Milk Thistle for Fatty Liver
Disclaimer: This content has been produced purely for informational and educational purposes only and is never intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical guidelines including diagnosis, advice, and treatment.
Fatty liver or otherwise called fatty liver disease is a major liver complaint nowadays, especially in Western countries. According to a research review of the World Journal of Gastroenterology published in 2017, around 25 to 30 percent of people are affected by NAFLD (non-alcoholic fatty liver disease) only in Europe and the United States. While having a small amount of fat build-up in the liver is normal and does not affect the liver’s normal function, but when it becomes too much ( generally 10% of the total weight of the liver), a person may have a fatty liver which can develop a large number of health complications.
The uses of milk thistle for fatty liver as well as other liver conditions in traditional medicine have been for centuries and modern scientific research has also substantiated many of its traditional uses. Here we’ll discuss the benefits and uses of milk thistle for fatty liver along with possible side effects and precautions. But before we get into how milk thistle can help with fatty liver, it’s important to learn the basics of fatty liver a little bit more. So, let’s get started.
Table of contents
- What is fatty liver?
- Types of fatty liver diseases
- Signs and symptoms of fatty liver disease
- Causes and risk factors of fatty liver disease
- What is milk thistle?
- Uses and benefits of milk thistle for fatty liver
- Precautions and side effects
- Final words
What is fatty liver?
Fatty liver, otherwise known as fatty liver disease, is a condition when a person has extra fat in the liver, which is clinically called hepatic steatosis. Though fatty liver is most often associated with excess intake of alcohol or heavy drinking, there are also certain risk factors such as diabetes or obesity that have nothing to do with drinking. The good news is that in the early stages, fatty liver can easily be managed and even reversed with simple lifestyle changes and home remedies such as using liver supplements like milk thistle
Types of fatty liver diseases
Fatty liver diseases are mainly categorized into two forms based on the use of alcohol - alcoholic liver disease (ALD) and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). These two forms have different subtypes of liver diseases such as:
Alcoholic fatty liver disease
- Enlarged liver - Usually does not show any symptoms but some people may experience discomfort or pain on the upper right side of the abdomen.
- Alcoholic hepatitis - Swelling in the liver that may cause pain, nausea, vomiting, fever, and jaundice (yellowish eyes and skin).
- Alcoholic cirrhosis - Scar tissue buildup occurs in the liver that causes more serious symptoms along with symptoms of alcoholic hepatitis and eventually may end up with liver failure, which is fatal.
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)
- Simple fatty liver - In this condition, a person may have fat in the liver but it neither causes any symptoms nor causes any issues with the liver’s normal function.
- Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) - Inflammation occurs in the liver and may cause cell damage in the liver, leading to the risk of developing serious liver problems like fibrosis and cirrhosis.
Signs and symptoms of fatty liver disease
A fatty liver condition usually does not show any signs or symptoms unless or until it gets worse and progresses towards damage to liver cells. However, some people may experience excessive fatigue along with pain in the upper right side of the abdomen where the liver is located or its surroundings.
When a fatty liver gets worse, it may develop certain symptoms such as:
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Swollen abdomen or feeling of fullness
- Swollen legs (edema)
- Mental confusion
- Yellowish eyes and skin in case of jaundice
Causes and risk factors of fatty liver disease
A person may get fatty liver without having any specific causes. But there are certain risk factors that make an individual more likely to develop it, such as:
- Being Hispanic, Asian, or African-American male
- Being a postmenopausal woman
- Having obesity
- Having metabolic syndrome (diabetes, high cholesterol, or hypertension)
- Having obstructive sleep apnea
- Having viral hepatitis, particularly hepatitis C
- Having underactive thyroid
- Taking certain medications like synthetic estrogen, steroids, and others
What is milk thistle?
Milk thistle, botanically known as Silybum marianum, is a flowering plant of the Asteraceae family. It has long been used for treating various liver diseases for millennia. The major active compound of milk thistle, silymarin, has been found to have strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, making it one of the most widely used dietary supplements for liver diseases.
Uses and benefits of milk thistle for fatty liver
Studies suggest that the major active ingredient in milk thistle, silymarin, has an incredible ability to reduce inflammation and may help promote cell repair in the liver. This way milk thistle may help with easing symptoms of various liver issues ranging from fatty liver diseases to cirrhosis to liver cancer.
A 2017 scientific review published in the Molecules concluded that silymarin has three important properties - antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and pro-apoptotic that represent a functional triad and may help prevent and treat various liver conditions such as NAFLD, cirrhosis, and even hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC).
Precautions and side effects
Milk thistle is possibly safe in recommended doses. Some people may have mild side effects such as nausea, vomiting, bloating, diarrhea, or allergic reactions.
Besides, milk thistle may affect blood sugar levels and interact with diabetes medications. Therefore, it’s strongly recommended to consult with a certified naturopath before starting milk thistle supplements to determine whether milk thistle is right for your specific health condition.
Milk thistle is one of the most effective dietary supplements for liver. Silymarin, the major active compound in milk thistle, has been found to have tremendous antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions that can help protect the liver from free radical damage and may promote cell repair and even reverse certain liver conditions such as fatty liver and alcoholic hepatitis.
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