Liver Cleansing Herbs: Milk Thistle Benefits Aid Detoxification

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH


How to Cleanse the Liver with Milk Thistle

A liver render, illustrating the organ helped by liver cleansing herbsA sluggish liver can retard recovery from Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS), but it can be repaired. Your body is designed to heal and repair itself and is very responsive to holistic healing. When your liver is congested, it has a hard time doing its job of breaking down nutrients and filtering toxins for disposal, causing a buildup of toxins, leading to inflammation and worsening fatigue and brain fog, among other undesirable symptoms. Although a weak adrenal system can lead to weakness in other organs, there are ways to support them and heal your body naturally from the negative effects of AFS. Cleansing and repairing the liver to keep it in optimum health are imperative steps to AFS recovery, and it is not difficult with natural, readily available liver cleansing herbs like milk thistle and a few easy, healthy lifestyle changes. Once your liver is healthy and well supported your recovery journal will be at ease and proceed quickly.

NEM Stress Response

Let us take a step back and see how the liver functions in time of stress. Keeping your liver function at its best is absolutely crucial to initiating your body’s response mechanism during times of stress. While the adrenal glands are known as the body’s stress control center, producing stress-fighting hormones, this purely neuroendocrine system can only handle intermittent, mild stress on its own. The adrenal glands need help fighting stress, so they call on other organs for assistance. When your body is severely fatigued from your AFS, this is much harder to do and your other organs may downshift to conserve energy. Systemic and organ function starts to work sub optimally.

The NEM Stress response represents and describes the body’s pathophysiological response to stress and how stress should be evaluated and treated holistically.

Stress can slow the body’s function, and liver cleansing herbs can helpThe NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response is the body’s response to stress. It uses all of your organs, systems, pathways, and chemical reactions to combat stress. When your organs are not fully functioning, the NEM Stress Response cannot meet the stress when it arrives, putting all of the fight on the adrenal glands, the main stress response organ, which simply cannot keep up. The adrenal glands sit on top of your kidneys and produce stress-fighting hormones, the most important of which is cortisol. Cortisol is known to cease production during rest (at night), and spike when you awaken. Unfortunately, AFS sufferers tend to have trouble falling, and staying asleep, so the hormone cortisol balance gets disturbed. Since your other organs utilize these hormones for a host of functions, including metabolism and immunity, all of your organs need to be fully functioning to both benefit and help respond. Then they will be able to work together to meet the needs the stress produces.

The liver is an important organ in both metabolic and detoxification circuits. The liver works metabolically to process the hormones and prepare them for excretion. However, when there is an overload of toxins and hormones, that need to be excreted, and the liver can’t catch up, its function gets sluggish. Along with that, the detoxification process declines also.

Liver Cleansing Herbs Key to Liver Health

Because the liver is the major toxin removing organ in your body, cleansing and detoxing is key to overall organ function and therefore AFS recovery. Recent research has shown that the herb Milk Thistle is effective in reversing chemical-induced liver damage, and it has been scientifically proven to prevent liver toxicity in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. Milk Thistle is a common ingredient in liver support formulas because of its nourishing properties and ability to actually strengthen the liver. It is considered non-toxic and can be safely taken for extended periods of time to cleanse and repair the liver by aiding in new cell growth by protein synthesis. The new cell growth protects the liver from further damage by preventing toxins from entering the cells.

Having been used for over 2,000 years as an herbal remedy for a slew of ailments (most importantly for cleansing and repairing the liver, kidneys, and gall bladder), scientific Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum) studies suggest that the inert substances of the herb (especially a flavonoid called silymarin) protect the liver from toxins. In 1960, German researchers discovered that Silymarin (mainly from the seeds of the plant) is a strong antioxidant, helping reverse liver damage caused by alcohol, mushroom toxins, and the repeated use of some drugs (including acetaminophen). Some animal studies have even showed silymarin protecting against chemotherapy or radiation induced kidney injury from cisplatin.

Silymarin strengthens hepatocytes (liver cells) to prevent absorption of toxins, and also helps increase protein synthesis and new cell growth. Silibinin, a component of milk thistle extract, has also been shown to be a great antidote to poisonous mushroom ingestion because of its ability to competitively bind to liver cell membrane receptors and kick off the toxins from the liver.

Using Milk Thistle to Cleanse and Detox

Sprigs of milk thistle and its seeds, a potent example of liver cleansing herbsMilk Thistle gets its name from the milky white sap that is released from the plant’s cells when the leaves are crushed, though about 80 percent of the Silymarin used in supplements actually comes from the seeds of the Milk Thistle plant. Despite the name, the remedy is not a milky substance. It is readily available in standardized capsules (dried herb), a liquid extract, a tincture, and fermented liquid for easier assimilation. Fermenting the herb is an excellent way to improve the shelf life of milk thistle. On top of this, fermentation also breaks the herb down into its basic nutrients for easier absorption. It also helps support healthy digestion, and balance intestinal flora. It is important to note that in advanced stages of adrenal fatigue, strengthening the liver and helping detox may worsen adrenal fatigue, as a retoxification reaction is possible. It is important to proceed slowly and start with small doses. A dose of 160mg per day is recommended if you do not have a sensitive body.

Milk thistle has very little side effects known when used appropriately. Studies in mice and dogs did not result in any adverse effects or toxicity. Literature reviews have concluded that milk thistle is relatively safe even when used for long periods of time.

Other than supporting the liver with milk thistle, it’s important for Adrenal Fatigue recovery to take these steps:

  1. Change Your Diet – Avoid packaged, fried and processed foods, red meat, and high cholesterol foods.
  2. Add Healing Foods – Fresh, organic fruits and vegetables and whole grains such as oatmeal and barley – avoid pesticides in foods
  3. Drink Water – Eliminate sodas, alcohol and coffee, and drink only water and herbal teas that help your condition.
  4. Environment – Limit exposure to toxins and chemicals as much as possible in cleaning products and air quality. Use an air filter inside of your home and office if possible.

References

Boerth J1, Strong KM. The clinical utility of milk thistle (Silybum marianum) in cirrhosis of the liver. J Herb Pharmacother. 2002;2(2):11-7.

Hahn G, Lehmann HD, Kürten M, Uebel H, Vogel G. On the pharmacology and toxicology of silymarin, an antihepatotoxic active principle from Silybum marianum (L.) Gaertn. Arzneimittelforschung. 1968 Jun;18(6):698-704.

© Copyright 2016 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.


Springs of milk thistle and it seeds, a potent example of liver cleansing herbs

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4 Comments

  • Ted says:

    Dr. Lam, can taking Milk Thistle make fatigue worse? I seem to experience this draining fatigue that feels like my legs get very heavy and this usually happens a few days after taking Milk Thistle. The reason I take it is bacause it helps me sleep better by cooling the liver. This way my waking 1-3am and feeling hot is not so bad and usually I’m able to fall back asleep. So how can Milk Thistle cause fatigue? Does this have anything to do with Stage 2 detox and perhaps my digestion (being sluggish as well) is not clearing out toxins which get reabsorbed? Would be very grateful for your take on this.

    • Dr.Lam says:

      In some people, it can. A lot has to do with your body’s current state of condition and how it reacts.

      Dr. Lam

  • Joanna says:

    How much milk thistle should I take if I think I am in advanced stage? What us the best form to take it in?