Milk Thistle Benefits

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The consumption of milk thistle benefits mainly the liver. The milk thistle plant, or Silybum marianum, is native to the Mediterranean region and has been naturalized to North America.

Milk thistle information

The name "milk thistle" was probably given due to the fact that its leaves have veins that contain a white liquid which is milky in nature. Other names of milk thistle include "st. mary's thistle", "marian thistle", "silybum" and "silymarin".

The use of the milk thistle herb is mentioned many times in ancient European literature.

In particular, the positive effects of the fruits of milk thistle on liver function have been known for centuries. As far back as the 1st century, the Roman naturalist Pliny said that milk thistle benefits the liver as it was "excellent for carrying off bile", i.e. it would be effective for removing waste materials from the liver.

In 1597, Gerard said that he felt milk thistle benefits depression, as it was useful to 'expel melancholy'. Westmacott, in 1694, called milk thistle a 'friend to the liver and blood'.

Centuries ago, it was also believed that milk thistle benefits nursing mothers by increasing lactation, and it was used for this purpose, although this was never validated and was probably due to its name and appearance.

For many years, the use of milk thistle for therapeutic purposes seemed to become far less widespread, until renewed interest and research on milk thistle benefits in the mid 20th century.

Uses and health benefits of milk thistle; milk thistle extract benefits (silymarin)

Modern research has validated the various milk thistle benefits - protection, strengthening and detoxification - on the liver. The liver plays a key role in digestion and detoxification. One of its special characteristics is its ability to regenerate itself.

Milk thistle contains the flavonoid-like compound silymarin, which does a great job in regenerating the liver by stimulating the growth of new liver cells. Silymarin does so by helping in the formation of proteins.

In addition, studies have shown that silymarin the milk thistle extract protects liver cells from damage by helping to prevent harmful substances from entering the cells. Laboratory studies on small animals showed that silymarin protected their livers from the harmful effects of various poisonous substances.

Studies on humans have further affirmed the health benefits of milk thistle, where it has been proven helpful for, evening curing, liver cirrhosis as well as hepatitis. It also nourishes and improves the functions of the liver.

Further, milk thistle is lauded for being to help other liver diseases and conditions, such as jaundice and alcohol-induced liver damage. In addition, milk thistle is useful when the liver is overstressed by an infection or prescription chemical drugs, such as chemotherapy and radiation.

The protective effects of silymarin on the liver are so significant that, if taken before the consumption of death cap mushrooms (the Amanita phalloides, which destroys liver cells en route to killing those who eat it) or carbon tetrachloride, their severe effects can actually be prevented. In fact, silymarin can even be an antidote to their harmful effects, if taken soon enough after poisoning, showing its healing and regenerative properties.

Due to its positive effects on the liver, milk thistle and milk thistle extract have been used to aid the treatment of various other health conditions, such as acne, cancer, cholesterol issues, Crohn's disease, diabetes, gallstones and irritable bowel syndrome, among others.

Milk thistle is said to be high in antioxidants and have ant-inflammatory effects, including on intestinal inflammations.

Modes of use

The fruit of milk thistle is the part that contains silymarin and thus used for medicinal purposes. Due to its small size, the fruit is apparently often mistakenly taken for and referred to as milk thistle seed. Even today, many books, websites and merchants refer to milk thistle fruits as milk thistle seeds.

Researchers have found that milk thistle fruits contained between 1% to 6% silymarin.

There are as yet no known medicinal properties for milk thistle leaves. The leaves are used as a salad green or cooked.

Milk thistle benefits are usually harnessed through teas, capsules or as a milk thistle tincture.

However, silymarin is not water-soluble. Thus, milk thistle tea or other forms of liquid milk thistle are greatly limited in their health benefits. The rate of absorption of silymarin by the intestines is also apparently less than for most other compounds extracted from plants.

Due to these reasons, the intake of silymarin seems most effective when done so via injections. With regard to oral consumption, for maximum milk thistle benefits, concentrated forms would have to be taken.

For preventative purposes, the small milk thistle fruits can be ground into powder and then consumed directly or used to make tea.

Milk thistle side effects

No serious side effects are known for the consumption of milk thistle. For supplements, the recommended milk thistle dosage should be adhered to.

Adverse effects for its use by pregnant and nursing women are also not noted.

However, a small minority of people do suffer from intestinal side effects, including laxative effects. If affected, these are usually temporary in nature.

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