Milk Thistle

Milk Thistle

Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum) is a flowering herb native to the Mediterranean region, although it is now found in various parts of the world. Milk Thistle is a species of thistle, and is an annual or biennial plant of the Asteraceae family. It has been used for centuries as a traditional herbal remedy for liver health and is known for its distinctive purple flowers and spiky leaves.

Milk Thistle Active Ingredients

The active ingredient in Milk Thistle is a flavonoid complex called Silymarin, which is believed to be responsible for many of its potential health benefits. Silymarin is a powerful antioxidant and has anti-inflammatory properties. It is commonly used to support liver health and may help protect the liver from damage caused by toxins, pollutants and certain medications.

Health Benefits of Milk Thistle

Some health benefits of Milk Thistle include:

Milk Thistle for Liver Disease

Milk Thistle is a must for cleansing and for anyone with any sort of liver dysfunction or exposure to toxins.

Milk thistle is most well-known for its liver-protective properties. It may help promote the regeneration of liver cells, reduce inflammation in the liver, and protect against damage from toxins and free radicals.

Milk Thistle is unique in its ability to protect the liver and has no equivalent in the pharmaceutical drug world. In fact, in cases of poisoning with Amanita mushrooms, which destroy the liver, Milk Thistle is the only treatment option. It has been so dramatically effective that the treatment has never been disputed, even by the traditional medical community.

Milk thistle is believed to support the body’s natural detoxification processes by enhancing liver function. It may help remove harmful substances from the body and improve overall detoxification.

Milk Thistle acts in a similar fashion to detoxify other synthetic chemicals that find their way into our bodies, from acetaminophen and alcohol, to heavy metals and radiation. It is well known for addressing adrenal (liver) disorders

Milk Thistle was approved in 1986 as a treatment for liver disease and is widely used to treat alcoholic hepatitis, alcoholic fatty liver, cirrhosis, liver poisoning and viral hepatitis. It has also been shown to protect the liver against medications such as acetaminophen, a non-aspirin pain reliever.

Milk Thistle Scientist Studies on Liver Disease

A comprehensive review by the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) recently identified 16 scientific studies on the use of milk thistle for the treatment of various forms of liver disease. A European standardized extract of milk thistle was used in most of the trials.

Problems in study design (such as small numbers of participants, variations in the causes of liver disease, and differences in dosing and duration of milk thistle therapy) made it difficult to draw any definitive conclusions. However, five of seven studies evaluating milk thistle for alcoholic liver disease found significant improvements in liver function.

Those with the mildest form of the disease appeared to improve the most. Milk thistle was less effective for those with severe liver disease such as cirrhosis. Cirrhosis is characterized by scarring and permanent, non-reversible damage to the liver. It is often referred to as end-stage liver disease.

Milk Thistle for Viral Hepatitis

Milk thistle has been studied for its potential benefits in supporting liver health, particularly in cases of viral hepatitis.

Here’s how milk thistle may be helpful for individuals with viral hepatitis:

Antioxidant Properties: The active compound in milk thistle, silymarin, is known for its potent antioxidant properties. It helps neutralize free radicals and reduce oxidative stress in the liver caused by viral infections. By protecting liver cells from damage, milk thistle may help slow down the progression of liver disease associated with hepatitis viruses.

Anti-inflammatory Effects: Silymarin also exhibits anti-inflammatory properties, which can help reduce inflammation in the liver. Chronic inflammation is a hallmark of liver damage caused by viral hepatitis, and by mitigating this inflammatory response, milk thistle may help alleviate symptoms and prevent further liver damage.

Supports Liver Regeneration: Milk thistle has been shown to stimulate the regeneration of liver cells and promote liver tissue repair. This is crucial for individuals with viral hepatitis, as the hepatitis viruses can cause significant damage to liver cells over time. By supporting liver regeneration, milk thistle may help improve liver function and overall health in hepatitis patients.

Protects Against Fibrosis: Chronic viral hepatitis can lead to liver fibrosis, where excessive scar tissue forms in the liver. Milk thistle has been investigated for its potential to inhibit the progression of liver fibrosis by reducing inflammation and oxidative stress. By preventing or slowing down fibrosis, milk thistle may help preserve liver function and prevent complications associated with advanced liver disease.

Adjunctive Therapy: While milk thistle is not a cure for viral hepatitis, it may serve as an adjunctive therapy alongside conventional treatments. Some studies suggest that milk thistle supplementation may improve liver enzyme levels, reduce liver inflammation, and enhance overall liver function in individuals with viral hepatitis.

It’s important to note that while milk thistle shows promise in supporting liver health, more research is needed to fully understand its effectiveness and optimal dosage for hepatitis patients.

Despite the fact that milk thistle is widely used in the treatment of hepatitis (particularly hepatitis C), results from four viral hepatitis studies were contradictory. Some found improvements in liver enzyme activity while others failed to detect these benefits. None of the studies compared milk thistle with interferon or other medications for viral hepatitis.

Individuals with viral hepatitis should consult with a healthcare professional before using milk thistle or any other herbal supplement to ensure safe and appropriate use, especially if they are undergoing medical treatment for their condition.

Milk Thistle Repairs Cells and Encourages Cell Growth

The active ingredient, liver-protecting compound in Milk Thistle is known as Silymarin. This substance, which actually consists of a group of compounds called flavonolignans, helps repair liver cells damaged by alcohol and other toxic substances by stimulating protein synthesis. By changing the outside layer of liver cells, it also prevents certain toxins from getting inside.

Silymarin also seems to encourage liver cell growth. It can reduce inflammation (important for people with liver inflammation or hepatitis), and has potent antioxidant effects. Antioxidants are thought to protect body cells from damage caused by a chemical process called oxidation. Milk Thistle naturally contains about 70 – 80% Silymarin, and many other constituents thought to work in harmony.

Milk Thistle for Skin Health

Milk thistle may also have benefits for skin health due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, primarily attributed to its active compound silymarin. Some topical preparations containing milk thistle extract are used to treat skin conditions such as acne, eczema and psoriasis.

Here’s how milk thistle can potentially support skin health:

Anti-inflammatory Effects: Silymarin has been shown to reduce inflammation in the body, which may help alleviate symptoms of inflammatory skin conditions like acne, eczema, and psoriasis. By calming inflammation, milk thistle extract may help soothe irritated skin and promote healing.

Antioxidant Protection: Silymarin acts as a potent antioxidant, scavenging free radicals and reducing oxidative stress in the skin. This antioxidant activity helps protect skin cells from damage caused by environmental pollutants, UV radiation, and other external factors. By shielding the skin from oxidative damage, milk thistle may help maintain skin health and slow down the aging process.

Acne Treatment: Some studies suggest that milk thistle extract may have antibacterial and antifungal properties, which could help combat the bacteria and fungi that contribute to acne formation. Additionally, its anti-inflammatory effects may help reduce redness and swelling associated with acne breakouts.

Wound Healing: Milk thistle extract may promote wound healing by accelerating the regeneration of skin cells and tissues. Its anti-inflammatory properties can help reduce inflammation at the site of the wound, while its antioxidant activity protects newly formed skin cells from damage.

Protection Against UV Damage: The antioxidant properties of milk thistle may also help protect the skin from damage caused by UV radiation. By neutralizing free radicals generated by UV exposure, milk thistle extract may reduce the risk of sunburn, premature aging, and skin cancer.

Estrogenic Effects of Milk Thistle

Milk thistle has some estrogen-like effects that may stimulate the flow of breast milk in women who are breast-feeding infants. It may also be used to start late menstrual periods. Milk thistle’s estrogen-like effect may also have some usefulness for men with prostate cancer.

Milk Thistle for Cancer

Preliminary laboratory studies suggest that active substances in milk thistle may have anti-cancer effects. One active substance known as silymarin has strong antioxidant properties and has been shown to inhibit the growth of human prostate, breast and cervical cancer cells in test tubes.

Further studies are needed to determine whether milk thistle is safe and effective for people with these forms of cancer.

Milk Thistle for High Cholesterol and Blood Sugar Control

Cholesterol and Blood Sugar Regulation: Some studies suggest that milk thistle may help lower cholesterol levels and improve blood sugar control, though more research is needed to confirm these effects.

In animal studies and one small study in humans, Milk Thistle produced modest reductions in total cholesterol. One animal study found that silymarin (an active compound in milk thistle) worked as effectively as the cholesterol-lowering drug probucol, with the additional benefit of substantially increasing HDL (“good”) cholesterol. Further studies in people are needed.

Where to Buy Milk Thistle

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Milk Thistle Herb Notes / Side Effects

While milk thistle is generally considered safe for most people when taken in appropriate doses, it may cause side effects in some individuals, particularly when taken in large amounts or for extended periods. Common side effects may include gastrointestinal upset, allergic reactions, and interactions with certain medications.

Women with hormone-dependent conditions such as endometriosis, uterine fibroids, and cancers of the breast, ovaries, or uterus should not take or use milk thistle plant extract due to its possible estrogenic effects.

Men who have prostate cancer should not take milk thistle without the approval of a doctor.

As with any herbal supplement, it’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional before using milk thistle if you have any underlying health conditions or are taking medications.

Latin Name

Silybum marianum

Common Names

Blessed milk thistle, Cardui mariae, Carduus marianum, Holy Thistle, Lady’s Thistle, Legalon, Marian Thistle, Mariendistel, Mary Thistle, Mediterranean milk thistle, Our Lady’s Thistle, Silimarina, Silybin, Silybum, Silymarin, St. Mary Thistle, Wild Artichoke, variegated thistle and Scotch thistle.

Properties of Milk Thistle

Antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anticarcinogenic, hepatoprotective, immunostimulating, estrogenic

Milk Thistle is Indicated for:

Alcoholic hepatitis, alcoholic fatty liver, cirrhosis, liver poisoning and viral hepatitis. alcoholic fatty liver, liver poisoning. adrenal disorders, inflammatory bowel syndrome, psoriasis. lowering cholesterol, candida, food allergies. Protecting the liver when taking strong drugs or medicine.

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