Milk Thistle: Herb of the Month Christen Sherwood, Certified Clinical Herbalist, CN, LMT January 2019
Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) is one of the simplest herbs to work with, and one of the safest. It’s an excellent herb for young and old alike and one that I consistently recommend in the shop and to my customers. Not all herbs work well in capsules, but Milk thistle does. It has no contraindications or dangerous drug interactions. When you take milk thistle, the chemical constituents enter the entero-hepatic loop, which means they continue to circulate through the system until every last bit of benefit they have to offer has been received. This is one of the big reasons milk thistle is so effective – you don’t lose out on some of the medicine just by having it pass right through you. The silymarin (a complex of flavonoids) in milk thistle is famous for protecting liver cells from damage. The liver is a site of large amounts of inflammatory oxidative activity as it breaks down and eliminates toxins. One way Milk thistle helps is by aiding glutathione production – glutathione is one of your body’s strongest endogenous antioxidants. In addition to its anti-oxidant capacity, milk thistle also stimulates regeneration of liver cells. Your liver is very good at growing back as it is – it can re-grow itself from only 25% of its mass. (In liver transplants you don’t need the whole liver, just one lobe. Replacement tissue grows back in the donor, and in the recipient that lobe becomes an entire new liver.) Still, milk thistle kicks up that regenerative power to superhuman-like levels.
Why do liver cells need to regenerate so much? Basically, because we abuse them. Whether it’s frequently consuming alcohol, smoking, pollution, xenoestrogens, or just good old-fashioned systemic inflammation, we have lives that take a toll on the liver. It’s been shown that high levels of the stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol can put an increased strain on the liver, so Milk Thistle is also an important herb for the chronically stressed, under-slept, and overworked.
It is also an important herb for people taking harsh pharmaceuticals, or habitually taking other drugs as well as these actions also add to the liver’s already large workload. Excess estrogen, hormonally-imbalanced bodies and many disease states, including insulin-resistance, increase the liver’s workload one way or another, so milk thistle is a great compliment to healing and it would seem a good help to just about everyone.
On top of all this, Milk thistle is extremely gentle on the body. States of increased liver enzyme production, liver damage, and every type of liver inflammation can benefit from milk thistle supplementation without worry of over-stimulating or straining the hepatic system. A Resilient Remedy Overall, the best thing to remember about milk thistle is that it’s easy, safe and effective for just about everyone– from the over-stressed student, to the recovering alcoholic, to the chronically ill person, to any of a hundred other states. This is a great herb for everyone! Journey Health Shop carries an excellent milk thistle supplement in capsule form-stop in to start yourself on this healthy liver support supplement today.