For centuries extracts of milk thistle have been labeled as “liver tonics” and the efficiency of this natural product has been producing significant results in modern medicine for years.
The milk thistle is a flowering plant of the daisy family Asteraceae. The name milk thistle derives from two features of the leaves: they are mottled with splashes of white and contain a milky sap. The dried fruit of milk thistle contain a flavonoid complex known as silymarin, responsible for the medical benefits of the plant.
Milk thistle extract may protect the cells of the liver by blocking the entrance of harmful toxins and helping remove these toxins from the liver cells. Silymarin is a powerful antioxidant and has also been shown to regenerate injured liver cells.
Recent studies have shown that silymarin has the ability to block fibrosis, a process that contributes to the eventual development of cirrhosis in people with inflammatory liver conditions secondary to diseases such as alcohol abuse or hepatitis. Milk thistle extract is most commonly recommended to counteract the harmful actions of alcohol on the liver. Additionally, milk thistle may alter bile makeup, thereby potentially reducing risk of gallstones.
For liver disease and impaired liver function, research suggests the use of 420–600 mg of silymarin per day from an herbal extract of milk thistle standardized to 80% silymarin content. According to research and clinical experience, improvement should be noted in about eight to twelve weeks. For people with chronic liver disease, milk thistle extract may be considered a long-term therapy.