Milk thistle has been an important natural remedy for centuries of folk medicine practitioners. It is primarily considered a cleansing agent and used to block or flush toxins from the body. One particular area of interest is in milk thistle’s ability to protect and perhaps restore the liver. Milk Thistle is often used for liver support and to detox from medication side effects, pesticides, heavy metals, and excessive alcohol consumption.
Animal and some human studies have suggested that milk thistle can counteract cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver (as from alcohol abuse or hepatitis) and improve the liver’s ability to remove toxins from the blood.
Health Benefits of Milk Thistle
Milk Thistle is said to help:
- Improved Liver Function
- High Cholesterol
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Fatty Liver Syndrome
How Milk Thistle Helps Liver Function
Substances in milk thistle, in particular a flavonoid called Silymarin, protects the liver from toxins, including acetaminophen (a common ingredient in OTC pain relievers), which can cause liver damage when consumed in high doses. Silymarin has anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and antioxidant properties and helps in liver repair by growing new cells.
How Milk Thistle Improves Digestion
Milk Thistle helps improve digestion by increasing bile production and enzyme formation. It also soothes mucous membranes.
Milk Thistle and Anti-Aging
Milk Thistle is considered a fountain of youth herb by many herbalists because it contains antioxidants which help prevent free radical damage in the body. Because the herb can remove pollutants in the blood, liver and digestive tract, it may help slow aging.
Milk Thistle Capsules or Tincture?
The milk thistle plant grows nearly worldwide now and can be identified by its stout stalk and spiky purple flower. Milk thistle extract is extremely popular and is widely available in health stores. Extracts of milk thistle, Silymarin and silybin, are perhaps most prescribed natural compounds worldwide. Tinctures are usually standardized to contain 70-80 percent silymarin.
For centuries, herbalists have ground milk thistle seeds down to a fine powder.
What’s the Difference Between Silymarin and Silybin?
Silymarin is a complex containing at least 7 flavonolignans (natural phenols composed part flavonoid and a part lignan) that are the most common class of compounds present in milk thistle extract. 1
The main component of Silymarin is a flavonolignan called Silybin, considered to be the most active ingredient in a milk thistle extract. 2 Silyburin represents about 50% to 70% of the silymarin extract.
Milk Thistle Seed Benefits
Milk Thistle seeds contain the highest concentrations of the active compound, silymarin. One study has shown that milk thistle seed extract has estrogenic effects and effects on memory by estrogen. The authors of this study note that silybin shows promise in memory impairment diseases. 3
Can Milk Thistle Cause Breast Cancer Due to Its Estrogenic Effects?
According to an extensive study on the safety of milk thistle by the National Toxicology Program of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, there was no evidence of carcinogenic activity when milk thistle was given to rodents in high doses over a two year period. In fact, female rats demonstrated decreased breast cancer and male rats showed decreased liver cancer with milk thistle extract. 4
Continue reading to learn ailments cured with Milk Thistle as reported by Earth Clinic readers. Do you take Milk Thistle? What has it treated? Please send us your feedback!