Milk Thistle – Healing Herb for the Liver
Veterinarian Reviewed on May 21, 2011 by Dr. Janice Huntingford
Like so many of the plants that grow everywhere around us, Milk Thistle is overlooked by most of us and considered an invasive species in some regions. And, like many plants often regarded as “weeds”, Milk Thistle is one of the thousands of herbs used for its powerful medicinal qualities, in particular for healing and supporting the liver.
The medicinal use of Milk Thistle dates back at least 2000 years, being noted in both ancient Greek and Roman texts. Nicholas Culpepper, England’s most famous 17th century herbalist, used Milk Thistle to treat obstructions of the liver and spleen and as a remedy for jaundice.
So what makes Milk Thistle such a powerful liver tonic?
It is the antioxidant flavonolignans that seem to get the credit. Collectively known as silymarin, this compound is actually a complex mix of several flavonolignans, including silybin and silychristin.
Silymarin has the ability to protect liver cells from damage by harmful chemicals and toxins, including environmental pollutants and synthetic drugs as well as naturally occurring poisons. In human medicine, it is the most important treatment used in death cap mushroom poisoning. Silymarin causes changes in the structure of the outer layer of liver cells, which prevents the penetration by toxins into the internal parts of liver cells. It also increases levels of glutathione inside liver cells. Glutathione is an antioxidant produced by the body to protect cells from free radical damage. Another way silymarin improves liver health is by stimulating protein synthesis in liver cells, leading to regeneration of the liver and the formation of entirely new liver cells. It is one of the only known substances to do so.
The liver is the main filtering and clearing organ of the body. All blood supply travels through the liver to be detoxified. There are many causes of liver disease in animals – genetics, copper storage diseases, drug induced diseases, poisons, pancreatitis, hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver), Cushing’s disease, malnutrition, parasites, environmental stresses, cancer, benign tumors, trauma and infectious diseases (bacterial, viral, fungal), just to name a few.
Milk Thistle helps the liver heal and protects this vital organ from damage.
If your animal is on NSAIDS (Non-steroidail anti inflammatory drugs) mostly used for the pain of arthritis, you may want to ask your vet about Milk Thistle. Follow these links for more about Milk Thistle for Dogs and Milk Thistle for Cats.
Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for 28 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan