Silymarin is an extract of milk thistle (Silybum marianum), in which flavonolignan chemicals in silymarin inhibit the hepatitis C virus. In spite of the large amount of research that has been done, the definite mechanism of action against hepatitis C is uncertain. Silymarin is especially useful against hepatitis C which is a global problem involving 130 million people. Non-toxic, cheap and effective treatments are badly needed, and only 50% of treated people become free of the virus with current drug treatments.
Silymarin extract contains at least seven flavonolignans, but silibinin extract of milk thistle contains only 2. In addition to hepatitis, silymarin is used to treat liver cirrhosis and wild mushroom poisoning. The flavonolignans are phytoestrogens meaning plant extract with estrogenic effects.
The researchers have done numerous technical studies of the actions of silymarin on hepatitis C RNA and hepatitis cellular activities. It was shown that silymarin is antiviral, anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory. Silibinin was not found to be effective against hepatitis C.
CONCLUSION: The authors’ theorize that “silymarin’s blockade of virus entry and transmission occurs by targeting the host cell.” In spite of the uncertainty about how it works, silymarin is a highly effective and safe treatment of hepatitis C.
NOTE: Milk thistle has very low toxicity. It is antioxidant and has been shown to protect the skin from burning as the result of excessive sun exposure.
Hepatitis C virus is spread by blood to blood contact, mainly from intravenous drug use from a contaminated needle. The problem may not cause symptoms for years until liver problems develop. It can lead to liver scarring, cirrhosis, liver failure or liver cancer. The cirrhosis can cause bleeding from the esophagus due to varices (greatly dilated veins).
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