As your primary defense against dietary and environmental toxins, your liver is one of the most important organs in your body. Modern society, with its polluted air and chemically loaded food and drinks, can be particularly stressful on the liver.
Milk thistle is a powerful herb with a proven ability to protect, detoxify and rejuvenate your liver. Here’s how to use milk thistle for liver detoxification and the best milk thistle extract to use for a healthy liver.
The Importance of Your Liver
Your liver is the master chemical processing plant of your body, performing over 300 critical metabolic functions. It converts various compounds into the substances your body needs to function properly and is integral to good health.
Amongst its many responsibilities, your liver deals with the various toxic compounds that you may breathe in through polluted air, ingest in your food, or drink in your water or beverages every day.
Your liver is very good at its job, but it will come as a surprise to no one that our air is getting more polluted, our supermarket foods more loaded with chemical additives and the liquids we drink, like coffee, soda and alcoholic beverages, are full of substances that have to be detoxified by the liver.
An overloaded liver, burdened by too many toxins, can become sluggish, fatty and have difficulties performing its most important functions. Once that starts happening headaches, fatigue, poor skin tone, lowered immune function, gastrointestinal problems and a general lack of energy are just the start of the many and varied health problems that can result.
Many people report a dramatic improvement in a long list of seemingly unrelated health problems once they start taking care of their liver. A healthier diet and more exercise will certainly help, but one of the best ways to begin healing your liver is with a liver detox.
Milk Thistle for Liver Detox
Milk thistle is a proven and potent herb for healing and detoxifying your liver. The compound silymarin found in milk thistle extract has been studied for decades and is now recognized as one of the best supplements for liver health.
Milk thistle and its silymarin are known to have the following benefits for protecting and detoxifying your liver:
Milk Thistle Increases Glutathione Antioxidant Activity
Glutathione is considered the body’s master antioxidant and vital for effective liver functioning. Milk thistle extract has been shown to increase glutathione levels in the liver by up to 35 percent and decrease oxidative stress.
The silymarin in milk thistle has also been observed to increase superoxide dismutase, another one of your body’s most important antioxidant enzymes for combating free radical damage.
Liver Cell Protection
Silymarin protects liver cells by blocking or neutralizing certain hepatotoxic (liver toxic) compounds like alcohol, acetaminophen, carbon tetrachloride and many others
Studies have shown that ‘silymarin exerts membrane-stabilizing and antioxidant activity, it promotes hepatocyte regeneration; furthermore it reduces the inflammatory reaction, and inhibits the fibrogenesis in the liver.’
In short, milk thistle provides high level liver cell protection and improves its ability to detoxify your body.
Alcohol and many commonly prescribed medications, like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), antidepressants and cholesterol lowering prescriptions, can be harmful to your liver cells. Silymarin appears to have the unusual ability to promote the regeneration of liver cells damaged by these substances.
Milk thistle extract has even been observed to help regenerate the cells of the liver in patients suffering from chronic hepatitis and fibrosis.
Here’s a bit more information on milk thistle
Bile is the fluid created in the liver to break down fats in the small intestine during digestion. Milk thistle is believed to help increase bile production thus improving fat metabolism and potentially even reducing the risk of heart disease if taken regularly.
Excessive consumption of polyunsaturated fats has been linked to a rise in inflammatory cytokines called leukotrienes. The active ingredients in milk thistle inhibits the enzyme 5-lipoxygenase that is involved in the creation of these leukotrienes and may help prevent inflammation in the liver.
General Liver Health
You don’t have to be on medications, drinking too much alcohol or suffering from hepatitis to benefit from a liver detox. Unless you have a particularly healthy diet and lifestyle, there’s a fair chance that your liver has been working pretty hard just to keep you going in modern life.
By taking a good milk thistle extract and reducing the amount of toxins it has to process out each day with a detoxification program, your liver finally gets a chance to get back to what it’s good at: keeping you healthy and getting rid of what shouldn’t be in your body.
Milk Thistle Side Effects
Perhaps surprisingly for such an effective herbal remedy, milk thistle is considered very safe with few reported side effects, even at strong doses over long periods.
Loose stools are sometimes observed at high doses and very occasionally nausea or gastrointestinal upsets may result from too much milk thistle, though this is more commonly reported with milk thistle tea.
Milk thistle is not recommended for women diagnosed with ovarian, uterine or breast cancer, fibroid tumors or endometriosis. This is a general precaution due to a possible mild estrogenic effect from the herb.
There is also the common recommendation with virtually all herbal supplements and they should not be taken when pregnant or breast-feeding. Additionally it’s recommended to discuss taking milk thistle or any other herbal treatment with your doctor in case it interferes with prescription medications.
How to Take Milk Thistle Extract
The best kind of milk thistle extract is one that has a good concentration of the active ingredient silymarin and is highly bio-available. Unfortunately silymarin is not very water soluble and milk thistle tea isn’t said to be particularly effective compared to capsules or extracts.
Silymarin usually only amounts to 1 to 4 percent of the total plant but these highly concentrated capsules are standardized to contain 80 percent of silymarin and the other active principles.
Milk thistle dosage is usually 1 capsule taken 2 to 3 times a day, preferably half an hour before a meal with a big glass of water.
It’s recommended to take milk thistle daily for at least a month, preferably three months or more for best results. During that time more you can improve your diet and limit your intake of alcohol, soda, fried and processed products and other unhealthy foods and beverages the better.
Milk thistle can be a very beneficial for liver detoxification and therefore general good health. That said, liver disease is an extremely serious health problem and needs to be treated by knowledgeable health care professional.
If you suspect you may be suffering from liver issues, by all means discuss taking milk thistle for liver detoxification with your practitioner but do make sure you get a diagnosis so you know what you’re dealing with an how to heal it.
Combining daily milk thistle capsules with a healthier diet, regular exercise and freshly made juices like this several times a week would be great start towards improving the health of your liver.