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Milk Thistle and Liver Disease: Evidence, History, and Mechanisms


Milk thistle, also known as silymarin and holy thistle, is a plant native to the Mediterranean region. It has been used for more than 2,000 years by herbalists as a remedy for liver disease. Today it's still used in many countries around the world—and in some parts of the United States—to treat conditions like jaundice and hepatitis. Milk thistle's effects on the liver are well-established; however, there's little evidence that this herb can prevent or cure cancer.


Milk Thistle plant
Milk Thistle plant

Milk thistle and liver disease go hand-in-hand, but not in the way you might think.


Milk thistle is a plant that has been used for medicinal purposes since at least the time of the ancient Greeks. It is often used to treat liver disease today and can offer benefits in many cases of liver disease. However, it is essential to note that milk thistle should not be used as a substitute for proper liver care or other treatments prescribed by your doctor.


Milk Thistle has been used by herbalists to treat liver and gallbladder ailments for more than 2,000 years.


In China, milk thistle was one of the 13 herbs prescribed by Fu Xi, who lived about 6,000 years ago. Milk thistle was also mentioned in a Chinese herbal book written by Hua Tuo during the first century A.D. Milk thistle was used by Hippocrates (400 B.C.), Pliny the Elder (A.D. 77), and Plutarch (A.D. 50). Theophrastus (Aristotle's pupil) wrote about milk thistle around 300 B.C. Galen recommended it as a diuretic for ailments such as fever or diarrhea in his "Canons of Physic" around 200 A. The Romans also used milk thistle as far back as 1486 B.


Milk thistle's many proposed benefits include: treating jaundice, helping with inflammatory bowel disease, bladder inflammation, menstrual cramps, and cancer prevention.


Milk thistle has been used to treat jaundice since ancient times. Jaundice is a yellowing of the skin and eyes caused by the buildup of bile pigments in the body. It can be caused by hepatitis, cirrhosis, and other conditions.

Milk thistle's many proposed benefits include: treating jaundice, helping with inflammatory bowel disease, bladder inflammation, menstrual cramps, and cancer prevention.


There is no evidence that milk thistle can prevent or cure any cancer.


Milk thistle has been shown to have some anti-cancer effects in experimental animal models, but it is not a cancer cure. The notion that milk thistle is effective for the prevention or treatment of any cancer is not supported by clinical evidence. Milk thistle is not a substitute for standard medical treatment and should never be taken as such.


A preferred milk thistle dosage is an extract standardized to contain 70-80% silymarin.


In terms of dosage, milk thistle's effectiveness depends on the extract used. Many studies have used 80% silymarin standardized extracts, while others have used a lower concentration (e.g., 30%). Because there's no consensus on which dosage to take, we recommend you consult your doctor before taking any supplements and discuss your treatment plan with them.


It's important to realize that not all brands offer the same amount of silymarin per capsule or tablet due to differences in extraction methods and quality control processes that result in varying levels of active ingredients within each batch of supplements.


The best milk thistle liver health supplements use standardized extracts with high silymarin content.


The best milk thistle liver health supplements use standardized extracts with high silymarin content.

Silymarin is the most studied compound in milk thistle and is an effective treatment for several conditions that affect your liver. The most common of these conditions include:

  • Fatty liver disease (hepatic steatosis)

  • Alcoholic hepatitis

  • Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)

Not all milk thistle supplements are created equal. They can vary widely in purity and quality.


Health experts recommend purchasing your milk thistle supplements from a reputable source. An excellent place to start is with a brand that has been used in scientific studies and has published the results of those studies. You can also search online for milk thistle supplement companies with a good reputation.


When you buy milk thistle supplements, ensure they are standardized to contain 80% silymarin or higher. Some brands use extracts that are not standardized and therefore may have low amounts of silymarin -- or none at all! Some brands use extracts with poor quality ingredients, such as artificial coloring agents and preservatives. If possible, choose an all-natural milk thistle product rather than one made from synthetic ingredients like petroleum distillates.*

  • Milk thistle's potential as a liver health supplement is well-established, but it cannot be used as a substitute for proper liver care.

Although milk thistle has been proven to be an effective supplement for liver disease, it should not be used as a substitute for conventional care. Milk thistle's potential as a liver health supplement is well-established, but it cannot be used as a substitute for proper liver care.

Milk thistle's potential as a liver health supplement is well-established and may help to reduce the side effects of other treatments. However, milk thistle should always be taken alongside other medications or supplements designed to treat chronic liver diseases like hepatitis C or cirrhosis (a condition that develops when scar tissue replaces normal tissue in your organ).


Conclusion


Milk thistle is a natural herb used for thousands of years to help support liver health. It's also one of the most commonly used supplements because it can prevent and treat liver damage caused by drugs or alcohol. While there is evidence that milk thistle may help treat hepatitis B and C, more research is needed before doctors can recommend this supplement as part of standard treatment for these conditions.

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