Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) is a plant found throughout United States, California, South America, Africa, Australia and Asia. Historically, milk thistle plays a role as a natural remedy to treat a range of health condition especially liver disorders such as hepatitis, cirrhosis, jaundice, gallbladder problems, diabetes, indigestion and other conditions.
One of the active ingredients in milk thistle is called silymarin, which is extracted from the fruit of the plant. Silymarinis believed to have a mixture of active flavonolignans and flavonoids that displays scavenger and antioxidant properties and act against free radicals as well as having anti-inflammatory effect. This antioxidant activity of Silymarin can protect our liver from both acute and chronic toxicity and injury, which is why milk thistle may be beneficial for liver problems.
Today, milk thistle is still used as a complementary treatment to help with chronic inflammatory liver diseases.
Function of Our Liver
Liver is a very important organ in our body. It is located under our rib cage and on the right side of our abdomen. Liver regulates most chemicals in the blood as all the blood leaving the stomach and intestine will pass through the liver. The liver will process this blood and breaks down, balances, and metabolizes drugs into forms that are easier to use for the rest of the body or that are nontoxic. This is why we often associate detoxification to liver function.
There are various related health conditions that are related to poor detoxification of our liver, which may lead to liver related diseases such as alcoholic liver disease, hepatitis and fatty liver disease.
Liver diseases can either be genetic or caused by a variety of factors that damage the liver such as toxins, viruses, alcohol use and obesity. Over time, these damages will lead to several conditions such as scarring of the liver, which can lead to liver failure.
Role of Milk Thistle in Liver Health
Milk thistle has been shown to play a role in the management of some of these related liver health conditions. A few studies have shown that the benefits of silymarin on these conditions; to reduce inflammation and protect the liver, and to improve liver function.
Alcoholic liver disease is a result of overconsuming alcohol that damages liver cells, which will lead to build up of fats, inflammation and scarring. One of the ways to help with alcoholic disease is to stop the intake of alcohol completely.
Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. Inflammation happens when our liver tissues are injured or infected. Alcohol consumption, several health conditions and some medication might cause inflammation of the liver. Viral infections are the most common cause of hepatitis, such as Hepatitis B and C. Chronic hepatitis can lead to complication such as scarring of the liver, liver failure or even liver cancer.
Fatty liver disease is a common condition caused by the storage of extra fat in the liver. In most cases, fatty liver disease will not cause any symptoms as the liver can still function normally. However if left uncorrected, the disease will worsen over time and might lead to inflammation and scarring of the liver tissue. Being overweight, having type II diabetes and having high cholesterol will increase the risk of you getting fatty liver disease.
Lifestyle tips for a healthy liver
The best way to fight a disease is to avoid it. Here are a few tips to keep your liver healthy.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Weight loss can play an important part in reducing liver fat.
- Eat a well-balanced diet
- Exercise regularly to burn off the fat storage in our body
- Limit your intake of alcohol. Alcoholic drinks can damage our liver cells and scar our liver.
In general, milk thistle is a beneficial complementary treatment option alongside with the other conventional treatment. Nevertheless, it is always a good idea to speak with a healthcare professional before starting to use milk thistle or any other supplement.
- Gobalakrishnan, S., Asirvatham, S. S., &Janarthanam, V. (2016). Effect of Silybin on Lipid Profile in Hypercholesterolaemic Rats. Journal of clinical and diagnostic research : JCDR, 10(4), FF01–FF5. https://doi.org/10.7860/JCDR/2016/16393.7566
- Abenavoli, L., Capasso, R., Milic, N., &Capasso, F. (2010). Milk thistle in liver diseases: past, present, future. Phytotherapy Research, 24(10), 1423–1432. doi:10.1002/ptr.3207