ALIAS: Silymarin supplements are sold in the form of standardized products, as well as in the form of milk thistle. It has been used for at least 2,000 years, including in ancient Greece and Rome.
HOW SILYMARIN WORKS: Silymarin works through several different mechanisms. First, as an antioxidant it quenches cell-damaging free radicals. Second, it suppresses the activity of tumor necrosis factor-alpha and interleukin-6, and therefore has anti-inflammatory properties. Third, it has cytoprotective (cell-protecting) benefits that have been demonstrated specifically in liver, pancreas, kidney, and
Marcella had received a blood transfusion 30 years ago, all but forgotten until she recently began experiencing persistent feelings of fatigue. Blood tests showed that she had elevated levels of alanine aminotransferase and aspartate aminotransferase, two enzymes that indicate liver disease. Subsequent tests showed that Marcella had chronic hepatitis C, a viral infection of the liver that likely was caused by a contaminated blood transfusion. (Blood used for transfusions is now tested for hepatitis.)
Hepatitis C can lead to liver failure and death, and drug treatments (such as interferon) have serious side effects. A nutritionally oriented physician recommended that Marcella begin taking 400 mg of a standardized silymarin supplement. Within several weeks, her energy levels returned and her liver enzymes began to decrease.
BACKGROUND CHECK: Burt Berkson, MD, a nutritionally oriented physician in Las Cruces, N.M., developed a triple oxidant treatment of hepatitis C that includes silymarin, selenium, and alpha-lipoic acid. With this combination he has been able to consistently normalize liver enzymes in patients with the disease.
GLEANINGS: A recent study in Italy found that a combination of silymarin and vitamin E led to significant improvements in two groups of patients, those with hepatitis C infections and those with fatty liver. Silymarin reduced hepatitis C virus concentrations and liver enzymes in patients with hepatitis C. Meanwhile, patients with fatty liver had a decrease in liver enzymes, as well as in cholesterol, blood sugar, and inflammation.
HEADS UP: According to a report in American Family Physician, silymarin has no apparent drug interactions and rarely causes side effects.
WHAT YOU SHOULD TAKE: If you want to use silymarin to improve blood sugar, take 200 mg three times daily. However, if you take other supplements, such as chromium, lipoic acid, or N-acetyl-cysteine, you can likely lower the silymarin dose to 100 to 200 mg daily.
A vegetarian formula, NOW Foods Silymarin milk thistle extract 150 mg also contains the herb turmeric, which has been shown to have liver-protective effects.
Also vegetarian-friendly, Nature’s Way Super thisilyn has 175 mg of silymarin. The formula also boasts artichoke, vitamin C, dandelion, turmeric, and other nutrients.
Eclectic Institute Milk Thistle 600 mg is a vegetarian formula containing the fresh, freeze-dried form of the herb. Each capsule has 24 mg, or about 4 percent, silymarin.