By David Hoffman, Well Being Journal, Vol. 13, No. 3.
Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) was historically used in Europe as a liver tonic, and modern phytotherapy indicates its use in a range of liver and gallbladder conditions, including hepatitis and cirrhosis. A wealth of European research has produced data showing that milk thistle seeds can reverse toxic liver damage as well as protect against damage from hepatotoxins. As American physicians became interested in phytotherapy, this herbal antihepatotoxic gained a solid clinical reputation in the U.S. as well.
The extraordinary actions of Silybum on the human liver are dramatically demonstrated by its hepatoprotective effects against the life-threatening damage caused by the death cap mushroom, Amanita phalloides, which contains the toxins phalloidin and [alpha] amanitin. This remarkable herb also has therapeutic effects in liver disease. Clinical trials have confirmed its ability to reverse many liver disorders, from acute viral hepatitis to cirrhosis, by stimulating hepatocytes to replace diseased tissue.
A number of specific phytochemicals in Silybum seed have been shown to protect liver cells. They are primarily flavolignans and are grouped together in a complex known as silymarin. The silymarin complex makes up between 1.5 percent and 3percent of milk thistle seeds and includes silybin, silychristin, silydianin, and isosilybin.
In laboratory studies, silymarin has demonstrated a range of effects:
• Protected against carbon tetrachloride-induced liver damage in rats
• Reduced prolongation of hexobarbital-induced sleeping time produced by carbon tetrachloride
• Prevented inhibition of hepatic metabolism of p-oxyphenylpyruvic acid caused by carbon tetrachloride
• Diminished increases in serum levels of enzymes (including glutamic-oxaloacetic transaminase, glutamicpyruvic transaminase, and sorbitol dehydrogenase) raised by experimental treatment with carbon tetrachloride
• Protected against the development of acute hepatitis (similar to viral hepatitis in humans) in rats treated with the liver toxin d-galactosamine
• Partially counteracts alcohol damage to the liver; almost completely prevents mitochondrial changes caused by ethanol
• Reduced death rate and prolonged life span in mice challenged by administration of [alpha] amanitin; antagonized the toxicity of phalloidin
• Enhanced RNA synthesis as a result of the stimulation of DNA-dependent RNA-polymerase A
• Increased the activity of both superoxide dismutase and glutathione peroxidase, which may explain the protective effect of the herb against free radicals
For more information, author bio, and references see the full article in Vol.13, No. 3, May/June 2004 of the Well Being Journal.