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Why is Milk Thistle Included in my Glaucoma Supplement Program?
Silymarin, also known as milk thistle extract, shows antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and immunomodulatory actions (as well as its well-known liver-protective effects). In one study Silymarin suppressed TNF-alpha activation and blocked oxidative stress. We know that TNF alpha plays a role in glaucoma, as does oxidative stress.
However, the effectiveness of silymarin in the central nervous system (and optic nerve, which is part of the CNS) is a new area of investigation. One study showed that silymarin inhibited glial cell proliferation in CNS cells. Glial cell hyperactivation is known to underlie the optic nerve damage in glaucoma.
Silymarin has also shown promise in protecting the CNS cells from toxin- or injury-induced damages and might be used to treat CNS nerve damage that involves oxidative stress (as does glaucoma).
Recently, glycemic control has gained interest in glaucoma circles with one research team calling glaucoma "diabetes of the brain." In the study they say, Glaucoma and diabetes share many molecular mechanisms with each other. "Additionally, Alzheimer's disease has already been proposed to be diabetes type-3. We show that Alzheimer's disease is cerebral glaucoma and diabetes at the same time which, by transitive property of similarities, again leads to our hypothesis that glaucoma is diabetes of the brain."
In one study silymarin treated patients showed improvement on important diabetes markers, including a significant decrease in HbA(1)c, FBS, total cholesterol, LDL, triglyceride SGOT and SGPT levels compared with placebo (as well as with values at the beginning of the study). In conclusion, silymarin treatment ... has a beneficial effect on improving the glycemic profile.
Furthermore, given the relationship between Alzheimer's disease and glaucoma, it is interesting to note that in one study silymarin provided "marked suppression of amyloid β-protein (Aβ) fibril formation and neurotoxicity in PC12 cells in vitro. The silymarin-treated mice also showed less anxiety than the controls. These behavioral changes were associated with a decline in Aβ oligomer production induced by silymarin intake. These results suggest that silymarin is a promising agent for the prevention of Alzheimer's disease." By extension, and considering all the above evidence, we should keep our eye on milk thistle extract for glaucoma too (pardon the pun!).
P.S. I was initially led to milk thistle because in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) the liver health strongly influences vision and eye health. And I knew that milk thistle seed extracts support healthy liver function and detoxification.