Welcome back to my series on doing herb research. Last I wrote, I had gone to PubMed and found a study on Milk Thistle and its effects on chronic Hepatitis C. While the results appeared to be strongly positive, unfortunately, that single study was not of the highest quality. Moreover, I’m a busy Mom: I don’t have the time to go back to PubMed to read through each and every single study to determine if there ARE any high-quality studies that support Milk Thistle.
Enter the American Botanical Council, my favorite site for herb research. What I like about ABC – where do I even start, really – is all of the different options that you have for staying current on herb research. For starters, they send you HerbEClips via email, which show you the latest headlines in ongoing herb research around the world (this is the most recent HerbEClip I got in the inbox, with a VERY interesting tidbit on Licorice Root). You also get this beautiful print magazine called “HerbalGram,” which contains fantastically interesting articles on herbs, herb research, herb adulteration (sometimes), new books on herbs, ways to use herbs, and more. I remember being hooked on a recent article in a recent HerbalGram about “Ayurvastra,” or the practice of dyeing fabrics with medicinal herbal plants.
You also get access to the Commission E monographs, which if you’ll remember from my interview with Mark Blumenthal (ABC’s founder and executive director), are the German FDA-equivalent’s compendium of herb knowledge and recommendations to date. Mark took the monographs and had them translated and published as the founding text for ABC – ABC members get access to these monographs as one of the many benefits of joining.
The first thing I usually do when I want to research an herb is go check the Commission E monographs about an herb. I don’t know why – perhaps it’s because I trust the Europeans on herbs because they’ve had a LONG history of using herbs, and because they still use herbs to this day in present-day clinical practice. The Germans take herbs seriously – and regulate them as drugs. In the U.S., the FDA sees herbs as food, and as such, does not treat them as drugs. I figure, if it’s on the Commission E’s list of approved herbs, it’s most likely safe and there’s been research done on it.
Well, voila: Milk Thistle fruit is most definitely on the list of approved herbs. While I cannot reprint the monograph on Milk Thistle here without the permission of ABC, I will just share that each monograph contains the same format: the Latin name of the herb (they call it a “drug”), its composition, uses, contraindications (when not to use it), side effects, interactions with other drugs, dosage, method of administration, and actions. For Milk Thistle, the Commission E monograph tells me that its primary use is for “toxic liver damage; for supportive treatment in chronic inflammatory liver disease and hepatic cirrhosis.” The main formulation of Milk Thistle, “silymarin,” contains 3 components of the drug: silybinin, silychristin, and silydianin.
The therapeutic activity of silymarin is based on two mechanisms of action:
(a) it alters the structure of the outer cell membrane of the hepatocytes in such a way as to prevent penetration of the liver toxin into the interior of the cell;
(b) it stimulates the action of nucleolar polymerase A, resulting in an increase in ribosomal protein synthesis, and thus stimulates the regenerative ability of the liver and the formation of new hepatocytes.
Cool! Scanning the other sections of the monograph, I’ve learned that Milk Thistle is considered safe (no contraindications), and that the only side effect (of the formulation of silymarin) is a mild laxative effect (which, if I’m honest, I don’t consider such a bad thing). The dosage is 12 to 15 grams of Milk Thistle, and its formulations contain 200 to 400 mg of silymarin.
Now that I know the basic picture of Milk Thistle, I can now go into further depth on the ABC site and scan for the latest research/reviews on this herb. Stay tuned – we’ll do that next time!