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Milk Thistle Extract for Detoxification
While it might have a funny name, milk thistle is a useful and powerful herbal extract that is obtained from a purple or pink spiky flowering ‘thistle’ plant, from which the active component known as silymarin is obtained for use as a supplement. This supplement has a history of safe use for health reasons going at least as far back as the first century. In modern times, research has shown that the historical uses are just as valid today as they were 2000 years ago and in many western countries, the extract is even used in hospital emergency rooms in cases of certain types of poisonings, and is typically used as a supportive supplement for liver conditions.
Glutathione is an important antioxidant. In fact, it’s so important that it’s often called the Master Antioxidant, and it is vital for the process of detoxification. Adequate levels of glutathione are extremely important for us to be able to detoxify the massive amount of substances that come into our body through the environment. Milk thistle comes into play because it can increase glutathione levels by as much as 30%, in some studies (3). For those with a compromised ability to detoxify or with increased exposure to toxins that may deplete glutathione, milk thistle could be an important supplement since it’s cheap and is utilized well, while glutathione supplementation is both expensive and not very well absorbed. Milk thistle is an excellent and inexpensive way to increase glutathione levels for those with liver issues, or who have other reasons they need extra help with detoxification.
Effects on the Liver
Milk thistle’s greatest benefits, however, seem to be its effects on the liver. These effects have been studied extensively, so much so that milk thistle is even stocked in many hospitals as a medicine for emergencies such as poisoning with certain deadly mushrooms or toxic chemicals. Studies have even gone so far as to test whether milk thistle can reverse severe liver damage. While large scale studies of reversing established and extensive liver damage have shown to not be effective(1), certainly the research on preventing liver damage by taking milk thistle on a long-term basis have shown promising results.
“[S]ilymarin reduces liver injury caused by acetaminophen, carbon tetrachloride,
radiation, iron overload, phenylhydrazine, alcohol, cold ischaemia and
Amanita phalloides. Silymarin has been used to treat alcoholic liver disease,
acute and chronic viral hepatitis and toxin-induced liver diseases”(4)
Of particular note, are studies involving those chronically ingesting alcohol and other hepatotoxic substances such as chemotherapy or Tylenol. Most people are aware that the long-term use of alcohol can lead to liver problems, however, most people are unaware that the Side Effects of Tylenol can include serious liver issues, including liver failure even at recommended dosages. For those unwilling or unable to stop ingesting these substances, milk thistle could be an easy and inexpensive way to reduce the damage done from these substances over the long-term. (2)
Review of Vita Pure Milk Thistle Extract
I was given a bottle of Vita Pure Milk Thistle Extract to try for a month. The product contains 450 mg per tablet, in a combination of extract and dried powder. This is a little confusing as it’s difficult to compare dosages and prices when they combine the dosage of the extract with the dosage of powder for the total dosage. However, dosages of the amount of extract used in this product are equivalent to dosages used in studies, so at least the dosages are in the right amounts based on studies.
At the time of this writing, the cost of the the supplement is $14.25 for a bottle of 60. The regular price is $37.50, so I’m not sure if it’s on special, or if this is an everyday price. That seems to be an excellent price, but even at that low price, there is a bulk extract powder that is at least 1/2 the price that might be a better deal if you are willing to weigh the powder and put it into capsules yourself. There are several companies with products that seem to have comparable prices. Be sure to compare the amount of extracts. I’m unsure how to compare the amount of powder to the amount of extracts in other brands, so that is a bit confusing. This brand does not claim to be organic, but none of the brands on Amazon are organic either, so this does not seem to be a disadvantage.
I did use the supplements on most days for the time specified, except for a few days that I was out of town and forgot to take them with me. Unfortunately, I did not notice anything, either positive or negative from my trial. I’m pretty healthy, don’t have liver issues, I drink alcohol rarely, and don’t seem to have any genetic detoxification issues in myself or my family history. Therefore, I didn’t expect to experience any particular benefits. I’ve also taken milk thistle prior to this without noticing anything in particular. With the great research on milk thistle, I certainly like the idea of taking milk thistle for it’s long-term liver protection benefits, but with my strong constitution and no health problems, it’s just not a supplement that I would expect to see any benefits in a short-term one month trial of the supplement. For those with liver issues or other detoxification issues, they might notice significant results in the same time frame.
Additionally, there are many other benefits of silymarin that are also being explored, such as anti-cancer effects. However, for those with health issues, especially related to the liver or detoxification, for those who have genetic detoxification issues, have high toxin exposures, or for those who chronically take alcohol or Tylenol, milk thistle, whether it is Vita Pure Milk Thistle or another brand would be a great long-term addition to protect your liver from the damaging effects of these toxins.
1) Milk thistle for the treatment of liver disease
2) Protective effects of silymarin on ethanol-induced oxidative stress in liver
3) Method of increasing the presence of glutathione in cells
4) Milk Thistle in Liver Disease: past, present and future.