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 greatly affected.
When detoxing, first support the whole process of elimination, then provide specific support for organs that might have been involved. An example of a need for liver and kidney support would be a horse who has been on heavy-duty sulfa drug therapy.
Our bodies, and our horses’ bodies, efficiently eliminate waste and toxins (and can be enhanced by specific types of herbs):
- through the digestive system (laxatives)
- through the kidneys and urinary system (diuretics)
- through the liver (hepatics)
- through the lymphatic system (lymphatics and tonic herbs)
- through the skin (diaphoretics)
- through the respiratory system (expectorants)
Use gentle remedies when stimulating elimination of any kind. This is particularly important with horses, due in part to their delicate digestive system.
I feel that the best herb for liver health is Milk Thistle Seed (silybum marianum).
Milk Thistle seed contains several active constituents; the most important one is bioflavonoid silymarin complex. The silymarin complex, in particular, Silibinin, protects the liver by preventing certain toxins from entering the liver cells and stimulating 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.
The silymarin in 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.
- Silymarin boosts antioxidant activity by helping cells produce Glutathione, which helps fight free radicals. Silymarin has been shown to raise Glutathione level by 40%.
- Silymarin will increase super oxide dismutase in the red blood cells.
- Silymarin has been found to help cells to synthesize new protein and in doing so helps regeneration.
The most important aspect of milk thistle seed is its ability to support the liver during drug therapies. Silymarin can help reduce the free radical damage to the liver associated with long-term use of certain medications. Horses who have or have been treated for EPM, Lyme disease and other chronic disorders that require the administration of long-term antibiotic use can benefit from a two- or three-time/year detox containing milk thistle seed and a few other select herbs.
When feeding milk thistle seed to horses, its best to purchase it in the “powdered” form. Horses really will not be able to utilize the whole milk thistle seed. The shell of the seed is extremely hard and most of the seed will pass through the horse’s digestive system unused, doing him no benefit and populating your pastures with lots of new milk thistle plants. Even though milk thistle seed is extremely medicinal, most horseowners would rather not have the tall spiky plants growing in their pastures.
The herbs and herbal formulas mentioned in this article are not intended as a substitute for veterinary or other professional care, and may not be appropriate for all horses. Always consult your equine professional before using herbal preparations.