Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Your Liver: Part 2

Milk thistle is definitely right up there at the top of my Favorite Herbs list. Living in the society we have today with all the pollution and environmental toxins around, and especially if you work with artist's materials such as oil paints (like we do), we need all the help we can get to keep our livers healthy.

First, you have to understand something about your liver--it's a freaking amazing organ. It can regenerate damaged liver tissue faster than The Lizard character from SpiderMan. Seriously, you can remove a huge portion of a liver and it will just grow right back! (Probably not a good idea to try this at home, though.)

Listen to this: "The human liver is one of the few organs in the body that can regenerate from as little as 25 percent of its tissue." says Seth Karp, assistant professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School, Boston. Wait...25% from 100%...carry the 3...minus pi--that means 75% of your liver can be taken away and it will grow back!!! Weird!

And according to Dr. Andrew Weil in his fantastic book, "Natural Health, Natural Medicine", milk thistle (Silybum marianum) "is nontoxic, and European research shows that it stimulates regeneration of liver cells and protects them from toxic injury."
So you can take it regularly without side effects or toxic buildup.

But please don't think that you can take milk thistle and then chug beer and eat tubes of cadmium orange. While I realize that those activities can be crazy appealing, your liver will only forgive you for so much mistreatment before an unknown, crucial breaking point is reached and cirrhosis (basically, massive scarring of the liver) sets in and then it's...well, bad stuff. Really bad. Like death and stuff like that. And something that's coming to light now with the obesity epidemic is that Fatty Liver Disease, which comes from fat deposits and inflammation in the liver can cause cirrhosis. And, get this, you don't really have to be obese to get Fatty Liver Disease. It can also come from foods that cause general inflammation (mostly trans fats, saturated fats, refined foods, and artificial ingredients). So, yep, you can get cirrhosis from eating too much junk food even if you're not technically obese.

Of course, the best approach is to just baby that liver. Milk thistle is a great thing to take herb-wise. But mainly, clean living with whole, unrefined foods, clean water and green tea, exercise, and clean air are the best way to keep your liver dancing the happy dance.


  1. Wow, that was all stuff I didn't know about! I had always wondered why milk thistle was such a popular herb at the health food store-thanks for all the great info Julie! Do you prefer one brand over another, or are they all pretty much the same? Is there anyone who shouldn't take it, like maybe people on heart medications? It sounds like something that I should suggest to a family member, as well as something that I'll add to my own vitamin shelf.

  2. Jen--As for brands, we use the Vitamin Shoppe brand, but I think any reputable brand would be good.
    And since you bring up the subject of heart health, it seems like milk thistle does wonderful things for your heart. It apparently reduces the oxidation of LDL cholesterol up to 86%. "Oxidative modification of LDL cholesterol has been reported to be a major part of the pathogenesis of atheriosclerosis, and subsequently cardiovascular disease." This is from a report on milk thistle extracts in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry.

    And from everything I've been able to find on the subject in terms of side effects or interactions with medications, it seems to be an extremely safe herb to take. Of course, if you are on any medication and have a question about taking anything along with it, you should absolutely ask your doctor. Pharmacists are also a great source for this kind of question.

  3. I've seen Milk Thistle available as a herbal tea from Alvita. Is that a good way to take it or are the capsules better ?

    Alvita Milk Thistle Tea

  4. I would think the capsules would give you a better dose, but the tea certainly can't hurt! I think I'll get some and give it a try.

  5. Well, I bought some of the Alvita Milk Thistle tea at the health food store today. It tastes really good (imo). I wonder how to measure the dose ? However, I suppose the capsule supplements are a higher dose, but I wonder how much we can absorb in a serving anyway ?

  6. That's a good question, David. I think I'll call the Alvita people next week and see if they know. But I don't think there's much to worry about--people actually eat milk thistle as a cooked vegetable or salad green regularly. The capsules have the concentrated active ingredient (it's called Silymarin).
    I'll let you know if they have an answer for us!

  7. David, the rep at Alvita said that there is no real way to know how much Silymarin would end up in a cup of tea because it would depend on how hot the water is and how long you steep it. So, if you want to feel certain about how high of a dose it is, I guess you'd have to stick with the capsules.

  8. Milk thistle and other supplements like
    Liv 52 help liver function
    along with a large intake of water.