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Four More Key Benefits of Milk Thistle

Nicole Cutler L.Ac. August 28, 2009

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Justifying its use to protect the liver, many of us know that milk thistle is a potent antioxidant and liver detoxifier. However, find out four more compelling reasons why milk thistle helps in the battle against Hepatitis C.

Worldwide, those with Hepatitis C choose to take milk thistle more than any other vitamin or herbal supplement. Even though taking it orally does not boast any antiviral properties, milk thistle has helped many people with Hepatitis C prevent liver disease progression and have a better chance at successful treatment. Until they understand exactly how milk thistle can fight Hepatitis C, many are unaware of this natural herb’s ability to support their liver.

While there is no refuting its potent antioxidant properties, hundreds of clinical trials have examined the reproducibility of milk thistle’s claims of liver protection. Primarily based on the design of their study, some scientists have found the evidence inconclusive while others insist that milk thistle may be superior to standard Hepatitis C treatment. Although most responsible practitioners would never advise substituting an herbal supplement for a viable treatment regimen, an increasing number of physicians are encouraging their Hepatitis C patients to combine the two for an optimal outcome.

Milk thistle can benefit someone with Hepatitis C in the following ways:

  1. Milk thistle lowers aspartate aminotransferase (AST) levels – A blood marker that indicates tissue damage in the liver, AST is an enzyme frequently measured during Hepatitis C treatment. Presented at the 2008 International AIDS Conference, a report from a small milk thistle study showed that in participants co-infected with Hepatitis C and HIV, those taking milk thistle had an average 8.4 decline in AST, while the placebo group showed an average increase of 27.9 in their ASTs.
  2. Intravenous milk thistle demonstrates antiviral activity – Published in the November 2008 edition of the journal Gastroenterology, investigators found that high dosages of silybin (the most active component of milk thistle) administered intravenously was well tolerated by study participants. In addition, the intravenous silybin showed a substantial antiviral effect against Hepatitis C in full-dose pegylated interferon/ribavirin non-responders. This decrease in Hepatitis C viral load was determined to be dose dependent.
  3. Milk thistle helps regenerate liver tissue – For those with chronic Hepatitis C, the ability of the liver to regenerate is crucial for repairing damaged liver cells. Milk thistle actually helps the liver regenerate itself by stimulating the growth of liver cells to replace the parts of the liver that are damaged. As published in the January-June 2008 edition of Pharmacognosy Reviews, milk thistle stimulates vital protein synthesis through the enzyme RNA polymerase I. Believed to be responsible for this process silibinin may accomplish this by imitating a steroid hormone.
  4. Milk thistle reduces the body’s iron stores – Experimental and clinical studies suggest that excess iron might exacerbate liver injury in patients with chronic viral hepatitis, increasing the risk of hepatic fibrosis and cirrhosis, favoring the development of liver cancer and preventing a sustained virologic response to antiviral therapy. A study published in the September 2008 edition of the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology demonstrated that treatment with silybin phytosome (the same ingredient in UltraThistle) was associated with reduced body iron stores, especially among patients with advanced fibrosis.

A majority of its advocates believe in milk thistle as a liver protector because it is a potent antioxidant and helps detoxify poisons. However, the lesser-known four properties described above make supplementing with milk thistle a no-brainer for anyone living with chronic Hepatitis C.

References:

http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/517511, Iron Accumulation in Chronic Hepatitis C, Chiara Corengia, MD, et al, Retrieved March 22, 2009, American Journal of Clinical Pathology, 2005.

http://www.naturalnews.com/023997.html, Milk Thistle: The Herb for Liver Health and More, Barbara Minton, Natural News Network, August 2008.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17213517?ordinalpos=1&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_DiscoveryPanel.Pubmed_Discovery_RA&linkpos=2&log$=relatedreviews&logdbfrom=pubmed, Hepatoprotective herbal drug, silymarin from experimental pharmacology to clinical medicine, Pradhan, SC, et al, The Indian Journal of Medical Research, November 2006.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18458640?ordinalpos=2&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_DefaultReportPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum, Silybin treatment is associated with reduction in serum ferritin in patients with chronic hepatitis C, Bares JM, et al, Retrieved March 22, 2009, Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, September 2008.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18771667?ordinalpos=12&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_DefaultReportPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum, Silibinin is a potent antiviral agent in patients with chronic hepatitis C not responding to pegylated interferon/ribavirin therapy, Ferenci P, et al, Retrieved March 22, 2009, Gastroenterology, November 2008.

http://www.phcog.net/reviews/issue3/10.pdf, Hepatoprotective herbal Drug, Silymarin from experimental pharmacology to clinical medicine-A review, Parmar Mihir Y, et al, Retrieved March 22, 2009, Pharmacognosy Reviews, January – June, 2008.

http://www.projectinform.org/info/pip/46/13.shtml, Milk thistle may help improve liver health in people with HIV and hepatitis C, Alan McCord, Retrieved March 22, 2009, Project Inform Perspective, September 2008.

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