Herbs And Supplements: About Milk Thistle And Your Liver

Milk Thistle is a safe, effective herb that aids liver function and repairs damage caused by toxins.

Milk thistle, also known as St. Mary Thistle and Lady's Thistle, is a proven liver protectant. The herb is native to the Mediterranean, but now grows more commonly in North America, especially California and the Eastern U.S. It likes wide-open spaces. Milk Thistle grows as a tall plant with large, white washed prickly leaves and reddish purple flowers. The white spots on the leaves are said to be the Virgin Mary's milk; hence, its alternate name. At one time it was thought it aided in production of breast milk, but that claim has not been proven and could have been rumor due to its mythical link to the Virgin Mary.

Milk Thistle is largely prescribed in Europe to treat a variety of liver conditions. Its benefits as a system cleanser, bile production stimulator, and remedy for Deathcap mushroom poisoning date back 2,000 years to the time of Pliny in Rome.

Poisons enter your body every day whenever you take medication, inhale fumes, or drink alcohol. The liver's job is to break these toxins down into less harmful substances so your body can flush them out naturally. The more toxins your liver encounters, the more damage it sustains, making it less effective at protecting your system from damage. Milk Thistle not only reverses some of this daily damage but it also prevents future harmful effects.

The active ingredient in Milk Thistle is silymarin. The herb acts on your liver in the following ways:

-It binds to the membrane and forms a protective shield, so toxins have a more difficult time getting through.

-Stimulates RNA synthesis, which helps stimulate cell regeneration. So, those toxins that do get through to the liver don't do as much harm because the liver rebuilds itself.

-It eats free radicals, those wayward molecules that roam throughout your body and cause harm to cells. In this sense, it acts as an antioxidant.

-It benefits T-lymphocytes, which means it may strengthen immune function.

-It helps reduce cholesterol manufacturing in the liver.

-It may help to prevent gallstones, because it increases bile solubility.

-It helps repair skin conditions caused by liver damage.

The easiest, and most reliable, way to take Milk Thistle is to find a reputable herbal outlet and buy capsules of at least 140mg off the shelf. If you prefer to prepare the herb yourself, you have two options, both using the seeds of the plant:

Create a decoction of seeds by covering 40mg of seeds with 3 cups of cold water in a saucepan. Bring the mixture to boil, and simmer for 20-30 minutes. Strain, and drink about half a cup a day for infection.

Prepare a tincture by soaking 300mg of seeds in a glass jar covered with a quart of alcohol, such as vodka or rum. Shake the jar 1-2 minutes, then store in a cool, dark place for 10-14 days, shaking the jar every couple of days. When finished soaking, place a muslin bag inside a wine press and pour the mixture into the bag until all liquid has been captured. Slowly close the press, then store the mixture in a dark jar.

There are varying opinions on what the standard daily dosage of milk thistle should be, but it's usually suggested it be taken three times a day. Talk to your doctor or herbal therapist about the appropriate number of milligrams to take at one time. It may take up to two months for you to experience the effects of Milk Thistle, so be consistent with your use.

It is widely agreed that Milk Thistle is safe with few effects, although users may experience loose bowels in the first few days. This is because the herb stimulates the gall bladder, which can cause an irritated stomach. If you continue to have problems with your stomach after three days, stop taking Milk Thistle and consult your doctor.

Milk Thistle may lower blood glucose levels, so diabetics should talk to their doctors and possibly adjust other medications to accommodate a regimen of Milk Thistle.

Make sure you keep your Milk Thistle in a cool, dry place out of the way of direct sunlight. Don't store it in the bathroom, as heat and moisture may alter the way the herb works, rendering it ineffective.

Also, never take more than is recommended. As with any medication, taking more can actually cause you harm. And always talk to your doctor before you begin taking an herbal supplement, to make sure it does not interact with any other medication you are taking.

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