Herbal Detox and Milk Thistle Seed
By Patti Duffy Salmon

The environment that we, and our horses, live in today is unfortunately loaded with toxins - in the food we eat, the water we drink, and the air we breathe (pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, drugs, GMOs, bacteria, other pollution of various forms, etc.) When one thinks of toxins, the first thing that comes to mind is the need to detoxify. Not only do we need to clean up the external environment, we also need to clean up the internal environment - inside the body - which is sure to be contaminated with various toxins and poisons.

The body has several effective ways of ridding itself of waste and toxins, and with a little help from herbs to stimulate and support the body, detoxification can be easier and more complete.

First and foremost, one must support the whole process of elimination, then provide specific support for organs that might have been involved (i.e. the horse that has been on heavy duty sulfa drug therapy will need support of the liver and kidneys).

The herbal approach to detoxing is fairly simple but one must always use caution. One must only use gentle remedies when stimulating elimination of any kind. This is particularly important with equines due in part to their delicate digestive system.

The body eliminates toxins in several ways - through the:
Digestive system; the herbs used for this are usually laxatives
Kidneys and urinary system; herbs used would be diuretics
Liver; herbs used would be hepatics
Lymphatic system; herbs used would be lymphatic and tonic herbs
Skin; herbs used would be diaphoretics
Respiratory system; herbs used would be expectorants.

There are several different herbs that fall into each of the above-mentioned categories and developing a blend for a horse would involve knowing more of each horse's individual history for a detoxing blend to be prepared.

Here is a small example of such herbs:
Laxatives: dandelion root which is very mild; senna leaf, which can be a bit too strong for a horse
Diuretics: dandelion leaf
Hepatic: milk thistle seed
Lymphatic: cleavers; calendula
Diaphoretic: boneset; yarrow; peppermint
Expectorant: mullein leaf

I personally feel that a healthy liver function is the key to efficient detoxification of the body in general. The liver removes toxins from the body before they can damage other organ systems, including the heart, blood vessels and skin. When the liver is impaired, either by disease or heavy drug use, the overall effects on the body and long-term health can be devastating.

I feel that the very BEST herb for the liver is milk thistle seed (Silybum marianum). Milk Thistle seed contains several active constituents, but the most important and primary one is a bioflavonoid silymarin complex. The silymarin complex, in particular, silibinin, protects the liver by preventing certain toxins from entering the liver cells and also stimulates the regeneration of damaged cells. The silymarin complex is made up of three parts: silibinin, silidianin, and silicristin. Silibinin is the most active of the three and is mostly responsible for the benefits of the silymarin complex.

Milk thistle seed can protect the liver in several different ways. Silymarin aids the cells by binding to the outside of the cells and blocking certain toxins from entering the cells. Silymarin boosts antioxidant activity. It does this by helping cells produce glutathione. Glutathione helps to fight free radicals and we all know how bad free radicals can be. Silymarin has been shown to raise glutathione level by 40 percent. Silymarin will also increase superoxide dismutase in the red blood cells as well. Silymarin has been found to help cells to synthesize new protein and in doing so helps it to regenerate.

One of the most important aspects of milk thistle seed is its ability to support the liver during drug therapies. It has been found that silymarin can help reduce the free radical damage to the liver associated with long-term use of certain medications. I have found that today's horse, especially horses who are being or have been treated for EPM, Lyme disease and other chronic type disorders that required the administration of long term antibiotic use, can benefit greatly from a two- or three-times-a-year detox containing milk thistle seed and a few other select herbs.

When feeding milk thistle seed to horses, it's best to purchase it in the powdered form. Horses really will not be able to utilize whole milk thistle seed. The shell of the seed is extremely hard and most of the seed will just pass right through the horse's digestive system unused, doing him no benefit except to populate your pastures with lots of new milk thistle plants. Even though milk thistle seed is extremely medicinal, most would rather not have the spiky tall plants growing in their pastures.

Herbally yours,

Patti and Moose

About the author:
Patti Duffy-Salmon, owner and master herbalist of Meadowsweet Acre Herbs, Inc., specializes in custom blended herbs for horses, especially for EPM, laminitis, and Cushings, and for PMS mares. Free phone consultations, a print catalog and an on-line catalog are available. Visit Patti, her horse Moose, and Meadowsweet Acres at www.meadowherbs.com, psalmon@cafes.net, or call 931-684-8838.