Our bodies face immense detoxification challenges in modern society. Auto exhaust, secondary cigarette smoke, alcohol, drugs, industrial solvents, pesticides, and even some of the water and food we consume are a constant burden on the organs that cleanse and detoxify our bodies (i.e., liver, kidneys, lungs, colon, etc.) Positive lifestyle choices, such as exercise and a healthy diet, certainly contribute to strengthening these systems. However, when pushed to the limit and beyond, these organs of detoxification require support.

The liver is our primary organ of detoxification helping remove toxins that can damage other organ systems, including the heart, blood vessels, eyes, and skin. Acting as an important filter and through a complex set of steps, the liver either neutralizes toxins and removes them from the bloodstream or converts them into water-soluble forms that can be excreted by the kidneys or fat-soluble forms that can be excreted by the bowels. Proper liver function is critical to healthy cholesterol metabolism and even has an influence on the way a woman’s body metabolizes estrogen.

While alcohol and diseases such as hepatitis are among the more obvious deterrents to healthy liver function, its performance can become sluggish and compromised even in those without diagnosed liver disease. Toxic build-up can lead to fatigue, headaches, poor digestion, skin problems, and even impaired immune function.


Milk thistle extract, with its active component silymarin, is nature’s own liver supporter and protector. Already an established herbal treatment for conditions such as alcohol-related liver disease and chronic hepatitis, it has proved itself to optimize the function and maximize the detoxifying and cleansing potential of the liver.

Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) produces small hard fruits (sometimes referred to as seeds) from which highly concentrated extracts in herbal supplements are made today. While milk thistle seeds were used to promote liver health as far back as 2,000 years ago, modern use of the herb began in 1968 with the discovery of the bioflavonoid complex silymarin. Researchers discovered that its health benefits largely reside in this complex and has led to the development of highly concentrated extracts that are standardized to 80% silymarin.

Milk thistle extracts and silymarin exert their benefits in the following ways:

Cell Protection: Directly aids liver cells by binding to the outside of cells and blocking the entrance of certain toxins. In addition, toxins that are already in liver cells are neutralized by silymarin. These actions also help protect against dangerous chemicals, such as carbon tetrachloride, alcohol, acetaminophen, and some commonly prescribed medications.

Boosts Antioxidant Activity: It is particularly useful for increasing production of glutathione—a powerful antioxidant produced by the body, as well as increasing the levels of other antioxidants, such as superoxide dismutase.

Cell Regeneration: Alcohol abuse, chronic hepatitis, and even commonly prescribed drugs , such as cholesterol-lower ing medications and antidepressants, can injure liver cells. Silymarin has the unique ability to help regenerate damaged liver cells.

Anti-fibrotic Actions: Fibrosis is a process that occurs in the liver cells due to inflammation. The most common contributors to this process are alcohol abuse and chronic viral hepatitis (both B and C). By acting as a blocker, silymarin not only helps maintain liver health, but slows the progression of irreversible liver damage, also known as cirrhosis.

The best news is that studies show standardized milk thistle extracts are supportive of the primary treatment of liver diseases. I’ve been recommending milk thistle extract for years as a leading therapy for patients with alcohol abuse and/or alcoholrelated liver disease.

Another group of patients benefiting from on-going milk thistle extract treatment are chronic hepatitis B or C sufferers. While powerful antiviral and immune-stimulating drugs have become the standard in successful hepatitis C treatment, milk thistle extract provides a gentle insurance policy to stave off further liver injury and assist in the eventual return to more optimal liver function.

Use of milk thistle extract is not just limited to those with liver disease. It may help prevent the potential liver-damaging effects of certain medications, such as acetaminophen, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), antidepressants, and cholesterol-lowering medications. Those with multiple chemical sensitivities, as well as those exposed to chemical toxins on the job, would also benefit from long-term use of milk thistle extract.

Finally, milk thistle extract is a safe focal point of any cleansing program. By increasing bile production (important for carrying toxins to the intestines for elimination) and increasing antioxidant activity, milk thistle extract helps promote liver cleansing and insures the best possible detoxifying action.

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