Milk Thistle – Support for Liver Inflammation & Detoxification
Clinical Herbalist Reviewed on June 28, 2011 by Paulina Nelega, RH
While Milk Thistle derives its name from the milky latex contained within its leaves, it is actually the seed of the dried flower that is used in herbal medicine. This member of the Thistle family is one of our premier herbs for supporting the liver and aiding in detoxification!
Milk Thistle is a gentle restorative tonic that can be used daily on a long-term basis to protect the liver and help it function better. The liver is a multitasking organ involved in thousands of different metabolic processes, including its extremely important role in detoxification of chemicals and pollutants. These may be breathed in or absorbed from our environment, or ingested in food or drink. It also metabolizes and detoxifies all types of drugs including prescription medications, alcohol, and other substances.
One of the most active compounds in Milk Thistle is silymarin, a group of related flavonoids. Silymarin complex is a powerful antioxidant that has been shown to help repair, and even regenerate, liver cells that have been damaged by infection or inflammation (hepatitis), or by cirrhosis. It provides these benefits by, in part, improving the utilization of glutathione. Glutathione is the body’s “master antioxidant” and protects the liver, and body overall, from free radical damage.
Silymarin also increases protein synthesis within the liver cells, which helps to repair the liver cells themselves, and regenerate new ones. It may also help decrease cirrhosis (scarring) in the liver, which occurs when functional liver cells are replaced with collagen; for example, with chronic alcohol abuse.
Milk Thistle is excellent either on its own or in combination with other liver-supportive herbs such as Dandelion, Burdock root, and (my all-time favorite!) Turmeric root.
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Paulina Nelega, RH, has been in private practice as a Clinical Herbalist for over 15 years. She has developed and taught courses in herbal medicine, and her articles on health have appeared in numerous publications. She is very passionate about the healing power of nature. Ask Dr. Jan