Even when someone is healthy, the liver has a heavy workload, removing wastes and unwanted substances from the body and also performing important functions like helping to regulate blood sugar levels. That is why taking supplements like milk thistle, which support efficient liver function, is so important for overall health.
Milk thistle’s history of medicinal use goes back thousands of years and while it is native to the Mediterranean basin, it grows in many regions, allowing people from all over the globe to incorporate it into their traditional medicinal practices. It has long been valued as a tonic for not just the liver, but the kidneys and gallbladder as well and those who have history of liver problems, gallstones, etc., should read on to find out more about what this amazing herb can do.
Milk Thistle and Liver Health
Milk thistle’s active ingredient is called silymarin, a compound which was isolated back in 1986 and whose proven benefits led it to be approved for treatment of liver disease. Researchers believe that, in general, the reason that silymarin appears to be so useful for maintain hepatic health is due to its strong anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
One of the leading causes of liver disease is long-term overuse of alcohol. Overconsumption of alcoholic beverages greatly adds to the already heavy workload of the liver and can interfere with liver function and eventually add to cirrhosis, a condition in which part of the liver is replaced with scar tissue. Milk thistle, in several studies reported by the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research, was shown to be able to help with mild to moderate forms of this condition.
Another common reason for liver damage is vital hepatitis, which attacks and inflames the liver and can often lead to permanent liver tissue damage. However, more than one study has shown that patients who have not responded to traditional treatments for this condition have been able to improve liver function with the use of milk thistle. (1)
Cancer Treatment with Milk Thistle
The silymarin in milk thistle also appears to be able to help treat more serious conditions like liver cancer or liver damage secondary to cancer treatment.
For example, a study which looked at the effects of milk thistle on children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia found that when the patient took milk thistle supplements, the incidence of liver toxicity from chemotherapy was greatly reduced. The milk thistle, however, did not interfere with the efficacy of the chemo treatment itself.
Researchers who study milk thistle, such as those from the University of Maryland who have looked at the benefits of silymarin for cancer treatment, believe that its anti-carcinogenic properties stem from the fact that it is able to reduce or stop the blood supply to the tumor or cancer cells, thus stopping their ability to proliferate and spread to other parts of the body. (2) (3)
In short, those with liver disorders such as cirrhosis, hepatitis or even liver cancer who do well to discuss the possible use of milk thistle in their medication regimens to help the liver regenerate and regain health function without the use of mainstream medical treatment.
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