Milk thistles are thistles of the genus Silybum Adans., flowering plants of the daisy family (Asteraceae). They are native to the Mediterranean regions of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. The name "milk thistle" derives from two features of the leaves: they are mottled with splashes of white and they contain a milky sap. However, it is the seeds of milk thistle that herbalists have used for 2000 years to treat chronic liver disease and protect the liver against toxins. Increasing research is being undertaken on the physiological effects, therapeutic properties and possible medical uses of milk thistle.
For many centuries extracts of milk thistle have been recognized as "liver tonics." Research into the biological activity of silymarin and its possible medical uses has been conducted in many countries since the 1970s, but the quality of the research has been uneven.Milk thistle has been reported to have protective effects on the liver and to greatly improve its function. It is typically used to treat liver cirrhosis, chronic hepatitis (liver inflammation), toxin-induced liver damage (including the prevention of severe liver damage from Amanita phalloides (death cap) mushroom poisoning), and gallbladder disorders. Reviews of the literature covering clinical studies of silymarin vary in their conclusions. A review using only studies with both double-blind and placebo protocols concluded that milk thistle and its derivatives "does not seem to significantly influence the course of patients with alcoholic and/or hepatitis B or C liver diseases." A different review of the literature, performed for the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, found that, while there is strong evidence of legitimate medical benefits, the studies done to date are of such uneven design and quality that no firm conclusions about degrees of effectiveness for specific conditions or appropriate dosage can yet be made.
A review of studies of silymarin and liver disease which are available on the web shows an interesting pattern in that studies which tested low dosages of silymarin concluded that silymarin was ineffective, while studies which used significantly larger doses concluded that silymarin was biologically active and had therapeutic effects.
Source : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milk_thistle
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