Milk thistle is part of the group of cirsium (thistle).
It is a plant easily recognizable.
It is biannual (sometimes annual in cold regions), quite large (up to 1.5 meters), with oblong, spiny leaves on the edge and whose ribs are underlined with white.
Flower heads are terminal (4 to 5 cm in diameter), purplish to purple, solitary, sheathed by very spiny bracts.
After flowering, the plant dries out and the black seeds (achenes) remain contained in the dried flower (capitula).
It is found in vacant lots, along roads and at the edge of fields.
Flowering is summer. Mostly present in southern Europe, northern Africa, the Middle East,
it also grows in temperate Europe and America.
CHEMICAL COMPOSITION AND PROPERTIES
MILK THISLE SEEDS
The seeds contain :
- lipids (20 to 30%) whose fatty acids are: oleic, palmitic, myristic, stearic,
- sugars and proteins,
- flavonoids (flavolignans): pharmacologists isolate SILYMARIN, a mixture of compounds, the most important of which seems to be SILYBIN.
- other flavonoids: quercetol, taxifolin
- betaine derivatives .
Flavonoids are anti-inflammatories and antioxidants (scavengers of free radicals).
Silymarin seems the most interesting part (it is also found in other "thistles" or "cardoons" including the artichoke), it is not very soluble in water but the situation gets better when it is mixed with phosphatidylcholine; it is then more easily absorbed orally, but rather quickly eliminated in the bile, the plasma half-life is around 6h.
In vitro silymarin and its most active component silybin are:
- HEPATO-PROTECTOR against hepatotoxic substances: for example carbon tetrachloride, acetaminophen, toluene, xylene, toxins of amanita mushrooms (especially the "deadly" phalloid amanita), aflatoxins,
- ANTI-OXYDANTS, scavengers of free radicals; inhibition of lipid peroxidation would have a protective effect for cell membranes that contain many lipids,
- there is also a possible protection of the kydney parenchyma.
In vivo, in animals and humans:
- protective effect of the liver,
- perhaps a prevention against carcinogens (substances causing the appearance of cancer or leukemias) including aflatoxins (toxins produced by fungi and inducing among others liver cancers),
- a moderate anti-lipidemic effect: with a decrease in hepatic synthesis of endogenous cholesterol,
- attenuation of the effects of ionizing radiation (emitted by radioactive substances (irradiation, cancer treatment) or radiation (example: X-rays and UV rays).
Currently, extracts of milk thistle are used primarily to alleviate disorders secondary to impaired liver function:
- CHRONIC HEPATITIS secondary to intoxication by ethyl alcohol, viral diseases (hepatitis), accidental or occupational poisoning (drugs, chemicals, fungi), obstructions of the bile ducts,
- ACUTE HEPATITIS : viral (jaundice), fungi (amanitis) There are many clinical studies, some very enthusiastic, others less: the most positive show a progressive normalization of liver function in a few weeks, and in the case of chronic disease a return to normal in 6 months (when one eliminates well on the cause of intoxication) the HEPATITE C can also profit from this treatment in complement of the modern therapy,
- in addition to appropriate dietetics in cases of hypercholesterolemia.
Extracts of milk thistle are listed in the main European pharmacopoeia and recommended by the E Commission (Germany) and the ESCOP (Europe).
There was a time when the milk thistle was eaten: leaves like spinach, seeds (oleaginous) and flower (like a small artichoke)
There are pharmaceutical specialties with standardized SILYMARIN extracts (ex "legalon" in Germany with 70% silymarin):
- recommended doses vary between 200 and 800 mg of silymarin per day,
- treatment must last several weeks to several months .
Drugs using SILYBIN associated with phophatidylcholine: 100 mg of silybin 3 times daily
In case of ACUTE TOXIC HEPATITIS (poisoning by amanita mushrooms, aflatoxins, chemical product) the parenteral (intravenous) route is used: 20 to 50 mg / kg / day for 3 to 4 days and the treatment can be instituted until 48 hours after intoxication with phalloid amanita.
Milk thistle can also be taken as a decoction, but the active substances are in fact very little soluble in water, (boil 50 g of seeds in one liter of water for 15 minutes, let infuse 10 minutes and filter) , a cup 3 times a day before the meal
MILK THISLE TO PROTECT the LIVER
Milk thistle is a beautiful warm-temperate spiny plant whose "seeds" contain silymarin, a mixture of substances that protect the attacked liver cell (toxic or infectious hepatitis) and help normalize liver function.
Other uses are possible: protection against carcinogenic substances and sun protection (against cutaneous cancerization).
Milk thisle can be eaten : young leaves like spinach, flowers like artichoke.
Copyright 2019 : Dr Jean-Michel Hurtel