What is a Liver Tonic?

Author: Lia Pellizzeri   Date Posted:18 November 2016 

Loving your Liver with St Mary's Thistle!

Used medicinally for centuries, the very well-known flowering herb native to the Mediterranean region, St Mary’s Thistle, has been traditionally used as a liver and gall-bladder tonic from as early as the 1st century AD. A use which is considered its most significant attribute today due to its content of complex flavonolignans silybinin, silydianin and silychristin - collectively called Silymarin.

However, the question is to what extent does a ‘liver tonic’ actually help in the functionality and well-being of the body? It’s when we answer this question that we see what a truly wonderful and unique herb St Mary’s Thistle actually is.

Yes it’s a Liver Tonic but what does a ‘Liver Tonic’ actually do?

Admittedly this term can seem a bit vague, it can depend on what you are using the herb for but in general the antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory pharmacological effects it exerts on this organ has a restorative, cleansing, and protective effect. But the true beauty of a liver tonic such as St Mary’s Thistle, is that it’s able to work on one of the most important organs of the human body, allowing for marked improvement in the health of systems throughout.

What are these systems you might ask? Let’s go through them, you will soon see how everybody can benefit from taking a little of this great herb!

It can Improve Digestion

Did you know that the health of your digestive system is absolutely dependant on the health of your liver? Which is why a sluggish liver can lead to a whole host of tummy issues including bloating, indigestion, constipation, and poor appetite.

The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects of St Mary’s thistle encourages regeneration of liver cells, and protects existing cells by decreasing oxidative stress, thus improving mitochondrial structure and function. This has a flow-on effect to the functionality of not only the liver but the gall-bladder as well, as a functional organ will help relieve indigestion, and assist in the overall digestive process by properly emulsifying fats and assimilating nutrients.

Liver Care Milk Thistle

It has Detoxifying Actions

It’s been the buzz word for years now, and with a growing awareness of our environment including the food and alcohol we consume, increases in medications, chronic stress, and the list goes on… it’s no wonder! However, although clever marketing has led us to believe detoxing is basically nothing more than taking a laxative – a true detoxification comes from enhancing the activity of our own detox enzymes part of the Phase I and II pathways in our livers.

Due to the sheer amount of filtering these pathways have to do on a daily basis, it’s not surprising the liver can become overloaded with the work it has to do, which is where a cleansing herb such as St Mary’s Thistle comes in handy. The complex Silymarin is highly absorbent following ingestion, helping to stabilize cell membranes and assist in the transport of toxins out of the cell before any damage can occur.

Yes… it’s an Antioxidant

I know you’ve probably heard this term bandied around far too much in recent years, its name although self-explanatory really doesn’t give us a lot of clues as to its practicality in the body, or how it really benefits us.

In the liver though, the detoxification pathways the herb acts upon is made possible through its ability to stimulate the activity of the body’s natural antioxidant glutathione peroxidase and levels of superoxide dismutase.

St Mary’s thistle’s therapeutic action also includes reduction of Reactive Oxygen Species – the ‘oxidants’ causing damage and instability to mitochondria, and thus ultimately works to protect the integrity of hepatic cells and the ability to do their very important job.

It’s an Iron Chelator!

What’s more, its actions also include helping to decrease inflammatory responses through inhibiting Cyclo-oxygenase and Lipoxygenase activity, utilizing these antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties to also reduce the oxidative stress of excess iron by being an effective chelator.

So if you’re looking for some extra liver support, it might be a good idea to supplement occasionally with St Mary’s Thistle, as although it’s a been a herb with a long history of traditional use as an hepatic tonic… it’s the all-encompassing stresses of our modern lives that affect the optimal functionality of our livers.

And also... Is it St Mary’s Thistle or Milk Thistle?

It’s an ‘I say toma-ay-to. You say tom-ah-to’ situation… First named ‘Silybum’ by the first century Greek physician Dioscorides, it referred to the ‘thistle’ appearance of the plant. Following this the genus was further classified to ‘marianum’, honouring the symbolic association of the plant with the Virgin Mary – and thus affectionately referred to as St Mary’s Thistle, whilst the very same plant also was coined Milk thistle due to the white streaks along the veins of the leaf itself, and according to legend, the veins were believed to carry the milk of the Virgin Mary. So there you have it, you learn something new every day!

So if you’re looking for some extra liver support, it might be a good idea to supplement occasionally with St Mary’s Thistle, as although it’s a been a herb with a long history of traditional use as an hepatic tonic… it’s the all-encompassing stresses of our modern lives that affect the optimal functionality of our livers.

Watch our video on Liver Care Milk Thistle below:

Written by Lia Pellizzeri
Emily Seddon

Lia is a qualified Naturopath who believes in the power of nature to heal many of today’s acute and chronic conditions. She’s not only passionate about living a healthy lifestyle, but about educating people on nutrition and the amazing benefits of herbs and supplements in addressing symptoms and their underlying issues.

Lia loves to cook, bake and read… when she isn’t busy telling people to enjoy their egg yolks and other healthy fats, she can most likely be found on the lounge with a latte and a tattered copy of Lord of the Rings.


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