A healthy liver is critical in the battle against bone loss. That’s because the main cause of reduced bone mass is the acidification of the body. When your pH balance is too acidic, the body saps minerals from your bones. The liver plays an important role in the maintenance of an alkaline pH because it filters out acidifying toxins.
Since taking care of your liver is essential for protecting your bones, today we’ll look at a powerful liver-boosting compound derived from a flowering plant: milk thistle.
Milk Thistle And Silymarin
Milk thistle is a spiky-leafed plant native to Southern Europe and Asia that has since spread throughout the world. It has long been used as a medicinal or therapeutic treatment for dyspepsia and liver conditions. You would likely recognize it for its bright purple-pink flower, blooming above a bud of thorns.
Silymarin is the active compound found in milk thistle that makes it an effective therapy. The active molecular compound in silymarin is called silybin or silibinin, and it has wide-ranging health effects. Let’s have a look at the many benefits of milk thistle.
1. Liver Protection
We can’t survive without the filtering action of the liver to protect us from the deleterious effects of toxins. Liver disease and cirrhosis are both deadly conditions, but even in people with diseased livers, milk thistle can generate improvement.1
Silymarin has been shown to trigger liver cell regeneration, an increase in liver enzymes, and healthier liver tissue. It also increases glutathione levels, the Master Antioxidant, helping to protect cells from the ravages of oxidation.2
Not only does this liver protection keep your whole body running smoothly, but it helps your bones to resist fracture by supporting your liver’s detoxifying action.
2. Fat Cell Inhibition
The silibinin in milk thistle has been shown to inhibit fat cell differentiation (adipogenesis) in lab cultures. This makes it a potential tool for reducing the production of body fat. Regulation of adipogenesis helps to avoid metabolic diseases and obesity.3
3. Antioxidant Boost
Clinical studies have shown that silymarin supplementation increases antioxidant levels in people with Type 2 diabetes. A 2015 study reported no adverse effects from silymarin supplementation, but recorded significantly increased levels of superoxide dismutase (SOD), activity of glutathione peroxidase (both are powerful antioxidant enzymes), and total antioxidant capacity compared to patients taking a placebo.4
Antioxidants protect cells from oxidative damage caused by reactive oxygen species (ROS), also known as free-radicals. An increase in antioxidants results in reduced inflammation and increased functionality in the liver and across several bodily systems.
4. Protection From Chemicals And Toxins
No matter how careful you are, in the modern world, you will inevitably come into contact with chemicals and toxins in food, water, and everyday household products, such as dryer sheets. Milk thistle has been shown to protect against toxicity, and even reverse hepatotoxic effects of the toxin microcystin-LR.5
Researchers who conducted a meta-analysis on the effects of silymarin found that liver-related mortality rates in patients with liver cirrhosis were 7% lower with the supplementation of silymarin than with a placebo.6
5. Heart Protection
The cardio-protective qualities of milk thistle extract have been demonstrated in human clinical studies7
In a study on mice, milk thistle was found to protect the muscle cells in the heart (cardiac myocytes) from injury caused by isoprenaline, a medication used for the treatment of slow heart rate.8
6. Anti-Infective Effects
Silibinin has been used to improve the condition of people with the Hepatitis-C virus who did not respond to treatments, and with liver disease, viral infections, and liver damage from poisonous mushrooms.9,10,11
In animal studies, silymarin has even been shown to have positive effects against influenza A virus, MRSA in combination with antibiotics, and E.coli. 12,13,14
7. Anti-Diabetic Effects
A 1997 study found that treatment with silymarin significantly decreased insulin resistance, thereby reducing the need for insulin administration in cirrhotic diabetic patients. It also reduced markers of oxidative stress, harkening back to its anti-oxidative properties. These results mean a lower insulin requirement, easing a potentially exhausting insulin injection schedule.15
A reduction in oxidative stress and improved management of blood glucose levels is a great outcome, whether you have diabetes or not.
8. Neuroprotective Qualities
Silibinin has also been shown to reduce memory impairment and learning difficulties caused by lipopolysaccharide-induced brain inflammation in rats. Silibinin activated neurochemical pathways and suppressed the inflammatory response. These studies suggest that silibinin could be used to fight neurodegenerative diseases.16
9. Osteoporosis Benefits
In mice who were recovering from a tibial fracture, silymarin supplementation increased bone mineral density and levels of osteocalcin, a non-collagenous bone matrix protein synthesized by osteoblasts that’s linked to bone formation. Silibin’s powerful antioxidant and anti-hepatotoxic properties contribute to its osteoprotective effects.17
Additionally, silibinin promotes the formation of osteoblasts, leading to more bone deposition, and it slows down bone resorption, resulting in increased bone density.18
In a 2013 study, ovariectomized mice were given a silymarin-rich milk thistle extract. Researchers found that the supplement inhibited femoral bone loss induced by the ovariectomy, and increased femoral bone mineral density.19
These results reveal milk thistle to be a proven tool for building stronger bones.
Protecting heart muscle, rebuilding liver cells, and increasing bone mineral density: the silymarin in milk thistle has a bevy of health benefits.
Food Sources Of Silymarin
Like any phytonutrient, you can get silymarin from food sources. It shouldn’t be surprising that the best source of silymarin is milk thistle. The seeds of the plant contain the greatest concentration, but they aren’t readily available as a grocery item.
Wild artichokes are related to the thistle plant, and also contain decent amounts of silymarin. In fact, silymarin is why artichokes are excellent antioxidants. Be aware that Jerusalem artichokes are a different type of plant and do not contain silymarin at all.
Turmeric root and coriander seeds and leaves also contain silymarin. You can include these spices in many dishes (they’re common in many cuisines) for a little boost of silymarin, but ultimately they won’t provide much.
There are trace amounts of silymarin in:
*Indicates Foundation Food
These are all great foods to include in your diet, but unless you have a thistle garden in your backyard, your best bet for harvesting the benefits of silymarin is to take a supplement.
Harvest The Benefits Of Milk Thistle
Supplements are usually, and ideally, in the form of milk thistle extract. It’s the seeds that are used for the extraction. Look for a supplement with a high percentage of silymarin (around 80%), and buy from a known manufacturer whose word you trust.
The Save Institute recommends a base dosage of 200 mg per day. Doses 10 times greater than that have been shown safe and well tolerated, but less than 200mg most likely wouldn’t confer the benefits observed in the studies cited above.
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When you provide your body with natural compounds instead of synthetic drugs, it uses them to stay strong and healthy, so that you can enjoy a fuller, happier life!
Till next time,
1 Newaz Hossain, et al. “A Comprehensive Updated Review of Pharmaceutical and Non-pharmaceutical Treatment for NAFL.” Gastroenterol Res Pract. 2016; 2016: 7109270. Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4781972 /
2 Lucena MI, et al. “Effects of silymarin MZ-80 on oxidative stress in patients with alcoholic cirrhosis. Results of a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical study” Int J Clin Pharmacol Ther. 2002 Jan;40(1):2-8. Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11841050?dopt=Abstract
3 Ka SO, et al. “Silibinin attenuates adipogenesis in 3T3-L1 preadipocytes through a potential upregulation of the insig pathway” Int J Mol Med. 2009 May;23(5):633-7. Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19360322
4 Ebrahimpour Koujan S, et al. “Effects of Silybum marianum (L.) Gaertn. (silymarin) extract supplementation on antioxidant status and hs-CRP in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus: a randomized, triple-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial” Phytomedicine. 2015 Feb 15;22(2):290-6. Web.
5 Jayaraj R, et al. “Hepatoprotective efficacy of certain flavonoids against microcystin induced toxicity in mice” Environ Toxicol. 2007 Oct;22(5):472-9. Web.
6 Saller R, et al. “An updated systematic review with meta-analysis for the clinical evidence of silymarin” Forsch Komplementmed. 2008 Feb;15(1):9-20. Web.
7 Kumaraguruparan Ramasamy, et al. “Multitargeted therapy of cancer by silymarin.”Cancer Lett. 2008 Oct 8; 269(2): 352–362. Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2612997/
8 Zhou B, et al. “Protective effect of silibinin against isoproterenol-induced injury to cardiac myocytes and its mechanism.” Yao Xue Xue Bao. 2007 Mar;42(3):263-8. Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17520824
9 Ferenci P., et al. “Silibinin is a potent antiviral agent in patients with chronic hepatitis C not responding to pegylated interferon/ribavirin therapy.” Gastroenterology. 2008 Nov;135(5):1561-7. Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18771667?dopt=Abstract
10 Freedman ND., et al. “Silymarin use and liver disease progression in the Hepatitis C Antiviral Long-Term Treatment against Cirrhosis trial.” Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2011 Jan;33(1):127-37. Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21083592?dopt=Abstract
11 Hruby K., et al. “Chemotherapy of Amanita phalloides poisoning with intravenous silibinin.” Hum Toxicol. 1983 Apr;2(2):183-95. Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6862461?dopt=Abstract
12 Dayanne Rakelly de Oliveira, et al. “In Vitro Antimicrobial and Modulatory Activity of the Natural Products Silymarin and Silibinin.” BioMed Research International. Volume 2015, Article ID 292797, 7 pages. Web.https://www.hindawi.com/journals/bmri/2015/292797/
13 Kang HK., et al. “Synergistic effects between silibinin and antibiotics on methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus isolated from clinical specimens.” Biotechnol J. 2011 Nov;6(11):1397-408. Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21491604
14 Dai JP., et al. “Identification of 23-(s)-2-amino-3-phenylpropanoyl-silybin as an antiviral agent for influenza A virus infection in vitro and in vivo. Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 2013 Sep;57(9):4433-43. Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23836164
15 Velussi M., et al. “Long-term (12 months) treatment with an anti-oxidant drug (silymarin) is effective on hyperinsulinemia, exogenous insulin need and malondialdehyde levels in cirrhotic diabetic patients.” J Hepatol. 1997 Apr;26(4):871-9. Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9126802?dopt=Abstract
16 Song X., et al. “Protective Effect of Silibinin on Learning and Memory Impairment in LPS-Treated Rats via ROS-BDNF-TrkB Pathway.” Neurochem Res. 2016 Jul;41(7):1662-72. Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26961891
17 Mohd Fozi NF,. et al. “Milk thistle: a future potential anti-osteoporotic and fracture healing agent.” Curr Drug Targets. 2013 Dec;14(14):1659-66. Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24093748
18 Kim JL., et al. “Osteoblastogenesis and osteoprotection enhanced by flavonolignan silibinin in osteoblasts and osteoclasts.” J Cell Biochem. 2012 Jan;113(1):247-59. Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21898547
19 Kim JL., et al. “Antiosteoclastic activity of milk thistle extract after ovariectomy to suppress estrogen deficiency-induced osteoporosis.” Biomed Res Int. 2013;2013:919374. Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/237815109