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MILK THISTLE Silybum Marianum


FROM : A-Z of Natural Remedies

Year: 1995
Publisher : Blitz Editions
ISBN : 1 85605 282 6
General Editor : Amanda Sandeman

Clinical use of milk thistle for poisoning from the Death Cap toadstool has proved especially interesting. When eaten, this fungus releases two potent liver-damaging substances that, on average, prove lethal in 30-40 per cent of cases, even when victims are treated with all the techniques modern medicine has at its disposal.

In a 1970's trial carried out in Germany by Dr Vogel, a leading researcher into Silymarin, 60 patients suffering from severe Amanitine poisoning were treated with milk thistle extract. All the patients survived, and Dr Vogel declared that the results ranged 'from amazing to spectacular'.

Research findings
The active ingredients in milk thistle include a digestive 'bitter' principle, flavonolignans, and a flavonoid, known as silymarin. The first of these partly accounts for its use in folk medicine in the treatment of apetite loss and digestive problems. The latter two - paricularly silymarin - are associated with its benefits to an ailing liver. Numerous trials have been carried out to determine the full scope of its therapeutic value. At present, it is known to prevent or greatly reduce the extent of liver damage caused by several potent toxins including carbon tetrachloride (used as a solvent in industry and in a number of specialist dry-cleaning process), poison from amanita phalloides, thiocetamide (a substance that can cause cirrhosis-type damage to the liver), and various heavy metals.

The way it works
When the active constituents of milk thistle are absorbed by the digestive system, the concentration in the bile exceeds that in the blood, suggesting that they selectively accumulate in the liver. Its beneficial effects on that organ seem to be threefold:
  1. Simulation of protein synthesis. This partly accounts for milk thistle's ability to regenerate damaged liver tissue.
  2. Inhibition of leukotriene and inflammatory prostaglandin formation. Both classes of compound are released in response to chemical and other varieties of liver damage, and help to bring about the resultant inflammation which, itself, can lead to further damage.
  3. The antioxidant activity of milk thistle has been shown to be considerably stronger even than that of vitamin E. Extracts from the plant are thought to be capable of counteracting the damaging effects of free radicals - supercharged fragments of molecules that are capable of harming living tissue and causing degenerative diseases and cancer.

Thistle on trial
Hundreds of scientific studies now confirm the therapeutic value of milk thistle. No damaging side-effects have been recorded in its application over the years in Europe to treat a variety of liver conditions. Trials involving more than 2000 patients with some type of liver disorder have shown it to be useful in treating: alcohol and chemical induced fatty liver, cirrhosis, chronic hepatitis, cholangitis (inflammation of the bile ducts), pericholangitis (inflamation of the tissue around the bile ducts) and hepatic parenchymal changes (damage to the parenchymal tissues of the liver). All these benefits have been confirmed by clinical, laboratory and histological (tissue) studies. On a less crucial level, milk thistle can be used as a nutritional supplement to promote helath by protecting the liver against the many adverse factors that can cause damage to the vital organ.