Benefits of Milk Thistle

Milk thistle is a plant whose fruit and seeds have been used for more than 2,000 years as a treatment for liver and biliary disorders.

Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) is an herb said to have properties that promote liver health. The seeds contain silymarin, a group of compounds (including silybin, silydianin, and silychristin) which make up a complex mixture of flavonolignans that is said to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects and protect liver cells.

These compounds offer multiple mechanisms of liver protection. In fact, it has traditionally been used to treat liver and gallbladder disorders, prevent and treat cancer and even protect the liver from other environmental poisons.

The liver is one of the largest organs in the body and is crucial for numerous functions, including removing environmental and dietary toxins from the body.  The liver is also crucial for detoxification, purifying the body of various toxic substances. As it performs these functions, the liver is itself prone to injury. When standardized extracts of milk thistle are combined with a phospholipid delivery system, absorption is significantly  enhanced.

Proteins including AST and ALT are normally present inside liver cells, however, when any pathology causes damage to liver cells, the levels of these enzymes rises in the blood, detectable on a simple blood test. Elevated liver enzyme levels are a useful marker of liver disease and can help to track response to treatment.

Milk thistle extracts have been found to decrease liver enzyme levels in many clinical studies, indicating protection from various types of liver injury.

It’s been suggested that the antioxidant effects of silymarin may have some anticancer effects, which could be helpful for people receiving cancer treatment.(1) 

Laboratory studies demonstrate that silymarin stabilizes cellular membranes, stimulates detoxification pathways, stimulates regeneration of liver tissue, inhibits the growth of certain cancer cell lines, exerts direct cytotoxic activity toward certain cancer cell lines, and may also make chemotherapy work more effectively against certain cancers and, in some circumstances, even destroy cancer cells (2, 3).

Human clinical trials have investigated milk thistle or silymarin primarily in individuals with hepatitis or cirrhosis, although small studies have been reported about individuals with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, prostate cancer, breast cancer, head and neck cancer, and hepatocellular carcinoma. 

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