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Milk thistle is a herbal native to Asia, Africa, Europe and southern Russia. Its medicinal properties are found in the seeds, or achenes, after the plant flowers.
Effect of Milk Thistle on Migraine Headache
Milk Thistle is a well-known and studied herb that enhances liver function and stimulates regeneration of hepatic cells when mild to moderately damaged. Due to the liver’s role in detoxifying the blood, and the possible role of toxins in the blood stimulating inflammation and abnormal contraction of the blood vessels, milk thistle has been shown to reduce the number of migraine attacks in chronic sufferers, possibly pointing to a link between digestion, elimination and the inflammation in the blood vessels.
Milk thistle seeds contain a group of flavonolignans--which are believed to be the plant's active constituents, and as a group, are known as silymarin. Silymarin is a group of flavonolignans, and silybinin, the major constituent, along with isosilybin, dihydrosilybin, silydianin, silychristin, and a few flavonoids. The seeds also contains 20 to 30 percent oil (a combination of fatty acids that are solid at room temperature), mucilage, protein and taxifolin, a naturally-ocurring plant chemical that has demonstrated beneficial properties on lipid and fat metabolism in pre-liminary tests.
Inflammation is demonstrated to play a central role in the symptoms of migraine. Finnish researchers conducted a double-blind, controlled study to understand the effect of milk thistle seed extract on liver inflammation. They measured levels of an enzyme released from inflamed liver cell in 97 patients. Subjects who received the milk thistle versus the placebo showed a statistically significant decrease in liver enzymes.
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Research Evidence on Milk Thistle
Overall, studies demonstrate that a standardized milk thistle extract protects the liver, including daily exposure to environmental pollutants, side effects of certain medications, chronic alcohol use, cirrhosis and fatty degeneration of the liver. This herb is does not have any reported interactions with prescription medications. While studies have not yet been conducted on milk thistle and migraine, one study conducted on chronic migraine sufferers that saw an 80% improvement rate over 90 days included milk thistle extract as a key ingredient.
How to Use Milk Thistle
Extracts are usually standardized to contain a 70 percent silymarin complex. The typical dose is 200 to 420 mg daily taken thice daily with meals for 2 months, then 280 mg/day in three divided doses. There are no known side effects or contraindications. While milk thistle has not shown any side effects in scientific tests, if you are pregnant or lactating, please consult your health care provider before taking milk thistle. Discontinue use for 2 to 7 days every 8 weeks to maintain peak effectiveness.
Milk thistle is believed to possess very little toxicity. Animal studies have not shown any negative effects even when high doses were administered over a long period of time. 1 A study of 2,637 participants reported in 1992 showed a low incidence of side effects, limited mainly to mild gastrointestinal disturbance. 2 However, on rare occasions severe abdominal discomfort may occur. 3 On the basis of its extensive use as a food, milk thistle is believed to be safe for pregnant or nursing women and researchers have enrolled pregnant women in studies. 4 However, safety in young children, pregnant or nursing women, and individuals with severe renal disease has not been formally established.
No drug interactions are known. However, one report has noted that silibinin can inhibit a bacterial enzyme called beta-glucuronidase, which plays a role in the activity of certain drugs, such as oral contraceptives. 5 This could theoretically reduce their effectiveness.
Interactions You Should Know About
If you are taking:
- Medications that could damage the liver, such as acetaminophen, phenytoin (Dilantin), alcohol, and phenothiazines: Milk thistle might be protective for some of these drugs.
- Oral contraceptives : Milk thistle might reduce their effectiveness.
- Awang D. Milk thistle. Can Pharm J. 1993;126:403-404.
- Albrecht M, Frerick H, Kuhn U, et al. Therapy of toxic liver pathologies with Legalon [in German]. Z Klin Med. 1992;47:87-92.
- Adverse Drug Reactions Advisory Committee. An adverse reaction to the herbal medication milk thistle ( Silybum marianum ). Med J Aust. 1999;170:218-219.
- Giannola C, Buogo F, Forestiere G, et al. A two-center study on the effects of silymarin in pregnant women and adult patients with so-called minor hepatic insufficiency [in Italian]. Clin Ther. 1985;114:129-135.
- Kim DH, Jin YH, Park JB, Kobashi K. Silymarin and its components are inhibitors of beta-glucuronidase. Biol Pharm Bull. 17(3):443-5.
Frank M. Painter, D.C. 2009 Milk Thistle (Online) http://www.chiro.org/nutrition/Milk_Thistle.shtml. accessed 03.15.2010
Lise N. Alschuler, N.D. 1999 Milk Thistle's Liver-Protective Properties (Online) http://www.chiro.org/nutrition/FULL/MilkThistleLiverProtectiveProperties.shtml. accessed 03.15.2010
Morazzoni, P., Bombardelli, E. 1995. Silybum marianum. Cardus Marianus Fitoterapia. 66:6-42.  Krecman, V., Skottova, N., Walterova, D., Ulrichova, J., Simanek, V. 1998. Silymarin inhibits the development of diet-induced hypercholesterolemia in rats. Planta Med. 64:138-142. accessed 03.15.2010
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