It’s been around from about the start. What is it? Milk thistle. Haven’t heard of it? Don’t worry. We give you all the insights you need to help you decide if it is right for you.
Plants have been used for medicine for thousands of years. Some people will defend their herbs and natural supplements until they are blue in the face. Others remain doubtful. The truth lies somewhere in the middle. Even still, some herbs—such as milk thistle—have impressive facts backing them up. This amazing plant has a lot to offer. We’re here to tell you all about it.
Native to the Mediterranean, milk thistle is a flowering herb of a vibrant, violet color. The milky sap that drains from this plant when it is crushed inspires the name milk thistle. Milk thistle also has many other names. Among these names includes holy thistle, Marian thistle, and even wild artichoke. In some places, milk thistle is considered a weed. But, unlike most weeds, this striking plant is in fact quite useful.
Europeans have been growing milk thistle to use as medicine for many centuries. Its use has become widespread. Today, milk thistle, known scientifically as Silybum marianum L, is found in the United States, Canada, Mexico and many other countries.
Silymarin, a common alternative name for this plant, is believed to be the active ingredient. An antioxidant containing multiple flavonoids, silymarin is extracted from the seeds of the milk thistle plant.
But, what is milk thistle good for?
How does it work?
Could it be of use to you?
What’s So Are The Milk Thistle Benefits?
We are exposed to many agents that are harmful to our liver.
What are they?
They’re called hepatotoxic. These agents may include carcinogens, alcohol or everyday medicines such as acetaminophen. Milk thistle, a historically popular therapeutic agent, has been used mainly for treating liver and gallbladder diseases. It is popular today as a treatment for liver cirrhosis and hepatitis.
Despite having been used for centuries, it is only within the last 50 years that researchers isolated silymarin and identified it as the likely active ingredient.
The benefits of milk thistle are many. Just take a look at the amazing things this herb could do for you:
Improve Kidney Health
Much like the way that milk thistle benefits the liver, it may also prove useful to those who suffer from diseased kidneys. Milk thistle could have the capability of regenerating damaged kidney cells, greatly benefiting people on dialysis.
Gallstones are nothing if not very unpleasant. Good news! Milk thistle may help prevent these awful ailments. By improving bile duct circulation, milk thistle may provide relief to those prone to gallstones.
Improve The Look Of Your Skin
A poorly functioning liver may decrease the quality of your skin. In some cases, it may be linked to psoriasis. Taking care of your liver may help clear your skin. This is very important. Why? Your skin, after all, is your biggest organ!
Slow The Aging Process
That’s right! The antioxidants found in milk thistle fight off free radicals that cause aging. What does that mean? Milk thistle can help us maintain our youthful body, both inside and out! Sounds good to us!
Our liver’s ability to metabolize fat plays a huge role in our ability to maintain a healthy body weight. Decreased liver productivity means decreased cholesterol metabolization. This results in weight gain and cardiovascular disease, such as atherosclerosis. On the other hand, when our liver is functioning properly, it makes weight loss and cardiovascular health a much simpler goal. Milk thistle has been reported to reduce cholesterol levels.
This is most likely one of the most important functions of silymarin. As mentioned, silymarin has been shown to heal cells. It’s also been noted to prevent DNA damage. Silymarin fights free radicals and pollutants, making it a potentially powerful anti-cancer agent. The fact is that this awful disease has touched us all. Arm yourself! Arm your loved ones!
Combat Death-Cap Poisoning
Amanita phalloides, or the death cap mushroom, is a very poisonous mushroom that wreaks havoc on the liver. It is capable of killing those who consume it. The good news is researchers have come up with a drug, silibinin, derived from milk thistle that effectively combats death cap poisoning with minimal adverse effects.
Balance Your Hormones
When a woman’s liver is not functioning properly, hormones such as estrogen are not metabolized as easily. This may worsen uterine fibroids and symptoms of PCOS. Women who have added milk thistle to their treatment plan have reported improvement of these symptoms.
These are among the most well-known uses of milk thistle. Some suggest that milk thistle may even help people recover from substance abuse disorders (through cleansing of the liver), as well as fighting against Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Crohn’s disease. But, these are only suggestions. And, while these suggestions may be correct, further study will be needed to help prove these claims.
What’s In Milk Thistle & How It Works
You’ve likely heard about antioxidants. But, you may not understand why they are considered important. Briefly put, it is theorized that oxidation releases free radicals. These damage cells, leading to many diseases such as cancer.
Before you get up in arms about oxidation, understand that it is not some sort of evil scheme. It is a needed, but complicated, natural process that typically assists our immune system. For instance, the same oxidation process that can damage your cells is needed to fight certain bacteria.
But, processes such as oxidation are not foolproof. These processes may be prone to imbalances. That is especially true if you do not maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle. An imbalance in this system is detrimental to your overall health.
In some cases, antioxidants will help maintain the oxidation balance. Milk thistle contains what is thought to be a powerful antioxidant, silymarin. Silymarin contains three flavonoids: Silibinin (which is over half of silymarin’s makeup), silibinin and silicristin, which helps detoxify the liver. Silymarin also boosts liver glutathione synthesis. This plays a key role in liver detoxification.
Patients with liver disease caused by alcohol, for instance, experience decreased liver functioning due to the degeneration of liver cells. Stated simply, silymarin works in treating liver disease.
It interferes with proteins and agents that cause apoptosis, or cell death, and silymarin may even be able to regenerate damaged cells.
In theory, it is through silymarin’s positive effects on the liver that milk thistle benefits other parts of the body, improving hormonal balance, skin and even cardiovascular health. It makes sense.
Simple, because our livers play a key role in metabolizing proteins and carbs, as well as storing vitamins and providing energy for the rest of our body. Milk thistle makes your liver happy. That makes your body happy.
Take The Right Amount
Silymarin has a short half-life. As a result, doses are usually high or taken throughout the day. With that being said, the proper dosage for milk thistle will depend on your intended use. For the sake of antioxidants, 140 mg of silymarin may be the right amount.
Viral hepatitis or cirrhosis may require 160 to 800 mg. If you are taking silymarin for diabetes, 200 to 230 mg is often advised. But, it is vital to keep in mind that you will need to monitor your blood sugar while taking this herb. To lower cholesterol levels, 200 to 600 mg may be used.
For children and those under 18 years of age, milk thistle can be used to treat liver damage. A total of 80 to 320 mg is suggested by mouth daily for 28 days.
Note that potencies and instructions will vary by brand. It is important that you carefully read your product label. You should also discuss the recommended dose with your doctor, just like with any pills or cutting supplements.
Milk Thistle Side Effects?
Milk thistle is a generally safe herb, with reports of toxicity and negative reactions very rare. But, you should carefully consider any herb, supplement or drug before starting a new regimen.
Contrary to what many people believe, milk thistle’s status as a natural product does not mean that it will not interact with other drugs or even cause disruptions in your own body. Even if milk thistle works for most people, it may not be compatible with your system. Consider this list of warnings before adding milk thistle to your supplement regimen.
Researchers have cautioned that silymarin and silibinin inhibit the effectiveness of blood-thinning drugs such as warfarin. If you are taking warfarin right now, or any other blood thinner, then avoid taking milk thistle unless your doctor says otherwise.
Keep in mind that allergic reaction to milk thistle, such as anaphylactic shock and rash, has been reported. If you have an allergy to milk thistle, or relatives to milk thistle such as daisies, kiwi, artichokes and other thistles, do not take milk thistle. If you experience an allergic reaction to milk thistle, then you should call your doctor right away.
Monitor your blood sugar while taking this herb. Those with diabetes may be prone to low blood sugar, especially while taking milk thistle.
Milk thistle has not been studied enough in women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. As a result, if you fit into either of these groups, you should use caution.
Due to the effect of milk thistle on the liver, patients should take milk thistle cautiously if they are on drugs or herbs, which are metabolized by a certain enzyme called CYP3A4. Such drugs include but are not limited to certain antipsychotics, sedatives, heart drugs, antibiotics, anti-seizure medications, gastrointestinal motility agents, and antifungals. Milk thistle may also interact with medications that impact hormones or anti-parasite drugs.
Typically, milk thistle does not cause adverse reactions. But, some people have experienced gastrointestinal discomfort, headaches and dermatological symptoms after using milk thistle.
Please note that the FDA does not heavily regulate herbs and supplements. Herbs such as milk thistle are sold in varying degrees of strength, potency, and safety. Just as important is the understanding that milk thistle’s natural status does not decrease the potential for interaction with other herbs, supplements, and drugs.
If you are thinking about making milk thistle a part of your health and gym routine, it is vital that you carefully research the product and how it could affect you. Be informed before you make a decision on a product or herb supplier. This can and should be done by talking to an expert and your doctor. Of course, you could and should also read about the products on your own. Stay informed about what you are putting in your body.
So much of our health is linked to having a healthy liver. Milk thistle has centuries of use backing it as a viable option for treating and preventing disease of the liver and gallbladder. Not only can milk thistle help to heal your metabolic system, but these effects can impact your weight, hormones, and skin in a positive way. Milk thistle may also be a good option for cancer patients.
Though many of these claims are well supported with scientific evidence, other claims have little research backing them. Further, certain claims have been largely negated by research. Like most herbs, milk thistle has not been tested and approved in any sort of in-depth way by the FDA. That’s why anyone thinking about adding milk thistle to their routine will benefit from their own research and speaking to a health professional.
Milk thistle is generally considered safe. With that said, all herbs, supplements, and drugs—whether natural or not—have effects on your body. They will not affect everyone the same way. Make sure that milk thistle is a good choice for you. Speak to a medical professional about what milk thistle can do for you.
By Sarah Butcher