Smorgasbord Health Column – The Medicine Woman’s Treasure Chest – Herbal Medicine – Liver Health and Milk Thistle

What is Herbal Medicine

Herbal medicine has been part of our ancient and more modern history for thousands of years. Unfortunately there is no money to be made by the pharmaceutical companies when only a plant is processed. Therefore in the last twenty years particularly there has been a focused effort, at a very high level, to downgrade all alternative therapies including herbal remedies to quackery.  We can only now suggest that an alternative therapy MAY help you.

A commonsense warning about herbal medicines.

Herbal medicines should be treated with respect and should only be used if you have read all the contraindications, possible side effects and never with any prescribed medication unless you have cleared with your doctor first.

This is particularly important if you are pregnant or trying to become pregnant as taking specific herbal medicines can cause harm.

Go to a qualified herbalist or if you buy over the counter on online read all the instructions beforehand or enclosed in the packet. I always buy the more expensive and professionally prepared tinctures and have stayed with that brand for the last twenty years.

Having established that; I want to introduce you to herbs that can be taken as a prepared tincture but also those that you can include in your diet which may improve and maintain your health. This week I am sharing the health benefits of Milk Thistle.

Thistles are part of the daisy family, found mainly in Europe, Asia and Australia, especially dry and sunny areas. It can grow very quickly to over 10 feet and produces a milky white sap when the distinctive green and white leaves are crushed. It is a plant that takes over and smothers other growth so is not always welcome. It has been used medicinally for at least the last 2,000 years and it was highly regarded by the Romans. It has undergone extensive research and in some parts of Europe, like Germany, it is the most commonly used herbal therapy.

Scientific studies into the effects of the herb are mixed but do support the belief that taking Milk Thistle has positive benefits for the liver. It might also have some anti-cancer properties but this will take considerably more research to confirm.

Traditionally, no self-respecting medicine man or woman would have been without the herb, especially for the treatment of poisonous mushrooms, including the Death Cap. One wonders how many cave dwellers died after ritual partying before the medicine man found the right hangover remedy in Milk Thistle! Although I suspect he had other tricks up his sleeve!

The liver has over 500 functions in its role as guardian of our health and it is vital it is kept working at an optimum level. If your liver is sluggish you may notice a few symptoms that indicate a need to look at your diet but also at ways to encourage the organ to function better.

If you suffer from headaches at the side of your head that sometimes affect the eyes, or you feel nauseous after eating fatty foods, or find it difficult to get going in the morning you may be suffering from liver fatigue. In Victorian times grumpy old men and women were termed ‘liverish’ due to increased stress and irritation levels.

How does milk thistle work?

Milk thistle (Silybum Marianum) helps protect the liver and encourages it to regenerate. It protects against incoming toxins and also assists the liver to cleanse itself of alcohol, drugs, heavy metals, and poisons. It is also helpful in treating congestion of the kidneys and the spleen.

By stimulating the release of bile from the liver and the gall-bladder the whole digestive process is improved, which in turn ensures that any nutrients are absorbed more effectively. It also supports the liver in its role of purifying the blood, for this reason it has been used in support of treatment for psoriasis and other skin conditions.

Silymarin is the main component of milk thistle seeds and is a flavonoid containing 4 isomers – Silybinin, silychristin, silydianin and isosilybinin. Silymarin works directly with the cell membranes of the liver preventing damage and encouraging re-growth.

Research into the actions of this herb indicates that it helps reduce inflammation in hepatitis, soften the lesions caused by cirrhosis and helps detox livers that are cancerous. Anyone taking long term medication will also find that taking milk thistle (with the agreement of your doctor) may alleviate some of the side effects and help the liver process and eliminate the drugs more effectively.

How do you take milk thistle?

Milk thistle is a herb that is not soluble in water so you cannot make a tea from leaves, or extract. It is soluble in alcohol, which is why it is found in tincture form, and in capsules. One of the most effective ways to take it is as part of a complex where other herbs such as dandelion, artichoke and peppermint are included.

These herbs are also very supportive of the liver – as artichoke helps reduce unhealthy cholesterol and blood lipid levels; dandelion is a mild diuretic and laxative and has long been used to help with liver and gall bladder problems; and peppermint is a general aid to digestion and helps relax muscles.

How to take Milk Thistle

Normally you would take 15 to 20 drops, twice a day in a little water, as an adult. It is one of the herbs that is not recommended for children. As a precaution, you should always ask a qualified herbalist before giving herbal medicines to children, or anyone pregnant. This also applies to patients who are HIV positive.

As with any herbal treatment it is a good idea to take a break from the therapy from time to time.

If you have been taking it for three months, take a break for about six weeks before resuming. It is also a good idea to keep a diary of how you feel during treatment, as it will help you note improvements. Also, do not forget that herbs to not necessarily work overnight. They need time and it can take several weeks to notice appreciable differences in the way you feel.

Contraindications.

Provided you have consulted your doctor, there should be no problem taking milk thistle in conjunction with prescribed medication for hepatitis, gall-bladder disease and during recovery from alcoholism. One of the areas in which it may be very helpful is during chemotherapy, but in this instance it is extremely important that your medical team are consulted, as it will affect the potency of your treatment.

If you have any liver condition where your function may be impaired it is a good idea to stop drinking alcohol. Whilst the health benefits have been touted for red wine for example, you get more benefits from drinking red grape juice! Certainly taking six weeks off from consuming alcohol will not do your liver any harm.

In fact the liver is an organ that can regenerate effectively in just six weeks if it has not been scarred by excess alcohol and sugars.

©Sally Cronin – Just Food for Health – 1998 – 2020

I am a qualified nutritional therapist with twenty-two years experience working with clients in Ireland and the UK as well as being a health consultant on radio in Spain. Although I write a lot of fiction, I actually wrote my first two books on health, the first one, Size Matters, a weight loss programme 20 years ago, based on my own weight loss of 154lbs. My first clinic was in Ireland, the Cronin Diet Advisory Centre and my second book, Just Food for Health was written as my client’s workbook. Since then I have written a men’s health manual, and anti-aging programme, articles for magazines and posts here on Smorgasbord.

If you would like to browse my health books and fiction you can find them here: My books and reviews 2020

Your feedback is always welcome and if you do find that following any of the posts that I have shared are beneficial then it would be great to hear about it or if you have any questions you can email me on sally.cronin@moyhill.com.

16 thoughts on “Smorgasbord Health Column – The Medicine Woman’s Treasure Chest – Herbal Medicine – Liver Health and Milk Thistle

  1. Hey, this summer it seems i got a gift from heaven. I am having no problems with the liver (God for sake!) but the first time ever two thistles had grown up in our garden. Now they are looking a little bit grumpy, but maybe i can use next year. Thank you for another great advice, Sally. Best wishes, Michael

    Liked by 1 person

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