Silymarin (Milk Thistle)


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by Michael T. Murray, N.D.; published in "Health World" spring 1987

The liver is the most important organ of metabolism disruption of normal liver function results in significant disruption of all metabolic processes. The metabolic functions of the liver include regulation of carbohydrate, fat and protein metabolism, storage of viatmins and minerals, and detoxification reactions.

Since the liver is the major site of detoxification of toxic chmicals in the body, it is also at a very high risk against damage by such chemicals as DDT; dioxin, 2,4,5-T; 4-D; PCB; and PCP. It is not known to what degree Americans are exposed to these toxic compounds, but it is probably quite high as yearly production of synthetic pesticides alone exceeds 1.4 billion pounds. In addition, many drugs and alcohol are also known to damage the liver.

Avoidanceof these damaging chemicals is the first defense against liver damage. The second defense may be the use of a Silymarin Comples. Silymarin Comples is composed of concentrated extracts of herbs which have demonstrated remarkable effects in protecting the liver from chemical damage and in improving liver function in experimental studies. These herbs have a long history of use in a wide variety of conditions. Their success is probably related to a common property: they improve the function of the liver.


The common milk thistle contains some of the most potent liver-protecting substances known. The concentration of these components is highest in the fruit. Silybums effect of preventing iver destruction derives from its ability to inhibit those factors that are responsible for the damage. Liver destruction occurs primarily as a result of certain toxins producing or acting as free radicals; highly reactive compounds that damage other molecules. Silybum componenets prevent free radical damage by acting as antioxidants.

These components are many times more potent in antioxidant activity than Vitamin E is.

Another way in which the liver can be damaged is by the action of leukotrienes. These compouds are produced by the transfer of oxygen to a polyunsaturated fatty acid. This reaction is catalyzed by the enzyme lipoxygenase. Silybum components inhibit this enzyme, thereby inhibiting the formation of damaging leukotriense.

The common milk thistle contains some of the most potent liver-protecting substances known.

Perhaps the most interesting effect of silybum componenets on the liver is their ability to stimulate protein synthesis. The result is an increase in the production of new liver cells to replace the damaged old ones.


The protective effects of silybum angainst liver damage have been demonstrated in a number of experimental and clinical studies. Experiemental liver damage in animals is produced by such diverse toxicants as carbon tetracloride, galactosamine and praseodymium nitrate. Silymarin, a complex of three compounds isolated brom Silybum marianum, has been shown to protect against liver damage by all of these agents.

Perhaps the most impressive of silybum's protective effects is in protection against severe poisoning of Amanita phalloides, the death cup or toadstool muchroom. Interesting enough, silybum has a long folk history of treating death cap ingestion. Ingestion of amanit phalloides or its toxins causes severe poisoning, and a death rate of approximately 30%. In the animal experiments, if silymarin was administered before aminita toxin poisoning, it was 100% effective in preventing the toxicity of the mushroom. Even if the silymarin was given 10 minutes after the amanita toxin, it was able to completely couteract the toxic effects. If given within 25 hours, silymarin weill prevent death and greatly reduce the amount of damage to the liver.

In human studies, silymarin has been shown to have significant postive effects in treating several liver diseases, including cirrhosis and chronic hepatitis. In summary concentrated silybum marianum extract offers significant protection against liver damage: 1. by preventing free radical damage; 2. by preventing formation of damaging leaukotrienses; and 3. by stimulating the production of new liver cells.

The following links will take you to more information about Milk Thistle:

The Merits of Milk Thistle

"Prevention's" Milk Thistle Article

Milk Thistle and Licorice in the Therapy of Liver Disease

Milk Thistle, Nature's Liver Protector

Abstracts of clinical trials with silymarin

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