As we all know, the liver bears the biggest brunt of one’s alcohol intake. It is responsible for cleansing the body; however, alcohol itself is toxic to the liver. What can the herbal remedy milk thistle do to protect the liver?
When there is excessive consumption of alcohol over a long period of time, the damage can cause three major diseases:
1. Fatty liver: This is the most common alcohol-induced liver problem, caused by high accumulation of fat in the liver cells. Fatty liver causes the liver to enlarge, leading to upper abdominal pain on the right side.
2. Alcoholic hepatitis: Alcohol can inflame the liver, then destroy cells. The patient may experience fever, jaundice, an enlarged, tender liver, an increase in white blood cell count, and spider-like veins in the skin.
3. Alcoholic cirrhosis: After a long period of alcohol-induced damage to the liver, what remains is non-functioning scar tissue. The patient may experience the same symptoms as those with alcoholic hepatitis. More often, the patient will have an enlarged spleen, ascites (fluid in the abdomen), kidney failure, confusion, and even coma or liver cancer.
Now how does milk thistle fare against alcohol-related liver disease? I’ve identified seven studies that were of good quality, which used a certain level of silymarin (from 280 milligrams to 450 milligrams). Two found that there was no significant benefit with milk thistle treatment. One exerted no significant change in liver function for alcoholic cirrhosis, while another showed no beneficial effect on survival for this disease.
On the positive side, one study found that milk thistle normalized the levels of liver enzymes and led to overall improvement in patients. Another did the same in just one month of using supplements, whereas placebo did not — another positive sign. In a long, 41-month study, researchers found that adults on milk thistle had better survival rates than those who weren’t taking it.
So, what’s the bottom line here? Though a few of the studies have yielded encouraging results, more research is certainly needed before milk thistle could be recommended for either the prevention or treatment of alcohol-related liver diseases.