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Milk thistle, a plant with reddish-purple flowers and prickly leaves, grows in the United States , Canada , India , China , South America , Mexico , Australia , and Africa . It has been used for more than 2,000
years as a traditional medicine. Milk thistle was originally believed to stimulate milk production in women--thus the name. It has a more modern reputation as a cure for hangovers--mainly because of its reputation for improving liver function.

The compound in milk thistle that has been studied the most is called silymarin. Considered an antioxidant, it has a particular effect on the liver. Animal studies have shown silymarin is effective in repairing liver cells and boosting glutathione levels. Your liver is damaged when glutathione is depleted--often as a result of drinking alcohol. Human studies have duplicated this evidence, and subjects with cirrhosis, hepatitis, or other liver-damaging conditions showed considerable improvement. It is also known to cure--in injection
form--the fatal poisoning of Deathcap mushrooms (it must be taken within 24 to 26 hours after ingesting the mushrooms).

This herb is considered safe, though it may have a mild laxative effect. As always, pregnant or lactating women should consult their doctors first. Also, a serious liver problem should be treated with the help of a qualified physician: check with your doctor if you have a liver condition. If you are considering using milk thistle, look for a product that contains 80 percent silymarin flavonoids. Also, the teas contain only a trace of silymarin, and you should know that the leaves themselves have relatively no health benefits.

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Article © copyright Mikhail Levitin Institute | Graphics and Design © copyright Steven Monk