Ah, milk thistle.
An interesting herb.
And the health benefits of it are numerous, but before we get to them, let’s look at where it comes from, shall we?
Milk thistle is a member of the daisy and ragweed family.
It’s a native Mediterranean plant that has been touted for its natural healing abilities and used as a natural supplement for more than 2000 years.
With such a long track record, there must be something to this natural all-around phenomenon.
It was first used by early physicians as a treatment for the kidneys, spleen, and veins, milk thistle now has a long list of other potential uses and great benefits.
So far, many studies have linked it to the prevention of and sometimes the treatment of certain diseases.
Let’s have a look at what those benefits are:
#1 – Prevents Cancer
Antioxidants are powerful, natural agents that can work from inside your body to block harmful, cancer-causing toxins called free radicals. The main active ingredient in milk thistle, silymarin, acts as both an anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant inside the body.
The National Cancer Institute has discovered that silymarin has many antioxidant powers, such as the ability to strengthen cell walls to keep out toxins, stimulating special enzymes that neutralize invading toxins, and protecting cells from free radical damage.
So far, studies have linked the use of milk thistle to a decreased risk of breast, prostate, and cervical cancers.
#2 – Fights Cancer
Preventing cancer is great, but what about patients who already have cancer?
The milk thistle benefits include fighting cancer. According to a study conducted by the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Zhudong Veterans Hospital in Zhudong City, Taiwan, silymarin was evaluated as a potential treatment against cervical cancer with surprising results. The study, reported by PubMed, found that “treatment of cervical cancer cells (C-33A) with silymarin resulted in a significant decrease in cell viability.”
Researchers also “observed that silymarin suppressed C-33A cell invasion and wound-healing migration in a concentration-dependent manner.”
In another study, a patient with promyelocytic leukemia used milk thistle for four months to restore his normal liver enzyme levels before resuming chemotherapy treatments. The National Cancer Institute has also documented tests with positive results on patients with hepatocellular carcinoma, a clinical trial on children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, and others.
#3 – Relieves Liver Problems
According to WebMD, milk thistle and its active ingredient silymarin have been shown to have a positive effect on the liver. Milk thistle has been unofficially used to help patients with cirrhosis, jaundice, and hepatitis since the days of the Ancient Romans.
While early medical studies have had mixed results, medical research teams continue to look at the benefits of milk thistle on the human liver. As the National Cancer Institute reports, laboratory tests on rat livers have shown a boost in the regrowth of liver tissue, which could mean big things are on the horizon for milk thistle and liver repair.
In the meantime, there have been studies that have successfully found milk thistle to be beneficial to those who have suffered damage to their livers from outside factors. According to WebMD, milk thistle can repair liver damage caused “by industrial toxins, such as toluene and xylene.” The National Cancer Institute also says that silymarin can protect the liver against damage from toxic chemicals.
#4 – Good For Your Heart
Don’t want heart disease? Start taking your daily dose of milk thistle, some doctors may say.
Studies show that milk thistle lowers LDL, or the “bad” kind of cholesterol. Milk thistle is especially effective in lowering the cholesterol of people with diabetes, who tend to be at an increased risk of heart disease.
Other studies show that milk thistle can help in raising HDL (good) cholesterol. Further research is required as these results aren’t conclusive. But then again, rarely are studies conclusive when it comes to herbs. There just isn’t enough money in it for corporations.
#5 – Helps with Diabetes
Speaking of diabetic patients, milk thistle can do much more than just lower their levels of LDL. When combined with traditional treatments for diabetes, milk thistle has been shown to improve blood sugar levels in those with type 2 diabetes. Initial studies show both a decrease in blood sugar levels and an improvement in insulin resistance, thus helping diabetic patients manage their condition more effectively.
#6 – May Prevent Gallstones
No one wants to experience the pain of gallstones, so why not prevent them from forming in the first place?
Gallstones are lumps or stones that get caught in the duct of the gall bladder. The silymarin in milk thistle may raise the body’s bile solubility which, in turn, improves circulation. When all the right parts are moving, you’re less likely to wind up with gallstones. Milk thistle benefits may also include remedying existing gallstones.
#7 – Obesity & Liver Health
When we think of obesity, we only think about diet and exercise as the cure. There’s more involved, however. Few people understand that the liver helps to regulate the body’s fat levels, so an improved liver can better control excess fat.
From this we can speculate that if silymarin improves your liver’s function, then it may be better equipped to metabolize fat in your body and purify your blood, which means you could lose weight easier.
However, I wouldn’t recommend you run out and buy milk thistle just to lose weight, because there are other important factors involved if you want to do that, such as eating less and exercising more.
#8 – Improves Skin Tone
We are what we eat. If you put milk thistle into your diet, dermatological studies suggest that you’ll improve your skin tone. Specifically, those who suffer from psoriasis, eczema, dry skin, acne, or cracking skin, could see a reduction in their symptoms.
This is because silymarin contains antioxidants, fats, vitamin E, and in general has a soothing effect on the body.
Milk thistle has also been shown effective in reducing UV-induced oxidative stress, which is a fancy way of saying aging of the skin.
#9 – Easy to Take
There’s no complicated dosage charts, injections, or intensive therapies associated with taking milk thistle, and perhaps that’s one of the biggest benefits.
Milk thistle can be taken by mouth in capsules or tablets as part of your regular daily diet. You may also opt for the less popular but still viable option to drink your milk thistle as an herbal tea.
Something I like to do is to take it in a multivitamin that not only contains milk thistle, but other equally powerful nutrients. My multivitamin of choice can be found here.
#10 – Safe for Long-Term Use
Unlike some other natural treatments and ingredients, milk thistle has been found to have few serious side effects. In some people, it has been shown to cause digestive issues such as diarrhea, nausea, bloating, gas, and upset stomach, but these instances are rare.
Studies have shown that milk thistle can be taken safely for up to 41 months, so many can use this for their individual needs without concern. The only people who should avoid using milk thistle are women who are pregnant or breastfeeding and those with an allergy to ragweed.
There are many benefits of milk thistle that medical research is only just beginning to understand.
The milk thistle benefits are quite impressive, but you always have to remember that like with any nutrient, substance, or herb, different people may react differently. So consult a doctor if you have to and keep a level head.
One question you may have is: How do I get and take milk thistle?
Well, I personally like to take it in a multivitamin form. Meaning that I take it in a multivitamin with other nutrients that are similarly powerful. If you’ve read this site, you know that my favorite multivitamin is from Xtend-Life.
It has high-quality milk thistle extract along with other nutrients.
In short, milk thistle can do wonders to prevent bad stuff from happening, and it can do wonders for your health. If this article resonates with you, I recommend you take a closer look at it.
Photo credit: Ken Cook via Flickr.com