damage cells. Antioxidants protect against these free radicals and silymarin is many times more potent in antioxidant activity than vitamin E.

Probably the most impressive of silymarins protective activity is in the case of severe poisoning by Amanita phalloides - commonly called the Death Cap Mushroom (not found in NZ). There are two peptides in this mushroom that have the most liver-damaging properties. When silymarin is administered before ingesting the mushroom it is 100% effective in preventing toxicity, and even when given 10 minutes after ingestion it completely counteracted the toxic effects. In documented cases, silymarin prevented death and reduced liver damage even when given 24 hours after ingestion.

Milk thistle may also be used to support patients undertaking long term drug therapy. It is advisable to seek advice from your health professional as many drugs are metabolised through the liver.

When alcohol related disease is present this herb may also provide significant benefits. This can range from when the disease is relatively mild, right through to severe states such as when major damage like cirrhosis of the liver is present. Milk thistle may also be able to reverse virally induced liver damage and may help prevent gallstones (it has shown the ability to increase the solubility of bile).

Psoriasis is a skin disorder that is associated with abnormal liver function and this herb has also shown positive effects. A registered natural health practitioner is an ideal support person for helping with dosage ranges and complementary therapies to support your path to wellness.

When taking herbal medicines generally it is best to always supplement with food and when treating the liver reduce or avoid alcohol consumption. Foods that can assist with liver care are green tea, green leafy vegetables, garlic, broccoli, avocado and turmeric is also helpful.

Treating the liver too fast or on an empty stomach can cause nausea and headaches. Any support for the liver is best used gently and slowly, increase the dose gradually and always seek advice when appropriate.