Milk Thistle’s Secret: The Liver Health Supplement

Editor: Shuhua Bloom 

Posted: April 10, 2021

A milk thistle is a purple flower with glossy marble leaves, found throughout the world. Aside from its beauty, one of the flower’s substances, silymarin, has been used for thousands of years as a remedy. Now, it is seen as effective for wide-range of liver diseases.

Silymarin is the main component of milk thistle seeds, silybum marianum, but the terms “milk thistle and silymarin are often used interchangeably.

Milk thistle, which is a member of the Asteraceae family of herbs, has been used for 2,000 years as an herbal remedy, especially for liver, kidney and gallbladder ailments. Sunflowers and daisies are in the Asteraceae family.

Most milk thistle products are made from the seeds of the plant, about 80% containing silymarin. Growing silybum marianum as a plant with potentially healthy effects dates back to Ancient Egypt.

Protecting the Liver

Chronic liver disease is among one of the most important health problems in about 10 percent of the world’s population. Many forms of liver diseases and conditions, such as hepatitis and chronic alcoholism, cause liver cirrhosis.

Silymarin, a flavonoid, has been known to protect the liver from toxins as an antioxidant and has anti-inflammatory properties, including action against drugs such as acetaminophen, which can cause liver damage in high doses. It also may help the liver, which may have been damaged by alcohol and other toxic substances, repair itself by growing new cells.

Effect Against Hepatitis, Cirrhosis and Liver Malignancy

A new study says silymarin may be used in the most frequent causes of liver damage, such hepatitis, cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma, (HCC) a liver malignancy.

Silymarin could also impact the mechanisms that cause HCC, the study says, by blocking “the signaling pathways activated in HCC. It can improve the quality of life of patients who had undergone conventional treatment with Sorafenib, a chemotherapy, in advanced forms of HCC.

The incidence of HCC has increased in recent years, becoming the second leading cause of death due to diseases involving tumors, and responsible for 750,000 deaths last year.

The study summed up: “Through the analysis of literature, it has been demonstrated that silymarin has an effect that allows its use in all of the most frequent causes of liver damage.”

Impact on Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

Silymarin also has been determined to have important impacts on non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and may reduce cell damage. That condition affects one in four people around the world, and linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes and liver cancer, and is one of the most frequent causes for liver transplants A group of people who took silymarin-Vitamin E supplement was able to reduce liver fibrosis, a thickening, and scarring of tissue in patients who underwent liver biopsies.

Impact on Hepatitis C

A National Institutes of Health study found that hepatitis C patients who used silymarin had a better quality of life and fewer and milder symptoms of liver disease. There was no change in liver inflammation or virus activity.

How to Take Silymarin/Milk Thistle

There are several available forms of the herb, including capsules, each containing about 120 mg to 140 mg of silymarin, liquid extracts, tincture, or a silymarin phosphatidylcholine complex, which may be absorbed better than regular milk thistle.

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