Health benefits of milk thistle have been known for over 2000 years. Dioscorides, a Greek botanist and physicist, was the first to record the healing properties of this herb. This species of thistle is native to the Mediterranean. Its scientific name is Silybum marianum and it is part of the Asteraceae plant family, which includes daisies and sunflowers.
This prickly plant has distinctive purple flowers that attract pollinators. Leaves are green and white, which are said to have formed when the milk of the Virgin Mary fell on them. It is possible to grow milk thistle in your garden, but be careful since it is an invasive species. This plant is an annual or biennial, depending on your location. It grows up to 4 feet tall.
How to Use Milk Thistle?
Extracts of plant compounds called silymarin are the main source of the health benefits of milk thistle. Extracts have a high amount of silymarin (between 65-80%) which are taken from the plant. These extracts are known to have anti-inflammatory, antiviral and antioxidant properties. This herb is excellent for people who have been exposed to toxins because of their jobs or life choices (alcohol, drugs or bad diet). It is even said to be useful at treating hangovers!
Seeds are what give this plant its medicinal benefits. Some herbalists prefer using freshly ground milk thistle seeds. It can be added to foods such as oatmeal or yogurt. Milk Thistle supplements usually extract flavanolignans which include silybin, silychristin and silydianin which are collectively called “silymarin”.
Use between 12-15 grams of milk thistle powder daily. Tincture use ranges between 3-8 milligrams, four times daily. Supplements are taken in doses between 20-300 milligrams per day. Those doing a liver detox can take 150 milligrams up to three times per day. There are also milk thistle supplements for cats and dogs.
Many people prefer to drink milk thistle tea. Those who grow milk thistle can make their own tea from seeds and leaves. Each plant head has approximately 190 seeds. Roots can be eaten raw or boiled, while the leaves can serve as a replacement for spinach. Shoots can be boiled similar to asparagus.
Health Benefits of Milk Thistle
Of all the health benefits of milk thistle is its ability to protect the liver is the most famous. It is used as a supplement for people who have liver damage caused by a series of conditions such as fatty liver disease, alcoholic liver disease, jaundice, hepatitis and liver cancer. A study found that milk thistle may increase the life expectancy of a person with cirrhosis. More studies are still needed to determine the length and dose of treatment for each condition.
This herb helps reduce liver inflammation and damage caused by free radicals that are produced when your liver metabolizes toxic substances. It can reverse the harmful effects of alcohol, pesticides in food, pollution in the air and heavy metals in the water. The liver is our largest internal organ and it is responsible for performing detoxifying functions. Combine milk thistle with dandelion root and turmeric to create a simple liver tonic.
Milk thistle increases glutathione in the liver, which is the best regenerative antioxidant. Health benefits of milk thistle can protect against liver damage caused by tuberculosis medicine. Even the condition of our blood depends on the health of our liver.
When the liver works correctly, as well as other digestive organs such as pancreas, intestines, kidney and gallbladder, it is unlikely that a person develops kidney stones or gallstones. These stones are formed when cholesterol and other matter bind within your bile. Milk thistle increases bile flow, helping prevent matter from turning solid.
Test tube and animal studies show that silymarin can prevent oxidative damage to brain cells. One of the health benefits of milk thistle is its ability to prevent mental decline. Its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties imply that it could possibly be a neuro-protector.
This herb has been used for over two thousand years to treat neurological conditions such as dementia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Milk thistle reduces the number of amyloid plaques in the brain of animals with Alzheimer’s disease. Amyloid plaques are sticky clusters of proteins that can build between nerve cells as a person ages. People with Alzheimer’s disease have very high numbers of amyloid plaques. Unfortunately there are no studies done in humans, so it is not clear if health benefits of milk thistle are absorbed well enough to pass the blood brain barrier. It is also unclear what dose would be needed.
Antioxidant effects of silymarin may help people who are receiving cancer treatments. Health benefits of milk thistle show that it can reduce the side effects caused by these treatments. It may also make chemotherapy work better against some types of cancer and even destroy cancer cells. Human studies are very limited, so more evidence is needed.
Silymarin can help reduce the risk of several types of cancer including breast, prostate and lung. Milk thistle works to boost the immune system and fight DNA damage. Silibinin is an antioxidant that changes the outside layer of healthy cells in order to protect them from damage and mutation. It also stops toxins from dwelling in the body.
One of the most surprising health benefits of milk thistle is its ability to serve as an antidote for certain poisonous mushrooms. The treatment method is called the “Santa Cruz Protocol” since it was developed by professor Dr. Todd Mitchell in the University of California Santa Cruz. Mushroom toxicity can cause liver failure. Hundreds of people eat poisonous mushrooms by mistake. Asian immigrants in the United States often confuse Death Cap mushrooms (Amanita phalloides) with edible straw mushrooms which are popular in Asia.
Health benefits of milk thistle can be used by postmenopausal women as a therapy to prevent or delay bone loss. Osteoporosis is a condition caused by progressive bone loss over a number of years. Bones get weak and fragile, breaking easily, even with minor falls. Test tube and animal studies have shown that health benefits of milk thistle include stimulating bone mineralization. Thus protecting against bone loss.
Milk thistle, as well as blessed thistle, are used to boost breast milk production in lactating mothers. Health benefits of milk thistle include the production of the prolactin hormone which is responsible for producing milk.
Acne and Skin Treatment
Oxidative stress in the body plays a major role in the development of acne. Health benefits of milk thistle include its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. So it can be a useful supplement for people with acne, which is a chronic inflammatory skin condition. A study found that people who took 210 milligrams of silymarin per day experienced a 53% decrease in acne lesions.
Antioxidants found in this plant can regenerate and protect skin cells, increasing elasticity and improving skin tone. This herb can help slow down the aging process. Thus reducing the appearance of lines, wrinkles, dark spots and discoloration. Milk thistle also prevents skin damage and skin cancer.
Health benefits of milk thistle are also effective in treating psoriasis. This herb fights itching, redness and thick skin patches.
Lower Blood Sugar
People with type 2 diabetes can take advantage of the health benefits of milk thistle. This herb has components that work similar to diabetic medications which can decrease blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity. A study found that people taking silymarin regularly experience a reduction in the fasting blood sugar levels and HbA1c, which controls blood sugar.
Another study showed that it lowers hs-CRP (which is related to heart disease) in patients with type 2 diabetes. It also works for patients with type 1 diabetes. Milk thistle and Berberis aristata were given with prescribed insulin, causing a reduction in the necessary insulin dose according to this study.
High concentrations of omega 3 and beneficial fatty acids found in milk thistle can help maintain heart health. This herb also works to improve cholesterol and triglyceride levels according to a study. Lower cholesterol levels can help prevent atherosclerosis and reduce the risk of a stroke or heart attack.
Side Effects of Milk Thistle
Milk thistle is generally considered safe and has shown to have few side effects, even when taken in high doses for long periods. Less than 1% of people experience effects which include nausea, bloating and diarrhea. Do not use the health benefits of milk thistle if you are allergic to the Asteraceae family of plants or ragweed.
There is no data to suggest that this herb is safe for pregnant women, so it is best to avoid it. Milk thistle can have estrogenic effects, which may cause problems for those with hormone-sensitive conditions, including breast cancer and endometriosis. Consult with your doctor before using milk thistle medicinally if you have diabetes as it lowers blood sugar levels and may interact with medication. Milk thistle can also interact with other medications including antibiotics, anticoagulants and non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs including Voltaren, Advil and Celebrex.