Research on Milk Thistle and it’s components appears to be growing. The current theory regarding mode of activity is that Silymarin supports liver health in two major ways.
First, it alters the outer cell membrane of hepatocytes (liver cells) in such a way as to prevent penetration of harmful substances into the interior of cells. Second, it stimulates the action of nucleolar polymerase A (an enzyme involved in chromosome replication) resulting in an increase in ribosomal protein synthesis, which stimulates the regenerative ability of the liver and the formation of new hepatocytes. Silymarin may also stimulate an increase in bile flow from the gall bladder to the intestine. Silymarin is being investigated as an agent to support healthy cholesterol levels by exerting an effect on the liver cholesterol metabolism. Silymarin also possesses antioxidant properties. Studies have indicated that oxidative stress plays a role in the pathogenesis of toxic liver disease and other liver problems, and Silymarin may reduce oxidative stress in the liver. Therefore, any liver subjected to chemical or chronic illness stresses may benefit from the additional nutritional support that Silymarin provides. In an article for Prevention magazine, Varro Tyler, Ph.D., Sc.D, states that Milk Thistle may help support the liver in people taking prescription medication that may adversely affect the liver.
Milk Thistle, known in Latin as Silybum Marianum, is one of the most effective herbs for detoxifying and regenerating the liver. The liver is responsible for breaking down and eliminating most toxic substances. These include drugs, antibiotics, cortisone, chemotherapy, anti-seizure medications, anti-inflammatory, preservatives in food, artificial flavouring and colouring agents, shampoos, environmental chemicals, foods fried in certain oils, chemicals found in tap water, household cleansers, air pollution, tobacco smoke and distillates. Hundreds of scientific studies have demonstrated that Milk Thistle can protect the liver from potent toxins such as poisonous mushrooms, heavy metals and alcohol.
The herb has several mechanisms of action. It stimulates protein synthesis, which contributes to regeneration and replacement of liver cells. It helps protect the liver against poisoning by blocking the absorption of toxins into liver cells. It inhibits the formation of inflammatory substances that contribute to liver degeneration. It helps the liver break down toxins. Milk Thistle is a potent anti-oxidant (more potent than Vitamins C and E). This means it can counteract free radical damage that can cause degenerative diseases including cancer. It increases intracellular levels of glutathione, a substance necessary for detoxicating reactions.
Clinical studies have confirmed Milk Thistle’s benefits. Trials in more than 2,000 patients showed benefits in alcohol and chemical induced fatty liver, cirrhosis, chronic hepatitis, bile duct inflammation and non specific changes in liver tissue. Elevated liver enzymes (blood tests for liver function) also improve with Milk Thistle therapy. Silymarin may also help prevent or treat gallstones by increasing the solubility of the bile. The best-known active compound in Milk Thistle is Silybin. It is important to remember that there are many other naturally occurring ingredients that are vital for optimum activity.
Recent studies have shown that Milk Thistle extract may also be beneficial for reducing the chance for certain cancers. With almost no known side effects (Milk Thistle is a food!) and well-known hepatoprotective efficacy, it is said that Milk Thistle can’t be beat as a liver protector.