Milk thistle is a plant that contains silymarin, which may be one of the most potent liver-protecting substances known. It appears to both prevent damage to the liver and stimulate new growth of liver cells to replace damaged cells. What's more, silymarin has been shown to help relieve more "common" complications, such as fatigue, loss of appetite, and stomach discomfort.
Other names for Milk Thistle
silybum, Silybum marianum, silymarin
Where to find Milk Thistle
Silymarin, the active compound, is extracted from the milk thistle plant. The highest concentration of silymarin is found in the fruit, but it's also contained in the seeds and leaves.
Why athletes use Milk Thistle
Milk thistle is typically supplemented by people who have used excess amounts of medications, including steroids, to help heal or protect their livers. It may also be beneficial for those folks who live or work in high pollution areas (e.g., big cities) or around a variety of chemicals — think painters, chemical plant workers, or beauticians.
Ways that Milk Thistle can enhance Longevity:
- Block the destruction from free radicals, especially in the liver
- Enhance levels of the body's natural antioxidants glutathione and superoxide dismutase
Signs of Milk Thistle deficiency
No deficiency conditions are known to exist.
Potential uses for Milk Thistle
Research indicates that Milk Thistle may be useful in the treatment of:
More about Milk Thistle
Extracted from the milk thistle plant, silymarin has been shown to powerfully improve liver function. In fact, a number of experts suggest that silymarin may be one of the most potent liver-protecting substances known. Silymarin, an antioxidant, is made up of three bioflavonoids — silybin, silydianin, and silychristin — and it's been shown to not only destroy free radicals but to increase levels of glutathione and superoxide dismutase (SOD), two of the body's strongest natural antioxidants.
How does it work?
Silymarin appears to both prevent damage to the liver and stimulate new growth of liver cells to replace damaged cells. Because the liver is one of the hardest working organs, overall health depends a great deal on a healthy liver. You see, the liver filters the blood and helps detoxify poisons, such as nicotine, alcohol, chemicals, and pollutants. And silymarin, because of its potential ability to improve liver function, has been shown to help treat many ailments: from alcohol damage (including cirrhosis) to jaundice to hepatitis to gallstones to psoriasis (the "scaly skin" condition) and even to amanita mushroom (death cap mushroom) poisoning, which causes death by destroying liver cells.
Some drugs, including steroids and large amounts of Tylenol, are known to put a tremendous strain on our livers, and some experts suggest silymarin may be able to help support liver health during these stressful situations. In addition, silymarin has been shown to help improve more "common" complications, such as fatigue, loss of appetite, and stomach discomfort.
Milk thistle is used mostly by people with specific liver disorders, and research suggests these individuals should notice improvements in about 8 to 12 weeks. However, silymarin could also be beneficial for people who may unknowingly be putting excess demands on their livers. That includes people who are around toxins and chemicals for their jobs, such as painters, beauticians, and chemical plant workers. Or people who use larger amounts of over-the-counter meds like Tylenol or even prescription drugs.
Anywhere between 175 and 350 mg of milk thistle, standardized for silymarin, taken one to two times daily, is typical.
The standard amount of milk thistle is based on its silymarin content, so standardized extracts (typically around 80%) are preferred.
Supplementation is divided into one to two dosages and taken after meals.
Synergists of Milk Thistle
When bound to phosphatidylcholine, silymarin, the active compound found in milk thistle, has been shown in some research to be absorbed better. Reportedly, less silymarin is needed to be effective when bound — only 100 to 200 mg twice a day.
Drugs that interact with Milk Thistle
There are no known negative drug interactions. In fact, milk thistle may actually support and reduce side effects of many drugs that may cause liver damage. Check with a nutritionally orientated practitioner for more details.
Toxicity of Milk Thistle
Milk thistle has extremely low toxicity and has been shown to be safe even for pregnant women. It may, however, initially cause looser stools. If this occurs, more fiber in your diet is recommended by some experts.
Bans and restrictions
- Canini, F., et al., "Use of Silymarin in the Treatment of Alcoholic Hepatic Steatosis," Clin Ter 114.4 (1985) : 307-14.
- Ferenci, P., et al., "Randomized Controlled Trial of Silymarin Treatment in Patients with Cirrhosis of the Liver," J Hepatol 9.1 (1989) : 105-13.
- Flora, K., et al., "Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum) for the Therapy of Liver Disease," Am J Gastroenterol 93.2 (1998) : 139-43.
- Lang, I., et al., "Hepatoprotective and Immunological Effects of Antioxidant Drugs," Tokai J Exp Clin Med 15.2-3 (1990) : 123-7.
- Muzes, G., et al., "Effect of the Bioflavonoid Silymarin on the In Vitro Activity and Expression of Superoxide Dismutases (SOD) Enzyme," Acta Physiol Hung 78.1 (1991) : 3-9.
- Skottova, N., and Krecman, V., "Silymarin as a Potential Hypocholesterolaemic Drug," Physiol Res 47.1 (1998) : 1-7.