Milk thistle works to keep your liver in good health

Milk thistle works to keep your liver in good health – milk thistle’s flavonoid extract, silymarin

Frank Murray

Milk Thistle Works to Keep Your Liver In Good Health

Researchers have discovered a wide range of functions for milk thistle’s flavonoid extract, silymarin

During the first century A.D., Pliny, the Roman naturalist, reported that milk thistle was an excellent herb for restoring impaired liver function. Today, many herbalists recommend milk thistle for treating hepatitis, cirrhosis of the liver, deathcup mushroom poisoning and other problems involving the liver. The whole plant, with the spines removed, is highly prized for stimulating appetite and digestion. In some parts of the world, milk thistle is eaten as a salad green and cooked vegetable.

The liver is the largest organ in the body, weighing about three pounds. Since it performs more than 500 functions in the body, a healthy liver is necessary for good health, and milk thistle can help keep the organ functioning properly.

In addition to releasing vitamins when the body needs them, the liver is necessary for manufacturing glycogen, stabilizing the body’s blood sugar levels, detoxifying poisons and inactivating drugs. In addition, the liver produces enzymes, processes digested proteins and fats, removes waste products, manufactures cholesterol and bile and is an important source of heat. The liver can continue to function after 90 percent of it has been removed, and it can eventually grow back to its normal size if no disorder weakens the organ.

Vitamins A, B, D, E and K are stored in the liver, and all but the B vitamins are soluble in fats and are therefore absorbed into the body with fatty materials. The detergent action of bile in the small intestine breaks down fats and vitamins, which are absorbed into the bloodstream.

Agents that provide protection for the liver are urgently needed in today’s highly polluted world, not only to prevent infections such as viral hepatitis, but also to help prevent damage from toxins ranging from amotoxins to ethyl alcohol, said Varro E. Tyler, Ph.D., provost of the School of Pharmacy, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind.

“Silymarin, a mixture of flavono-lignans obtained from the seeds of the milk thistle, is currently marketed in Europe and used for just these purposes [to protect the liver] with considerable success,” said Dr. Tyler.

Studies by Hildebert Wagner and Otto Seligmann at the University of Munich, West Germany, confirm that silymarin protects intact liver cells or cells not yet irreversibly damaged by acting on the cell membrane and stimulating the protein synthesis, which accelerates the process of regeneration of the liver, the researchers said.

Meticulous research in Germany in the early 1970s isolated the active principles in milk thistle, according to Michael Colgan, Ph.D. The three compounds are silybin, silydianin and silychristin, which together form the substance silymarin.

“Silybin is a flavonoid,” said Dr. Colgan. “Bioflavonoids act generally in the body to increase membrane strength and reduce membrane permeability. Silybin appears to act in this way specifically on liver cells. The flow of chemicals across membranes is the major way in which your biochemistry works. Any substance that alters this flow can have profound effects.”

Milk thistle can act as an antioxidant with many times more antioxidant activity than vitamin E, according to AIBR Scientific Reviews. It interferes with the formation of liver-damaging leukotrienes while inhibiting prostaglandin synthesis during inflammatory reactions. By combining our current understanding of the physiochemical properties of milk thistle, we can better understand why it can be a therapeutic substance in the treatment of liver disorders. Milk thistle is a free-radical scavenger. It interferes in the production of leukotrienes and stimulates protein synthesis.

A blend of milk thistle, turmeric and dandelion root is being used to treat liver disorders, to enhance the excretion of bile, to support the functioning of the gallbladder and to improve digestive processes, according to Daniel B. Mowrey, Ph.D., in Next Generation Herbal Medicine.

“The beneficial and complementary effects of these three products on virtually every aspect of the digestive system make this combination a truly superior product,” Dr. Mowrey said. “When the digestive system needs a boost, particularly in the presence of indigestion, flatulence and heartburn, the blend should be a very powerful aid.”

At the time of his report Dr. Vogel said that 49 patients with death-cup fungus poisoning were under observation in Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland and France. All were treated with infusions of 20 mg/kg daily. “For ethical reasons, no controlled study could be carried out in the sense that one group receives a placebo and the other the substance, rather silybin was administered in addition to the present usual treatment method. The results range from amazing to spectacular,” said Dr. Vogel.

It is obvious that milk thistle will be one of the favored herbs of the 1990s and beyond. A substance that offers protection to the liver, one of our vital organs, deserves every consideration. You can find milk thistle formulas, with the herb by itself or combined with other herbs at your health food store.

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