If you drink alcohol on a regular basis, you should be taking milk thistle on a regular basis. -Dr. Robert Walton.

Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) is a herbaceous annual or biennial plant native to warm, dry areas in southern Europe and northern Africa. The active ingredients of milk thistle are chemicals called flavonoids. The flavonoids in milk thistle were identified by German scientists in 1960 as silybin, silydianin, and silychristin. Together, they are called silymarin.

Milk Thistle extract has been in use for thousands of years as a remedy for liver problems, and to protect the liver against damage. It is a powerful antioxidant and has been seen in recent studies to prevent damage to the liver caused by alcohol, hepatitis, recreational drugs, acetaminophen, phenytoin, phenothiazines (drugs used in the treatment of schizophrenia), pesticides and other toxins.

Milk thistle protects the liver by reinforcing the outer membranes of liver cells, preventing toxins from entering and damaging the cells. Many researchers also say that milk thistle can help regenerate damaged tissue in the liver: It stimulates the synthesis of ribosomal RNA, an important step in cell regeneration.

The standardized extract of milk thistle contains 80% silymarin, the primary active ingredient. Depending on the concentration of the product you buy, the dosage may range from 80-600mg. It’s recommended this dosage be taken in two portions throughout the day, with food.

Several types of drugs used to combat the effects of HIV can damage the liver. Some medical professionals advise patients dealing with HIV to take milk thistle to help protect and restore the liver and kidneys. Some studies have shown that milk thistle can reduce the effectiveness of some HIV treatment drugs (such as indinavir) by as much as 9%. It is also suspected that milk thistle can help protect the liver from damage caused by chemotherapy and radiation treatments, and help prevent certain types of cancer.

Some think that milk thistle also aids in digestion, particularly with fats. It is suspected to stimulate gall bladder contraction and the flow of bile. Milk thistle has also been used to stimulate breast milk production and treat jaundice, although the effectiveness of the herb in these cases is widely dismissed.

There are no known side effects of milk thistle. Even when taken in large doses the patient exhibits no ill effects. Very rarely new users may experience upset stomach. In these cases it is recommended that the dosage be reduced.

The lab coat clad, glasses wearing Asian Pharmacist at the local Loblaws.