Prevention magazine's Milk Thistle article


 What is Hepatitis

 How is it Transmitted

 Long Term Prognosis

 Complications of HCV

 Liver Biopsy

 Treatment Info (Interferon, Herbal, etc)

 Lab Tests (PCR, Genotype,etc.)

 Nutrition & Alternative Info

 Patient Information (Support Groups, Doctor Listing, etc)

 Related Webpages

 Transplant Info

 HCV Webrings

 My guestbookbook

 Site Awards

 FAQ & Disclaimers

from PREVENTION magazine, October 1998 issue; starting on page 79

This Weed Is a Potent Healer; by Varro E. Tyler, PhD, ScD

Protect your body from environmental toxins with milk thistle

Sometimes herbs can do things conventional remedies can't. Milk thistle is an excellent example: There is no approved drug in the US that has the ability to protect liver cells from toxic substances and to promote regeneration of damaged liver cells. Milk thistle does both beautifully.

In some parts of the country, milk thistle (Silybum marianum) is viewed as a weed. Its evil side has been especially evident lately in California's state parks, where this invader (that has no natural enemies) chokes out native grasses and wildflowers and bedevils hikers with its thorns. But as a liver protector, milk thistle can't be beat.

Why Your Liver Needs Protection
Your liver, a dark red gland in the upper right of your abdomen, is as vital as your heart. Its main function is to secrete bile, which facilitates fat digestion. Among its many other duties, the liver filters toxins from your blood and supplies your body with glucose, which is converted into energy. It also builds essential proteins and stores some vitamins until your body needs them.

If you drink alcohol, are exposed to environmental contaminants such as highway pollution or extremely chlorinated water, take certain prescription or over-the-counter drugs, or if you have hepatitis or other liver problems, you may really benefit from milk thistle. And if you eat a poison mushroom, milk thistle could save your life -- but only if you live in Europe.

The liver-saving benefits of milk thistle have been known and valued since biblical times. Milk thistle was first officially recommended for treating liver disorders in 1755 by Albrecht von Heller in his Medizinischen Lexicon. In the 1960s, German scientists isolated a mixture of active ingredients from the plant's seedlike fruit: They called this extract silymarin.

Silymarin contains four principal flavonolignans: silybinin, isosilybinin, silydianin, and silycristin. These compounds are very closely related to one another in their chemical structure, all having similar liver-protecting properties. Of these, silybinin accounts for about 50% of the mixture and is the most chemically active.

Research has now verified silymarin's value in preventing and treating liver diseases such as cirrhosis and hepatitis. It works in three ways: First, it acts on the cell membranes to prevent various toxins, such as alcohol, from entering the cells. It does this by binding itself to proteins and receptor sites on the membranes, thereby "bumping off" toxic substances that might land there. This is called membrane stabilization.

Second, silymarin functions indirectly as an antioxidant, scavenging free oxygen radicals that might harm the tissues of the liver and other organs. This action is due to silymarin's ability to increase the amount of glutathione in liver cells. Glutathione is a very powerful antioxidant that protects cells from oxidative damage.

Finally, it stimulates protein synthesis and actually promotes regeneration of the liver cells (hepatocytes).

Five Things Milk Thistle Can Do for You
*Hangover helper? Alcohol abuse is the most frequent cause of chronic liver disease. In seven controlled clinical trials where a standardized silymarin preparation was given to patients with alcohol-related liver damage, they experienced statistically significant improvement in liver function compared with those who received a sugar pill. One study involving 2,169 patients revealed side effects in only 21 people (about 1%) -- mostly minor digestive symptoms such as stomachache and diarrhea.

Though I can't assure you that milk thistle will stop a hangover in its tracks, I do believe it's a wise move to consider taking the herb after an evening of overindulgence to avoid the liver damage that even one night of overdoing it can cause.

*Rx for topic exposure. Milk thistle has been shown to protect the liver against toxic chemicals ranging from alcohol to heavy metals such as lead and cadmium. These poisons can cause liver calls to break down, which can lead to a type of liver cirrhosis, a disease in which healthy liver cells are replaced by fibrous tissue.

*Shield against liver-damaging drugs. Milk thistle may also protect you if you take drugs that can cause liver damage as a side effect. These include prescription psychotropic (mind altering) drugs including the phenothiazines (Thorazine, used for psychotic disorders; Compassion, used to control severe nausea and vomiting as well as psychotic disorders) and butyrophenones (Haldol, used for severe behavior problems in children). Even some OTC analgesics such as acetaminophen can damage the liver, especially when taken with alcohol.

*Liver protector. Silymarin effectively slows the development of and hastens recovery from liver disorders, including hepatitis, a viral disease that causes liver damage. There are three strains: hepatitis A, transmitted by contaminated food and water, affecting between 100,000 and 200,000 people annually; hepatitis B, spread through sexual activity and contact with blood, which affects 200,000 to 300,000 people a year; and hepatitis C, one of the most common causes of acute viral hepatitis, which is spread through sex and contact with blood. Because symptoms may not appear for many years after the infection, the exact cause of hepatitis C is often unknown. There are about 150,000 new cases reported each year.

*Life-saving poison mushroom remedy. Finally, almost all cases of fatal mushroom poisoning are caused by eating deadly amanitas (Amanita phalloides and related species), which contain toxins that block protein production in liver cells. If you eat a large quantity of the mushroom, you have less than a 50% chance of surviving, and American medicine can't do much to help. In Europe, more than 150 cases of such poisoning have been treated with injectable administration of silybinin. The results have been excellent. It is the only effective antidote ever discovered for amanita poisoning. Typical studies report only 1 death in 13 or 1 in 18 patients. Unfortunately, the injectable version of silybinin is not yet available in the US -- a good reason to not eat mushrooms in the wild unless their identity is verified by an expert.

A User's Guide to Milk Thistle
Like most other herbs, milk thistle extract is marketed in this country as a dietary supplement. It is commonly available in the form of capsules, each containing 200 mg of an extract standardized to contain 70% (140 mg) of silymarin. The usual dosage is one capsule two or three times daily. Milk thistle is also available as a liquid tincture; follow dosage directions on the label. Silymarin's water solubility is very poor, so teas made from milk thistle fruits don't work. One study showed that such teas contain only about 10% of the activity that was originally present in the fruit. In addition, silymarin is so poorly absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract that only about 20 to 50% ever finds its way into the bloodstream. For these reasons, the use of a highly concentrated, standardized extract is best.

You can see why milk thistle occupies such a valued position in botanical medicine, and in mainstream medicine too, because the herb is an approved drug in many countries. Only the rigid regulations of the Food and Drug Administration and the lack of financial incentive for botanical drug developers prevent it from playing a more significant role in conventional medicine in this country.

Home | What is HCV | Transmission | Future | Complications | Biopsy | Treatment | Lab | Nutrition | Patient | Links | Transplant | Webrings | guestbookbook | Awards | FAQ |