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Milk Thistle

Milk thistle (Silybum marianum [Latin]), also called silybum and holy thistle, has been used to treat liver ailments since the days of ancient Rome. Milk thistle improves the liver’s ability to eliminate toxins from the body, and repairs damage to the liver caused by hepatitis, cirrhosis, poisonous mushrooms, drugs, and toxic chemicals.

Preliminary research suggests that this herb also helps lower cholesterol, and boosts the body’s production of its own powerful natural antioxidant, glutathione.

A flavonoid complex called silymarin, which is extracted from milk thistle seeds, is thought to provide this herb’s considerable medicinal benefits. The silymarin complex contains four phytochemicals: silybinin, isosilybinin, silydianin, and silychristin. The terms “milk thistle” and “silymarin” are often used interchangeably.

Numerous studies from Europe have shown conclusively that taking milk thistle supplements helps extend the life of patients suffering from cirrhosis. Researchers tracked patients diagnosed with cirrhosis for five years, and found that those taking 200 milligrams of milk thistle extract three times a day had improved liver function and death rates that were approximately 50 percent lower than those taking placebos. Several European studies have also shown that silymarin helps normalize liver function in people with hepatitis A, B, and C.

Milk thistle has been traditionally used to treat liver poisoning caused by eating Amanita phalloides mushrooms (death caps). Several European studies have shown that silymarin neutralizes this poisonous mushroom more effectively than activated charcoal, the remedy prescribed in mainstream medicine.

Research has also shown that milk thistle protects the liver from the damage that can result from prolonged use of drugs, such as acetaminophen, antibiotics, antipsychotics, and antidepressants. In one study, milk thistle even demonstrated the ability to normalize liver enzyme levels in participants whose liver had been damaged by toxic chemicals.

There is no mainstream medicine that can offer people suffering from liver disorders benefits comparable to those of milk thistle. The stems, leaves, flower buds, and seeds of this plant are edible. However, wild milk thistle doesn’t provide as much silymarin as the specially bred variety used in standardized extracts and capsules, so if you are using this medicine to treat rather than prevent an ailment, you might want to stick with commercial preparations. The usual dosage is 200 milligrams in standardized silymarin capsules or 1 teaspoon in liquid extract of silymarin three times a day, or up to 1,000 milligrams of milk thistle in capsules daily.

There have been few side effects associated with the use of milk thistle; however, in rare cases milk thistle has been reported to cause allergic reaction, stomach upset, and diarrhea. People with liver disease or damage should be under a doctor’s care, and anyone suspecting mushroom poisoning should immediately call poison control.

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