Milk thistle, a common herb native to the Mediterranean, has been widely used for its nutritional support of liver function for over 2,000 years. Seeds of the dried milk thistle flower are rich in silymarin, a bioflavonoid complex of three flavonolignins: silybin, silydianin, and silychristin. Silymarin is responsible for milk thistle’s powerful protective and regenerative activities in the liver. The liver is the body’s detoxifying organ, disabling toxins such as ethanol, environmental poisons, pesticides, and certain pharmaceuticals. In addition to its detoxification properties, the liver plays an essential role in protein, carbohydrate, and lipid metabolism, cholesterol synthesis, bile secretion, and storage of fat-soluble vitamins. When damaged or diseased, the liver’s ability to eliminate toxins and perform its numerous other functions may be severely impaired. Silymarin has been shown to support and enhance normal, healthy liver function through three primary actions. By binding to the outer cell membrane, silymarin prevents harmful toxins from entering the cell. Silymarin further protects the liver as an important component of the liver’s antioxidant defense.
The liver generates potentially damaging, toxic free radicals and reactive oxygen species (e.g. peroxides) as a result of its normal metabolic and detoxifying functions. Left unchecked, these radicals can damage the cell structure and interfere with normal cell functions. Fortunately, silymarin provides support for free radical damage. Furthermore, silymarin enhances levels of glutathione and superoxide dismutase, two primary antioxidants in the liver. In addition to its protective functions, silymarin stimulates damaged liver cells to regenerate. In the cell nucleus, silymarin augments the production of ribosomes, stimulating protein synthesis in the damaged cell. This results in expedited cell regeneration, the replacement and repair of damaged cells.