Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum), is a member of the family Asteraceae and is a tall herb with prickly leaves and a milky sap that is native to the Mediterranean region of Europe. Milk thistle is among the most ancient of all known herbal medicines, having been used as a remedy for centuries for liver complaints. The antihepatotoxic (liver protectant) compounds in Milk Thistle are commonly referred to as silymarin. Recent research has demonstrated that extracts of Milk thistle do, in fact, protect against some common liver toxins. In addition to various poisons, Silymarin also protects against the liver damage from dangerous solvents such as carbon tetrachloride and ethanol (alcohol). Silymarin has also been used in the treatment of hepatic disorders in humans. In fact, a German medical study found that liver function in patients with chronic hepatitis improved after three months of therapy with silymarin.
The results of numerous studies suggest that silymarin not only protects liver cells by preventing the actions of toxic substances but that it also stimulate protein synthesis to accelerate the regeneration and production of liver cells. Silymarin, and its component silybin, function as antioxidants, protecting cell membranes from free-radical oxidative damage.