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Can Milk Thistle Help Your Pet?


While many know of milk thistle’s ability to support their liver, few recognize this herb’s usefulness in their pet’s health.

Even though it may save your beloved companion’s life, traditional veterinary medicine is limited in its approach to some of the most common pet ailments. To enhance immunity, ease pain, recover from illness, combat treatment side effects and improve overall health, an increasing number of pet owners and holistic-minded vets are turning to alternative medicine. Just like their human counterparts, pets are reported to respond positively to an array of alternative health practices. Aside from its use by people with liver concerns, milk thistle supplementation represents one of the most popular alternative remedies for animals in need of hepatic support.

Similar to what is experienced by humans, modern living hazards such as pollution, poor nutrition, stress and unhealthy lifestyles can lead to a variety of illnesses in domesticated animals. Because it is easily administered and absorbed in the alimentary tract, the tradition of herbal medicine is especially useful for conditions associated with the gastrointestinal system. Based on a handful of research and a plethora of testimonials, supplementing with the herb milk thistle is an effective and safe therapy for pets suffering from nearly any type of liver problem.

Many illnesses impact the liver, whether that is where the problem began or as a secondary effect. The largest internal organ, the liver is necessary for survival. Its responsibilities range from aiding in metabolism and digestion, storing energy, manufacturing blood, breaking down cells and producing enzymes needed for a variety of life-sustaining functions. Although the liver has a hand in most physiological processes, it is primarily associated with digestion and detoxification.

About Milk Thistle
Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) is a flowering plant that has been treasured since Roman emperors used it as a liver tonic. One of very few traditionally used herbs widely accepted by conventional science to have significant medicinal value, milk thistle is known to protect the liver from damage by strengthening the outer walls of liver cells. In addition, milk thistle stimulates the growth of new liver cells to replace those that are dead or damaged. Some facts about milk thistle are described below:

· Silymarin – The active ingredient of milk thistle seed extract is a flavonoid compound called silymarin.

· Silybin – Silybin (otherwise known as silibinin) has been determined to be the most active component of silymarin.

· Hard to Absorb – Since a majority of it passes through the body unchanged, milk thistle is a notoriously challenging herb to absorb.

· Silybin Phytosome – Improving the bioavailability of silybin by up to ten times of the basic extract, silybin phytosome is the most effective way to deliver this herb’s potent effects to the liver.

Milk Thistle for Pets
Holistic veterinarians recommend milk thistle for cats and dogs for a variety of reasons. While you should always consult a vet prior to changing an animal’s routine, giving your pet silymarin has been suggested by professionals for the following problems:

· Fatty liver
· Chronic hepatitis
· Cholangitis (inflammation of the bile ducts)
· Pericholangitis (inflammation of the tissue around the bile ducts)
· Gallstone prevention
· Inflammatory bowel disease
· Triaditis
· Healing after drug therapy or vaccinations
· Cancer
· Hepatomegaly
· Adjunct to medicine in protozoal infections
· Recovery from canine parvovirus
· Poisoning from insecticides, pesticides, mushrooms and some drugs

Case reports of milk thistle’s effectiveness in cats and dogs far outnumber the quantity of scientific studies performed on this population. However, many veterinarians recognize that the hundreds of clinical trials proving milk thistle supports a human’s liver also applies to their clientele. The published research on milk thistle and pets seem to focus on canines. Synopses of several studies on dogs are listed below:

1. Nephrotoxicity Prevention – Published in 2007, an Iranian study found that silymarin helped prevent drug induced nephrotoxicity in dogs.

2. Parasite Treatment – Published in 2005, Korean researchers found that combining silymarin with an anti-protozoal drug for canine giardiasis resulted in fewer drug side effects and a greater recovery rate.

3. Silybin Phytosome – Published in 2007, an American study found that the silybin phytosome markedly enhances the bioavailability of milk thistle in dogs.

Using herbs for animal health has not yet broken into mainstream culture as it has for humans. Likely due to funding restrictions for veterinary research on herbal supplements, the concrete evidence proving milk thistle helps pets is scant. However, a U.S. National Library internet search on silymarin and liver yields nearly 650 entries. Despite this inequity, vets around the globe have reported success stories of milk thistle on dogs and cats.

Although the conditions milk thistle is used for varies widely in pets, ailments requiring liver support seem to benefit the most. Since the liver is an important component of digestion and detoxification, any illness involving these two are likely to benefit from milk thistle (especially silybin phytosome) supplementation. Whether you or your pet need hepatic support, milk thistle is a time-honored, well-researched and widely praised therapeutic option for increasing the resiliency, re-growth and recovery of this vital organ.

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About the Author

Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., MTCM, Dipl. Ac. (NCCAOM)®

Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., MTCM is a long time advocate of integrating perspectives on health. With a Bachelor's degree in Neuroscience from the University of Rochester and a Master's degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine from Five Branches Institute, Nicole has been a licensed acupuncturist since 2000. She has gathered acupuncture licenses in the states of California and New York, is a certified specialist with the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association, has earned diplomat status with the National Commission of Chinese and Oriental Medicine in Acupuncture and Chinese Herbology and is a member of the Society for Integrative Oncology. In addition to her acupuncture practice that focuses on stress and pain relief, digestion, immunity and oncology, Nicole contributes to the integration of healthcare by writing articles for professional massage therapists and people living with liver disease.

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