What is Milk Thistle?
Other names: Silymarin, Marian Thistle, Mediterranean Thistle, Mary Thistle, Holy Thistle, Silybum Marianum
Milk thistle is a plant native to Europe. It has a long history of use as a folk remedy for liver and gallbladder disorders. The active constituent of milk thistle is thought to be silymarin, a flavonoid found in the seeds.
Why Do People Use Milk Thistle?
Milk thistle supplements have been explored for chronic hepatitis, however, larger, well-designed studies are needed before it can be recommended for this condition.
Preliminary studies suggest milk thistle supplements may be beneficial for people with cirrhosis. It may improve liver function. More research is needed, however, because many of the studies conducted so far on milk thistle and cirrhosis have been poorly designed.
Protection From Liver Damage:
Milk thistle may protect the liver against toxicity from acetaminophen (Tylenol), alcohol and other drugs. In Europe, milk thistle is reportedly administered to patients when they are given medications known to cause liver problems.
Milk thistle nutritionally supports the liver's ability to maintain normal liver function. It has shown positive effects in treating nearly every known form of liver disease, including cirrhosis, hepatitis, necroses, and liver damage due to drug and alcohol abuse. Milk thistle works due to its ability to inhibit the factors responsible for liver damage, coupled with the fact it stimulates production of new liver cells to replace old damaged ones.
Milk thistle has been proven to protect the liver from damage. The detrimental effects of environmental toxins, alcohol, drugs and chemotherapy may be countered with this valuable herb. The active chemical component in the herb is silybin, which functions as an antioxidant and is one of the most potent liver protective agents known. Clinical trials have proven silybin to be effective in treating chronic liver diseases and in protecting the liver from toxic chemicals. An injection of silybin is a proven antidote for poisoning with the Deathcap mushroom (Amanita phalloides).
Silybin is a part of the chemical structure of the flavoligan silymarine. Milk thistle's hepatoprotective effects may be explained by its function of altering the liver cell membrane structure, blocking the absorption of toxins into the cells. Hepatoprotection by silymarin can also be attributed to its ability to increase the intracellular concentration of glutathione, a substance required for detoxicating reactions in liver cells. Milk thistle is also an antioxidant that is more potent than vitamins C and E.
Milk thistle has also been explored for cancer prevention and high cholesterol.
Side Effects and Safety Concerns:
Side effects may include indigestion, headache and itching. Rarely, milk thistle may result in heartburn, gas, diarrhea, joint pain and sexual dysfunction.
People with allergies to daisies, artichokes, kiwi, common thistle or plants in the aster family may also be allergic to milk thistle. There have been several reports of anaphylactic shock in people who have used milk thistle products.
The safety of milk thistle in pregnant or nursing women is unknown.
Theoretically, milk thistle may lower blood sugar levels, so it should be used with caution by people with diabetes, hypoglycemia and those taking medications or supplements that affect blood sugar levels.
There is a theoretical risk that milk thistle could have an estrogen-like effect, so people with hormone-sensitive conditions such as endometriosis, uterine fibroids or cancers of the breast, uterus and ovaries should avoid milk thistle, particularly the above ground parts of the plant.
Milk thistle may reduce the effectiveness of oral contraceptives. One constituent of milk thistle can inhibit an enzyme called beta-glucuronidase, which is involved in the activity of oral contraceptives.
Nature's Way's Thisilyn (Milk Thistle)
Jarrow Milk Thistle