Silymarin: Your Liver’s Best Friend

How Silymarin Protects and Repairs the Liver

Silymarin is a component from Silybum marianum, commonly known as the milk thistle. It’s a member of the Aster plant family, including artichokes, known as gallbladder and bile-friendly. 

For years, alternative medicine practitioners have used milk thistle as a liver tonic, believed to open the obstruction of the liver, spleen, and gallbladder. It has also been used as a natural treatment for digestive problems, menstrual disorders, and poisoning. It was not until 1968 that the active ingredients in milk thistle were discovered, consisting of silybin, silydianin, and silychristin, collectively referred to as silymarin. Compared to other potent plant components with low bioavailability, silymarin is believed to produce better clinical results and is better absorbed by the body due to how our bodies metabolize them.

Silymarin Benefits for the Liver

Silymarin is most famous for its hepato-protective properties. The complete mechanism is not yet wholly exhausted and understood, but here are some research-based properties of silymarin that make it a potent agent for the protection and repair of the liver:

  1. Supports detoxification

In general, flavonoids from plants have good antioxidant activity. Its effect on free radicals and enzyme systems makes silymarin stand out. Silymarin is effective against reactive oxygen species. Aside from scavenging free radicals, it can increase the production and cellular content of glutathione and superoxide dismutase (SOD), two natural antioxidants in our bodies. 

A study on mushroom poisoning showed that silymarin’s antioxidant properties are so potent that it decreases mortality by nearly 50% in people suffering from mushroom intoxication. Silymarin prohibits toxins from entering liver cells and prevents the blockage of protein synthesis. Patients suffering from iron overload, a common cause of chronic liver injury and fibrosis, are supported by silymarin via a similar mechanism. 

2. Repairs the liver

The liver is a resilient organ that can repair itself with sufficient protection and care. Silymarin helps in the regeneration process by regulating

 nuclear expression, similar to the effect of steroids. Even with toxins and pollutants in our bodies, silymarin can regulate membrane permeability and stability. All these actions combined can support the repair of damaged liver cells and expedite the restoration of normal liver functions.

Silymarin may be used as an adjunct therapy for chemotherapy. While it is not meant to replace traditional cancer treatment, silymarin supplementation may support its effectiveness. Patients with post-chemotherapy mild temporary hepatic failure (PC-MTHF) showed faster recovery under silymarin treatment compared to those under standard management. 

3. Supports healthy inflammatory response

The anti-inflammatory benefits of silymarin are closely tied to its antioxidant and liver-repairing properties. NF-κB, a key regulator of inflammatory and immune reactions, is said to be suppressed and inhibited by silymarin. This anti-inflammatory property also makes it a potent natural agent for certain cancers like breast, ovarian, lung, skin, prostate, and liver carcinoma, as substantiated by various studies. Studies also show that cancer patients who take silymarin have a lower risk of developing multidrug resistance, and have greater absorption and bioavailability of chemo-pharmaceutics. 

4. Helps prevent liver fibrosis

In the same way that our skin can develop scars and keloids as it heals from an injury, a similar thing can happen to our livers. Liver fibrosis is the excessive accumulation of extracellular proteins, including collagen. This reduces blood flow throughout the liver and may diminish its function. If untreated, it may lead to liver cirrhosis, liver failure, or cancer.  

Animal studies show that silymarin supplementation may help regulate pro-fibrogenic cytokines, enzymes, and cells involved in the deposition of collagen fibers leading to liver fibrosis. 

Silymarin Effects on the Brain

High oxygen utilization, huge amounts of polyunsaturated fatty acids, too much free iron, and low antioxidant defenses make the brain vulnerable to reactive oxygen species injuries. Thankfully, a daily dose of 200 mg/kg of silymarin daily can help support the central nervous system by: 

  • Reducing protein oxidation
  • Reducing oxidative stress and inflammation
  • Increasing the concentration of neurotransmitters in the brain

These mechanisms help support various conditions such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, ALS, Huntington’s disease, and multiple sclerosis. Sylimarin supplementation can also help those undergoing treatment for cognitive abnormalities and mood disorders. 

Adding Sylimarin to Your Diet

The milk thistle plant is known for its large purple flowering head and milky leaf veins, thus the name. Therapeutically speaking, the seeds and fruits are the most potent parts, but the roots, leaves, and stalks can also be used as ingredients for soups, stews, and salads.  

If you find it challenging to find and cook milk thistle, there are also numerous silymarin supplements on the market. Gallbladder-ND also contains milk thistle extract, together with other herbs that boost gallbladder and liver health. 

 

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References: 

Hellerbrand, C., Schattenberg, J. M., Peterburs, P., Lechner, A., & Brignoli, R. (2017). The potential of silymarin for the treatment of hepatic disorders. Clinical Phytoscience, 2(1), 1-14.

Radko, L., & Cybulski, W. (2007). Application of silymarin in human and animal medicine. Journal of Pre-Clinical and Clinical Research, 1(1).

Karimi, G., Vahabzadeh, M., Lari, P., Rashedinia, M., & Moshiri, M. (2011). “Silymarin”, a promising pharmacological agent for treatment of diseases. Iranian journal of basic medical sciences, 14(4), 308.

Borah, A., Paul, R., Choudhury, S., Choudhury, A., Bhuyan, B., Das Talukdar, A., … & Mohanakumar, K. P. (2013). Neuroprotective potential of silymarin against CNS disorders: insight into the pathways and molecular mechanisms of action. CNS neuroscience & therapeutics, 19(11), 847-853.

Fraschini, F., Demartini, G., & Esposti, D. (2002). Pharmacology of silymarin. Clinical drug investigation, 22(1), 51-65

Hackett, E. S., Twedt, D. C., & Gustafson, D. L. (2013). Milk thistle and its derivative compounds: a review of opportunities for treatment of liver disease. Journal of veterinary internal medicine, 27(1), 10-16.

Cory Szybala, Mollie Parker Szybala, Peter B. Bongiorno, (2020) Chapter 176 – Hepatitis, Textbook of Natural Medicine (Fifth Edition), Churchill Livingstone, Pages 1358-1367.e4, https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-323-43044-9.00176-X.