In a world where most dogs and cats (and even most people) eat highly processed diets, are on daily meds (such as thyroid supplementation) and are exposed to an increasingly toxic world, the liver takes a daily beating. The liver is responsible for the detoxification of, well, life. Every tiny toxin that goes into the body must go through the liver before it leaves. The more toxins, the more work the liver must do and at a certain point the workload becomes overwhelming and destructive for the liver at which point the toxins accumulate in the body and disease begins. Every liver needs a little support and nature has a way to provide!!!
The seeds and roots of the Milk Thistle flower, related to the sunflower, are that miracle! Milk Thistle contains an active flavanoid compound called “silymarin” that has been used for centuries as a liver tonic. Silymarin’s regenerative effect on damaged liver cells is one of the VERY FEW herbs which modern medicine agrees upon its efficacy. Since the liver is second only to the skin as the largest detox organ in the body, it makes sense to aid it in its fight against the many toxins, viruses, bacteria, infections, etc., which many dogs (and cats!) deal with daily.
Research suggests that allergies can be aided by the use of Milk Thistle. When the liver can’t detoxify efficiently, it stores toxins which basically “plugs up the system” and the liver creates and stores extra histamines to protect itself. When an allergen presents itself, the liver senses the “invader” but releases EXCESS histamines, thus creating an allergic reaction (hives, sneezing, respiratory distress.) The ability of Milk Thistle to help cleanse the liver and break this cycle may assist in reducing or eliminating allergies.
Milk Thistle protects the liver against chemical toxins including pharmaceutical drugs, vaccinations and heavy metals, stimulates the growth of new liver cells, and even stimulates regeneration of dead or damaged cells. It has strong antioxidant activity and is a potent free radical scavenger, making it highly anti-inflammatory. Milk Thistle can preserve glutathione (which is stored primarily in the liver and naturally declines with age) which may help to slow the aging process.
The Silymarin in Milk Thistle concentrates in the bile, liver, lungs, pancreas (which may aid in relief from the symptoms of pancreatitis), prostate and skin. Because of this ability, it can be used in many treatment protocols, including hepatic lipidosis, chronic hepatitis, inflammation of the bile ducts and the tissue surrounding the bile ducts. There is indication that it may help with gallstones by thinning bile and can even be useful in dogs with chronic IBD as this condition often includes corresponding inflammation of the liver/bile system and the pancreas. Due to its beneficial effects on the pancreas, gall bladder and liver, as well as its normalizing effects on red blood cells, it is also indicated as being an effective supplement for diabetic conditions. Normalizing red blood cells decreases diabetic neuropathy (degeneration of the nerves controlling the hindquarters resulting in weakness.)
It has been found to be particularly useful in cases of parvovirus and leptospirosis. Research suggests that it can be a powerful ally against cancer!! A study conducted by Case Western University states, it has an “exceptionally high protective effect against tumor formation.”
Some herbalists believe that Milk Thistle should be used only in times of actual existing disease, though current research has shown that moderate ingestion of Milk Thistle has been shown to have no adverse effects. However, Long term use of high-dose therapy may, according to preliminary studies, eventually suppress liver function.
In this toxic world it seems difficult to imagine that milk thistle wouldn’t be helpful for most companion animals, and their companion humans. Using moderate dosing and following some herbalists’ advice of ingestion for 3-6 weeks followed by 1-2 weeks of avoidance seems to be a fair and safe approach to Milk Thistle supplementation.
At 70 to 80% silymarin extract, tinctures can be administered at a starting dose of 1/4tsp per 20lb’s body weight per day, in 2 – 4 equally divided doses.
Powder format can be administered at 2-5mg per 1lb of body weight 2 – 3x’s per day
Milk Thistle seed contain natural oils which can go rancid if exposed to moisture or heat, or if left for long periods of time. It is a good idea to refrigerate or freeze a bulk portions of powdered Milk Thistle products to keep them fresh.
Written by Tess Wirth