One of the most remarkable facts about milk thistle is that it is used as a specific antidote for the Amanita phalloides mushroom, referred as Death cap mushroom. This usage of milk thistle was reputed in traditional medicine since time immemorial. The herb’s antidote mechanism has been demonstrated by medical research and its clinical use has revealed its extreme importance. Currently, more and more European countries are using milk thistle for mushroom poisoning with hospitals in Germany, Austria, France and Switzerland claiming that Silymarin cut the mortality rate by about 50%.
With names such as ‘Destroying Angel’ and ‘Death Cap’, it’s a no-brainer that the Amanita mushroom genus has some of the most poisonous mushrooms. Amanitas are known as the leading cause of mushroom-related death. They can grow on every continent and may look similar to other edible or harmless mushrooms. Yet what makes a Death Cap mushroom so poisonous? Amanita phalloides contain alpha-amanitin, a fatal amatoxin. Amatoxins work by gradually shutting down the kidneys and liver. In most cases, the person will initially appear ill, and then surprisingly get better. However, the toxins are still in effect and later on, death occurs from days to a week after ingesting the poisoned mushroom.
For 6 to 12 hours, the victim appears asymptomatic of poisoning, followed by a period of poisoning symptoms including gastrointestinal upset, vomiting and watery diarrhea. This is initially caused by phallotoxins and usually lasts for 24 hours. The second stage is where the liver damage starts. This continues for another 2 to 3 days. Kidney damage may also occur. If left untreated, the mushroom can destroy the liver and eventually, cause death.
Taking milk thistle for mushroom poisoning, particularly Amanita phalloides, can dramatically reduce the mortality rate, which normally ranges from 30 to 50%, to a mere 10 to 13%. Silymarin aids both human and animal livers in preventing and fixing the damage caused by the hepatoxic effect of phalloidin and alpha-amanitin. It counteracts the attack by obstructing membrane binding sites and by supporting regeneration of liver cells. Results may vary upon the period of ingestion and the treatment as well as the amount of liver damage.
Although several Amanita mushrooms are toxic, there are still edible mushrooms in the genus. The most popular is the Caesar’s Mushroom, a pink-tinged mushroom with a pink spore print. It is found throughout Europe and North America. This particular Amanita specie is quite tasty and delicious in different preparations. However, never identify any mushroom based only on what you have seen on the Internet or by looking at books. Always get an expert when identifying a new mushroom and avoid eating anything you are not sure of.
Currently, milk thistle for mushroom poisoning is not used in the United States since the introduction of a new medicine would need a huge amount of money for research and tests to meet the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) standards. However, in Germany, it is already used as a specific antidote for Death Cap mushroom poisoning. The form of silymarin that is used for researches and treatment is an intravenous infusion. Oral ingestion tends to be ineffective due to the plant’s low bioavailability.