For some of you it is Thanksgiving this week which is a wonderful opportunity to meet with family and friends and of course over indulge. This celebration kicks off the festive season and from the first week in December there will be Christmas parties at every opportunity and good intentions fly out the window as the sausages on sticks and mince pies are handed around.
Do not get me wrong… I am with you 100% and Christmas is one of my favourite times of year when chocolate coins and almond paste are on the top of my to do list! However, there are two major organs in the body that find this month of the year extremely confusing and upsetting. Our brain and our liver.
The brain turns into a pinball machine with all its pleasure and reward centres being pinged off regularly as we hand around the treats and sit down to laden tables. For the rest of the year most of us are moderate eaters with just the occasional blip, but at Christmas the restraints are off and our eyes and taste buds are in charge of proceedings.
This results in some pretty dramatic chemical changes in our brain that has a knock on effect on the glands of the body. The immune system is impacted which is why it is so easy to pick up a cold or the flu as we mingle with family and friends. As the sugar floods our bloodstream our blood sugar levels play havoc with our kidneys and our energy levels.
The liver is in no position to help us out. Normally it happily removes toxins and waste from the body and releases stores that help with digestion and protect us. For the next few weeks it will be working overtime and it will not be able to do its job causing a build up of toxins in the cells of the body. This is not helped by all the antacids and over the counter painkillers that are knocked back in December and early January.
That is the bad news. The good news is that there are ways to support the body and the liver through the festive season. The first strategy is to use your usual common sense and know when you have had enough!! The second is to make sure that you drink plenty of water throughout the day to flush out toxins. The third is to eat light, fresh meals on the days that you are not indulging in heavy celebrations so that you give your body and major organs a break. Finally you can take a herbal remedy in the form of Milk Thistle to help support your liver as it works overtime in December.
As with in any complementary medicine, it is important not to assume that it is either safe to use or that it will cure your condition. In the case of herbal therapy there is a great deal of written and oral evidence, over centuries in some instances, that it is an effective and safe way to support the body and when appropriate can be used in conjunction with conventional medicine. In the case of milk thistle, trials have indicated that even at high doses there is little known toxicity.
Thistles are part of the daisy family, found mainly in Europe, Asia and Australia, especially dry and sunny areas. It can grew 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 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 show some indications 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.
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 affects 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 an 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 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.
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.
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.
It is one of those herbal remedies that are useful to have around at Christmas time. As I have mentioned the liver takes a great deal of punishment at this time of year and apart from keeping hydrated and alternating alcohol drinks with water, I also suggest that you take Milk Thistle from now until after New Year. Then move to a gentle detox with the herb as part of a complex for the rest of January.
This of course does not mean you have a free licence – this poor herb can only do so much!
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