Milk Thistle For Fatty Liver: Hope or Hype?

Can milk thistle help strengthen the liver? If so, can it address NAFLD specifically? Are there any studies to back all this up? Well, dear readers, you’re in luck – we’ve investigated these questions and have compiled them into an article to help you decide whether to make this herbal remedy part of your NAFLD-busting arsenal.

Let’s get started with…

The Claims

Milk thistle has a very old reputation, but most “health guru” sites make this claim in an extremely general way – “centuries,” “generations” or other non-quantifiable periods of time. We did verify a more than 2000-year history of the remedy which may or may not have been widespread (that latter is more difficult to support). Theophrastus referred to it under a Greek name in the 4th century BC, and it was referred to by Pliny the Elder in the first century under the name of silybum, which is the name of the active ingredient today.

As for the actual health claims, these seem to have run a rather broad course. These have included:

  • general detoxification of the body, or more specifically, of the digestive and endocrine systems
  • repair of alcohol damage of the liver
  • bile duct and spleen rejuvenation
  • increased daily energy due to fewer toxins in the body following use
  • mushroom poisoning antidote
  • viral hepatitis treatment (milk thistle is prescribed by some European physicians for this purpose)
  • lowering of cholesterol
  • anti-viral and anti-cancer cell activity
  • menopausal symptom reduction, including a reduction of hormonal “hot flashes”
  • skin irritation and skin disease treatment

That’s a pretty broad list and as such, requires some sort of support. Can milk thistle really do all this?

Studies Are Promising …

There ARE studies backing up milk thistle’s health benefits…at least some of them.

Milk thistle is scientifically supported enough to be a prescription medication in some areas of the world, but its actions tend to be specific to the liver, and fatty liver is not necessarily part of the purported health benefits.

On the other hand, a fatty liver condition can lead to damage, including scarring of the liver. That’s why most NAFLD-busting programs recommend not only reducing fat in the body (and by extension, in and around the liver) but healing damage that may have already occurred.

This means milk thistle, with its known liver-healing properties, can be an extremely beneficial addition to an anti-NAFLD strategy. The active ingredient silymarin, extracted from the seeds of the milk thistle, helps as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, and helps regenerate liver cells.

However … there is not much evidence that it helps as part of a detox regime, and it’s certainly not a quick medicine if you drank a lot or had a large meal that puts pressure on your liver. Nor does it seem to have any affect on a healthy liver.

Bottom line: Definitely take milk thistle (capsule or tea form) as part of your long-term road back to liver health (I did.)

How Much Should You Take?

Because milk thistle in the U.S. is non-regulated by the FDA and concentrations could vary from manufacturer or manufacturer, your best bet is to see a holistic health practitioner for advice.

However, we’re aware that such ventures can be costly (and it’s hard to tell which practitioners are legitimate), so if you go this route, follow the manufacturer’s label instructions beginning at the lowest recommended dose: between 50 and 150 milligrams a day.

Make sure you’re using a trusted brand and read reviews with a critical eye. After you feel comfortable with the brand and the specific product, go ahead and incorporate milk thistle extract into your daily regimen provided your physician has not advised you otherwise.

My own recommendations, which you can find at Amazon. I drank the tea, starting at 3 times a day in the beginning, then down to once a day after 6 months, when I got my fatty liver under control. It does taste bitter and a bit bland, so I added lemon:

You can also try supplements in pill form:

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