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Milk Thistle (Silymarin) for Elevated Liver Enzymes

An initial step in detecting liver damage is a simple blood test to determine the presence of certain liver enzymes in the blood. Under normal circumstances, these enzymes reside within the cells of the liver. But when the liver is injured, these enzymes are spilled into the blood stream, raising the enzyme levels in the blood and signaling liver damage. Among the most sensitive and widely used of these liver enzymes are the aminotransferases. They include aspartate aminotransferase (AST or SGOT) and alanine aminotransferase (ALT or SGPT). (HerbalProvider.com).

On most standard blood tests, you will see values listed for the two items mentioned in this quote: AST (or SGOT, Serum Glutamic Oxaloacetic Transaminase) and ALT (or SGPT, Serum Glutamic Pyruvic Transaminase). These are liver function tests (Abbreviations.com).

My SGOT values have always been normal. However, in recent years, I began having a problem with elevated SGPT levels. Below is the progression of my values on my blood tests. Unfortunately, most of the earlier tests did not have a SGPT value on them, but I did find one from way back in 1983 that did. Note that I always request copies of any lab work I have done, hence why I am able to make these comparisons.

Date Result Reference Units
11/11/83 15 0-45 IU/L
5/25/01 32 4-50 IU/L
11/30/04 60* 4-50 IU/L
12/31/04 47 4-50 IU/L
3/25/05 51* 4-50 IU/L
5/31/06 42 4-50 IU/L
11/19/07 29 21-72 U/L

It is somewhat difficult to compare these values as the reference range (normal values) for them changed from test to test. This may be because different labs use slightly different testing methods or newer research showed the values needed changing. But what is important is whether the results are within the reference range or not.

It can be seen that in the first two tests, my results were well within the reference range, but in the next test, it was elevated. sop my doctor re-did test a month alter. It was just within the normal range then, but then was elevated a few months later. In the next test over a year later, it was within but still close to the top end of the range, and the last one was near the low end of the range. So my SGPT levels went from being normal, to elevated, to normal again.

But what happened to cause my SGPT values to become elevated? That I really cannot answer. Something happened in-between the tests of '01 and '04 to cause the value to rise. My doctor's first recommendation was to not drink alcohol and to not use acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol®). The reason for both of these recommendations is that alcohol and drugs like acetaminophen can damage the liver.

However, I do not drink alcohol at all and I do not use drugs like acetaminophen, so neither of those suggestions applied to me. Otherwise, my doctor really did not have an answer or a suggestion as to what to do about the elevated levels.

When the first test came back with elevated levels in 2004, needless to say, I was concerned. But with the repeated test a month later being within the normal range, I wasn't too concerned. But then when it was elevated again with the next test, I did some research and found that the herb Milk Thistle has traditionally been used for liver problems.

The primary use for milk thistle is to protect the liver from toxins. The active constituents of milk thistle are known collectively as silymarin. Silymarin is believed to function by protecting liver cells from toxins by binding to liver cells, acting as an antioxidant and scavenger of free radicals, and stabilizing liver cell membranes…. A typical dose of milk thistle is 200 mg two to three times per day of a standardized extract containing 70% silymarin (Alternative Medicine).

So I began to take Jarrow Formulas Silymarin 80% Standardized Milk Thistle. Each capsule contains 150 mg of Milk Thistle seed extract. It comes in bottles of 200. I took 3-4 capsules per day. I took a couple of bottles worth. As can be seen, by my next blood test a year later, my SGPT value had fallen into the normal range. So it seemed like the Milk Thistle worked. But since the value was still near the top end of the range, I took the Milk Thistle again for a while, but again, stopped it. By my next blood test 18 months later, my values had fallen to near the bottom end of the normal range.

For both of these more recent blood tests, I had taken the Milk Thistle for a while after a previous test, but hadn't taken the Milk Thistle for several months before the next test, so it is hard to say if in fact the Milk Thistle was the reason for the values being normal.

This is especially difficult to determine since I don't know what caused the values to rise in the first place. Maybe I was inadvertently eating or taking something that caused the values to rise and then had stopped consuming whatever it was. But I cannot correlate the values with any particular food, supplement, or drug that I can think of.

It was also during the time period between the last two tests that I began following the eating plan outlined in my book God-given Food Eating Plan. So it is possible that eating plan had something to do with the dropped values as well.

But even with the uncertainties, I do know that if my liver enzymes begin to rise again, I will start the Jarrow Milk Thistle again. It might also be worthwhile to take the Milk Thirstily on a regular or at least semi-regular basis to protect the liver. I will also be sure to have my SGPT levels checked with any blood test I might have in the future.

So if the reader has elevated liver enzymes, all I can say is that Jarrow's Milk Thistle might be worth a try. Of course, you should check with your doctor first as Milk Thistle can affect the metabolism of some medications. It is also important to take note of any medications you are taking as various medications in addition to acetaminophen can affect the liver. Alcohol consumption also needs to be considered, as well as your diet in general.

I used Jarrow's Milk Thistle since I have had good success with other Jarrow supplements. It is available from WebVitamins and iHerb. For iHerb, when checking out, use referral code HOP815 to receive $5.00 off your first order.

Milk Thistle (Silymarin) for Elevated Liver Enzymes. Copyright © 2007 by Gary F. Zeolla.

The above article was posted on this Web site December 6, 2007.

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