Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) is a species of easily cultivated thistle with profound health benefits. Veins in its leaves are filled with a milky white sap that is released when the leaves are crushed. The purple-flowered milk thistle heals liver and kidney diseases. It specifically aids in detoxification from alcohol, recreational drugs, adverse effects from medications, viral hepatitis, and toxic exposures. There are no reported herb-drug interactions from use of milk thistle, so you can safely combine it with medications, especially to offset those that may damage the liver and kidneys. Milk thistle supports healthy digestion and alleviates gallbladder dysfunction. The fresh leaves are traditionally eaten to support healthy breast milk production during lactation.

Silymarin

Silymarin is the major active constituent of milk thistle responsible for its liver-protecting powers. Fruits or achenes of milk thistle contain 4-6% silymarin. Silymarin is a complex of related flavonolignan (flavonoid and lignin molecules bonded together) and strongly antioxidant and hepatoprotective constituents, including silybin, silydianin, and silychristin. These flavolignan stabilize cell membranes, preventing viruses and hepatotoxins from binding to cell walls. Milk thistle (administered quickly, ideally as a purified I.V. drip of silybin extract) is the only known effective antidote to Amanita phalloides mushroom poisoning to prevent liver and kidney damage and eventual death.

Liver

Milk thistle prevents and potentially reverses liver damage and disease from an array of causes, including alcohol, recreational drugs, viral infection, toxic exposure and poisoning from solvents, pesticides and heavy metals, and adverse effects from medications like Tylenol. Many medications can potentially harm the liver; milk thistle can mitigate this risk. Because there are no reported herb-drug interactions from use of milk thistle, you can safely combine it with medications.

Cirrhosis of the liver means healthy liver cells are damaged and replaced by scar tissue. Alcohol abuse can cause liver cirrhosis. In these cases, the liver can’t filter drugs and toxins, metabolize, produce proteins, or properly clot blood. Milk thistle improves Phase II liver metabolism. When Phase II detox is sluggish it results in toxicity and free radical damage. Symptoms of poor liver metabolism include elevated bilirubin, jaundice, clay-colored stools, and skin that is dry and scaly. While milk thistle will not reverse scarification of the liver, it does protect new liver cells from damage and promotes healthy tissue proliferation and blood flow. Luckily, fatty liver disease can be reversed by supplementing with milk thistle.

Kidneys

When the tissue of the kidneys becomes inflamed and unable to filter waste from the blood, it’s called nephritis. Milk thistle can protect kidneys against nephrotoxic damage by preventing uptake of toxins and is useful as an adjunct therapy in nephropathies. Diseases like diabetes and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) can damage the kidneys; milk thistle seeds can improve and stabilize kidney function in such cases.

Digestion

As a digestive tonic, milk thistle increases bile production and secretion. This alleviates loss of appetite, biliousness, nausea, constipation, and indigestion. For this reason, milk thistle is often used to treat ailments of the gallbladder.

Cancer

Milk thistle mitigates liver damage from chemotherapy and may even work synergistically with chemotherapy. Although the anti-cancer effects of milk thistle are still being studied, early evidence is promising.

Cholesterol

Blood lipid profiles can be improved by supplementing with milk thistle. Milk thistle aids in normalizing blood lipid profile by lowering “bad cholesterol (LDL) and raising “good cholesterol” (HDL).

Viral Hepatitis

Milk thistle can improve symptoms and quality of life for people with viral hepatitis, especially viral hepatitis C (HCV). Silymarin’s healing and anti-inflammatory effect on the liver alleviates liver damage caused by HCV. In one study of 16 patients who didn’t respond to interferon and ribavirin therapy, milk thistle significantly reduced the viral load of hepatitis C. In 7 of the subjects the virus decreased to undetectable levels after 14 days of therapy.

Lactation

Traditionally, milk thistle is taken to support abundant production of breast milk during lactation. The tender young leaves are the first choice for this purpose.

Contraindications

Milk thistle is safe to combine with other medications. However, it may mildly alter blood glucose levels, so caution is advised when using hypoglycemic medications.

NutraLiver Tea

NutraLiver is a special tea blend of milk thistle, licorice (Glycrrhiza glabra), peppermint (Mentha piperita), fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), and turmeric (Curcuma longa). These herbs all support liver health, detoxification, and digestion. Whether you’re recovering from overindulgence in alcohol, supporting your natural detoxification channels, or experiencing indigestion, find regenerative support in a mug of NutraLiver tea.