Modern Analysis Answers the Question: How Does Milk Thistle Work?
Milk thistle is one of the oldest medicinal plants. In pre-Christian times it was used to treat liver disease. In the Middle Ages the wild plant was cultivated, mainly by monasteries, in order to have “the guardian angel of the liver” on hand. But the question how does milk thistle work was perhaps less clear.
Today, standardized extracts of milk thistle are routine therapy in cases of mushroom poisoning, but are also utilized for many therapeutic purposes as well as general wellness, routine detoxification, and overall liver health.
Thanks to modern analysis we continue to build our understanding of how milk thistle works with natural compounds in the body. The most prominent and investigated chemical compounds are related to silymarin, the name for an extract made from the seeds of milk thistle. While silymarin contains a variety of unique chemical compounds, silibinin is the most promising in terms of its beneficial relationship with the liver. Silibinin acts as a seal on the surface of liver cells and thus prevents harmful substances – such as the poison of the death cap mushroom, to penetrate into the cell interior. It also enhances the ability to regenerate the liver resulting in faster recovery and a more efficient processing of toxins and red blood cells.
The modern diet, alcohol, and increasing toxicity of our environment places a great deal of stress on the liver. The liver is an amazing organ, if for no other reason than it can recover naturally of its own accord, but like all of our beautiful body parts, it has its limits.
Unlike the heart, we can’t “work out” our liver to improve its performance or to compensate for the toll of sedentary living or occasional dietary abuses. On the contrary, long-term overloading such as high alcohol or drug consumption leads to permanent damage.
In the worst cases, the liver becomes overwhelmed, can no longer heal itself, and cirrhosis develops. At this stage the liver increases in size (“the liver grows with its duties”), but decreases in its functional efficiency. And without the liver, nothing else will function optimally.
Even with the great regenerative capacity of the liver, we need to be aware of the choices we make that impact its health and the ways in which we can support this vital organ. When we help our liver stay efficient, we are helping our entire body stay strong and healthy.
Detoxification, protein production, digestion, essential immune function, inflammatory responses, blood transport and cell function, and regulation of hormones impacting growth are all made possible through healthy liver function.
Inspired in part by the self-experiment of Pierre Bastien, science has been investigating the question how does milk thistle work on the liver? Numerous studies have indicated compelling results, with further study underway.
In the meantime, some of the most useful indications relate to the preventative qualities of milk thistle; how it can protect the liver from the increasing burdens of everyday life.