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Milk-thistle: A great solution to gourmet feast and tired liver

The holidays are often a time when we tend to overindulge on food and alcohol. This excess can tire the liver and have repercussions throughout the body. Skin becomes dull and greenish, our gaze loses its usual sparkle, bad breath, bloating and fatigue are often the results of a bloated and slow liver. Milk Thistle may provide some precious relief and restore the liver to optimum health.

A little botany Milk thistle, a member of the Compositae family (or Asteraceae), is an annual or biennial plant and flowers in the summer. The mature plant has large purple flowers and shiny green leaves marbled with white veins. Milk thistle is a tall plant, from 50 to 150 cm high and it growths on sunny well-drained soils. The active ingredients are mainly contained in the seeds even though fruits and leaves are also used as medicinal parts. Native to the Mediterranean region of Europe, its current distribution includes most temperate areas of the world and is considered invasive in North America. According to legend, the name milk thistle originally derived from its characteristic spiked leaves with white veins, which were believed to carry the milk of the Virgin Mary.

How it works in the body?

Milk thistle is one of the most studied plants in the world. In the last ten years, thousand of papers have been published on the medicinal use of milk thistle extracts. Milk Thistle may just as well regenerate liver cells as protect them from natural and chemical toxins. The active ingredients of milk thistle are collectively named silymarin. This complex includes eight major components, including seven flavonolignans, and one flavonoid. Silymarin possess chemopreventive and hepatoprotective activities, and is used as antipoison agent during Amanita phalloides intoxication. Scientific studies demonstrate that the protection provided by silymarin rests on four activities: 

  1. As antioxidant by scavenging free radicals and by regulating the intracellular content of glutathione (GSH);
  2. As stabiliser of cell membrane by preventing hepatotoxic agents from entering the hepatocytes;
  3. By stimulating liver regeneration via the promotion of ribosomal RNA synthesis;
  4.  As inhibitor of process responsible for the deposition of collagen fibres leading to cirrhosis.

Milk Thistle protects the liver from pollutants in general, alcohol, heavy metals and certain hepatotoxic medications. Many studies are examining the protective role of sylimarin and its derivatives against numerous cancers. The results are promising, but more clinical studies are needed to elucidate all the molecular mechanisms involved.

Chose the right product

Opt for a liquid extract rather than a solid one, it will generally be more efficient. Milk Thistle extract should be concentrated and minimally provide 3000 mg of dry plant per day. Due to low water solubility of silymarin, alcohol (ethanol) is added to liquid extract to enhance its bioavailability. Land Art’s Milk-thistle extract is a great choice. The Canadian company uses grain alcohol with an orange oil additive. The final product is 100% natural and pleasant to take. Milk Thistle extract is also useful to aid digestion.  

Abascal, K. et Yarnell, E. (2005) the many faces of Silybum marianum (Milk Thistle). Part 1 – Treating cancer and hyperlipidemia and restoring kidney function.

Bosisio E, Benelli C, Pirola O. (1992) Effect of the flavanolignans of Silybum marianum L. on lipid peroxidation in rat liver microsomes and freshly isolated hepatocytes. Pharmacol Rech 25: 147-154

Flora, K., Hahn, M., Rosen, H., & Benner, K. (1998). Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) for the therapy of liver disease. Am.J.Gastroenterol. 93, 139-143.

Govind, P. et Sahni, Y.P. (2011) A review on hepatoprotective activity of silymarin. IJRAP. 2:75-79.

Hoh, Carmen Suet Li (2010) The clinical evaluation of the putative cancer chemopreventive agent silybinin in colorectal cancer and resectable hepatic metastases.  Thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at the University of Leicester, January 2010. Awarded July 2010.  270 pp. http://hdl.handle.net/2381/8327.

Hruby K, Csomos G, Fuhrmann M, Thaler H. (1983) Chemotherapy of Amanita phalloides poisoning with intravenous silibinin. Hum Toxicol. 2:183–95

Kim NC, Graf TN, Sparacino CM, Wani MC, Wall ME. (2003) Complete isolation and characterization of silybins and isosilybins from milk thistle (Silybum marianum). Org Biomol Chem 1:1684–9.

Kroll DJ, Shaw HS, Oberlies NH (2007) Milk thistle nomenclature: why it matters in cancer research and pharmacokinetic studies. Integr Cancer Ther 6:110–119.

Loguercio, C. and Festi, D. (2011) Silybin and the liver: From basic research to clinical practice.  World J Gastroenterol 17(18): 2288-2301.

Magliulo, E., Scevola, D., & Carosi, G. P. (1979). Investigations on the actions of silybin on regenerating rat liver. Effects on Kupffer's cells. Arzneimittelforschung. 29, 1024-1028.

Marie-Victorin.  (1964).  Flore Laurentienne, deuxième édition.  Les Presses de l’Université de Montréal.  925 pp.

Mira, L., Silva, M., & Manso, C. F. (1994). Scavenging of reactive oxygen species by silibinin dihemisuccinate. Biochem Pharmacol 48, 753-759.

Mulrow C, Lawrence V, Jacobs B, et al. (2000) Milk thistle: effects on liver disease and cirrhosis and clinical adverse effects. Evidence Report/Technology Assessment No. 21 (Contract 290-97-0012 to the San Antonio Evidence-based Practice Center, based at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, and The Veterans Evidence-based Research, Dissemination, and Implementation Center, a Veterans Affairs Services Research and Development Center of Excellence). AHRQ Publication No. 01-E025. Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. October 2000.

Pietrangelo, A., Borella, F., Casalgrandi, G., Montosi, G., Ceccarelli, D., Gallesi, D., Giovannini, F., Gasparetto, A., & Masini, A. (1995). Antioxidant activity of silybin in vivo during long-term iron overload in rats. Gastroenterology 109, 1941-1949.

Polyak S.J., C. Morishima, V. Lohmann, S. Pal, D.Y.W. Lee, Y. Liu,  T.N. Graf, and N. H. Oberlies.  (2010) Identification of hepatoprotective flavonolignans from silymarin.  Proc Natl Acad Sci 107:5995-5999.

Post-White, J., E.J. Ladas and K.M. Kelly. (2007) Advances in the use of milk thistle (Silybum marianum). Integrative cancer therapies.  6: 104-109.

Radko, L., and Cybulski, W. (2007)  Application of silymarin in human and animal medicine.  Journal of pre-clinical and clinical research.  1: 22-26. 

Schuppan, D. & Hahn, E. G. (2001). Clinical studies with silymarin: fibrosis progression is the end point. Hepatology 33, 483-484.

Simanek V, Kren V, Ulrichova J, Vicar J, Cvak L. (2000) Silymarin: what is in the name? An appeal for a change of editorial policy. Hepatology. 32:442-444

Zi, X. & Agarwal, R. (1999). Modulation of mitogen-activated protein kinase activation and cell cycle regulators by the potent skin cancer preventive agent silymarin. Biochem.Biophys.Res.Commun. 263, 528-536.

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