- Written by Joel LeBlanc
Milk Thistle, also known as St Mary's Thistle and Silybum, is one of the most popular herbal drugs used around the world for treating conditions of the liver, protecting the body against free radicals, and supporting healthy detoxification. Now scientists have begun to take an interest in Milk Thistle and its effect on patients suffering from type 2 diabetes and liver disease.
The liver is crucial for filtering out toxins and drugs, balancing hormones, manufacturing proteins, and supporting healthy blood sugar levels. When people suffer from a disease of the liver, such as cirrhosis or hepatitis, they are much more at risk of developing type 2 diabetes. In such cases, it is important to find an effective treatment that supports the liver as well as blood sugars. Here is where Milk Thistle comes in.
Milk thistle seed extract is an herbal medicine that has shown in numerous studies to protect the liver tissues from chemical damage, improve the functioning of the liver cells, and even stimulate the regeneration of damaged liver tissues. Milk Thistle contains a range of antioxidants and phytochemicals (e.g. silybin, isosilybin, silydianin and silandrin) responsible for these medicinal effects, but scientists have managed to single out one ingredient in particular that shows the most activity: silymarin.
Silymarin is an antioxidant with special affinity for liver cells, and can be extracted from Milk Thistle seeds and used on its own as an herbal drug. It appears to function just as well, if not better, than the whole plant extract of Milk Thistle, and is associated with very few side effects.
Researchers from the Swamy Vivekanandha College of Pharmacy in India wanted to test the effects of Silymarin on patients with both type 2 diabetes and liver damage, so they compared groups of type 2 diabetes patients with liver damage at Medical Trust Hospital in 2009. One group was given insulin and a combination of amino acids (L-ornithine & L-aspartate), and the other group was given insulin and silymarin.
The study was published in The Journal of Pharmacology and Pharmacotherapeutics in late 2011, and showed that those clinical patients treated with a combination of insulin and silymarin experienced significant benefits, superior to those of the insulin and amino acid group. The silymarin group showed reduced blood glucose levels and reduced bilirubin levels (due to improved liver function.) Researchers concluded that these effects were likely due to the antioxidant activity of silymarin, which improves insulin sensitivity.
If you are interested in trying Milk Thistle or silymarin products, check with your doctor first to learn about how these herbal products may influence your medications.