Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) is a native plant that grows in many parts of the world, including north and south America, Australia, Europe, and Russia.
The plant has prickly leaves and large white veins that produce a milky sap when the stem is broken.
The plant is also known as blessed milk thistle, Marian thistle, Mary thistle, Saint Mary’s thistle, Mediterranean milk thistle, variegated thistle, and Scotch thistle.
Whatever you call it, the plant can be easily identified by the white veins and prickly leaves.
Milk thistle has been used as a natural remedy for many ailments for centuries.
The active ingredient, called silymarin, in the plant is found in the white veins.
The silymarin is a thick, white liquid that resembles milk and is frequently used to treat liver disorders.
There are several other documented health benefits that milk thistle provides, including helping to manage type II diabetes.
Read on discover the many benefits of milk thistle and see if it might be a plant that can help you live a healthier and longer life.
10 Benefits of Milk Thistle
1. Promotes Liver Health
The primary benefit of milk thistle offers is to help treat liver conditions and promote healthy liver function. Historically, the plant has been used to treat hepatitis and cirrhosis.
The silymarin in the plant helps detoxify the liver naturally and it contains powerful antioxidants that fight off free radicals and prevent further damage to the liver.
Milk thistle is often used as a complementary treatment supplement by people who have liver damage due to conditions like alcoholic liver disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, hepatitis and liver cancer.
One study on mice discovered that milk thistle can improve the function and health of a liver that has been damaged by diet.
Another study has shown improvements in liver function in people who have a liver disease where the plant supplement reduced inflammation and reversed the damage.
The use of this supplement in conjunction with traditional medicine and treatment plans, can increase the life expectancy of people who have cirrhosis.
The plant can’t help prevent liver disease or damage in people who choose to live an unhealthy lifestyle.
Still, milk thistle supplements can extend life expectancy and improve quality of life.
2. Lowers Blood Sugar Levels
One of the compounds in milk thistle works similarly to some diabetic medications by helping improve insulin sensitivity and lower blood sugar levels.
People with type II diabetes who regularly take milk thistle supplements have experienced a significant decrease in their fasting blood sugar level and their A1C.
Insulin resistance is a major issue for people with type II diabetes and that is what the compounds in this plant supplement focuses on – improving how your body produces and uses insulin.
It’s an ideal supplement to add to your diabetes treatment plan to help you be more successful at managing your blood sugar levels.
3. Improves Heart Health
This flowering herb plant can help lower bad LDL cholesterol to improve heart health.
Elevated levels of bad cholesterol clog arteries and lead to heart attacks and strokes.
The regular use of milk thistle lowers cholesterol and reduces the risk of heart disease, heart attack and stroke.
Milk thistle can also be taken in conjunction with cholesterol-lowering medications to help protect the liver.
This herb can help prevent the elevation of liver enzymes, which can be a side effect of statin drugs.
The antioxidants in this herb plant also improve heart health by protecting it and the arteries from free radical damage.
4. Promotes Healthy Skin
Due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, milk thistle may be a useful supplement for people with acne.
When used as a supplement, the herb soothes and calms the skin from the inside out.
The extract can also be applied directly to the skin to reduce inflammation and reduce the scars caused by acne.
The anti-aging effect on the skin will reduce the signs of aging and give skin a more youthful appearance.
When you look good, you feel good, and having healthy skin that is acne-free and wrinkle-free can help you look and feel your best at any age.
5. Promotes Weight Loss
Milk thistle promotes healthy weight loss by keeping the blood sugar stabilized and allowing the body to burn calories at a steady rate.
The herb also acts as a mild laxative and diuretic that promotes healthy elimination and reduces water retention.
When the liver is cleansed and detoxed, it can also work more efficiently and help the body to digest food more efficiently.
A healthy digestive system is part of weight management and can help you those extra pounds.
6. Benefits Cancer Treatment
The antioxidant effects of silymarin may have some anti-cancer effects and help stop the spread of certain types of cancer as one study discovered.
The cell growth of colorectal cancer was inhibited when milk thistle was taken by the study participants.
These initial benefits of cancer treatment that this herb has to offer could be helpful for people receiving cancer treatment.
Traditional cancer treatment could be more effective if a supplement, like milk thistle, could limit the growth and spread of the cancer cells in the patient.
7. Strengthens Bones
Another benefit milk thistle offers is its ability to strengthen bones.
Age-related bone loss is often a pre-condition that leads to bone fractures, joint replacement surgery, and other debilitating conditions caused by falling.
Milk thistle can keep osteoporosis at bay and strengthen bones.
Osteoporosis is age-related and usually develops slowly over several years resulting in weak and fragile bones that break easily, even after minor falls.
It’s difficult for broken bones to mend if they are in a weakened condition before the break. Keep bones strong throughout your lifetime with diet, exercise, and this herbal supplement.
8. Improves Brain Health
Oxidative stress is a potential cause of Alzheimer’s and other memory loss disorders.
Milk thistle helps increase the body’s natural resistance to oxidative stress to help keep the brain healthy.
The herb may also be able to reduce the amount of amyloid plaque in the brain, which is a contributing factor to Alzheimer’s disease.
Amyloid plaque is sticky clusters of proteins that can build up between nerve cells as you age and cause a loss of cognitive brain function.
Milk thistle helps in slowing down the decline in brain function you experience during the aging process.
9. Stops Heartburn
Milk thistle is one of the most powerful herbs for liver detoxification leading to better digestion and relief from heartburn.
Heartburn symptoms include upset stomach, nausea, feeling bloated, and burping. If left untreated, heartburn can progress into nighttime acid reflux and other gastrointestinal disorders.
When the liver has been detoxed and is functioning efficiently, heartburn ceases and energy level increases.
Milk thistle is a natural herbal supplement that has been used successfully to treat GERD, acid reflux, and heartburn.
10. Alleviates Seasonal Allergies Conditions
Spring and fall produce colorful blooms in nature that are filled with irritating pollen.
Most people are not bothered by the pollen, but some are allergic to it and develop itchy watery eyes, runny noses, sneezing and coughing.
Animals, especially dogs, are bothered with seasonal allergies as well.
These allergies can manifest as skin problems on both humans and animals, and milk thistle can help relieve these seasonal allergy symptoms.
While this herb can alleviate certain seasonal allergy symptoms, it can cause an allergic reaction in people who are allergic to specific plants.
People who are sensitive to plants in the Asteraceae/Compositae, which includes ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigolds, and daisies should avoid using milk thistle.
How To Use Milk Thistle
The leaves and purple flowers of this herbal plant are eaten as a vegetable in green salads and are often used as a substitute for spinach.
The seeds of the plant are roasted for use as a coffee substitute. Tea is also made from the plant leaves and stems.
External cream and capsules made from the whole plant are available at most locations that sell herbal supplements.
There is no standard dosage for milk thistle and the right dosage for each person will be discovered through the trial and error process.
Start with a low dosage and continue to increase the amount of the herb until the desired results are achieved.
People with diabetes have seen results in the lowering of their blood sugar with the usage of 200mgs 4 times a day.
An upset stomach can often be soothed with an herbal remedy that contains 1 mL of this herb.
Milk thistle extract is used intravenously (by IV) as an antidote for mushroom poisoning caused by eating Death Cap (Amanita phalloides) mushrooms.
Risks and Warnings
Milk thistle is safe for most people with a few exceptions.
Pregnant women or nursing mothers should not use this herb just to be on the safe side.
If you are allergic to ragweed and related plants like marigolds and chrysanthemums, don’t use milk thistle since it’s in the same family.
Milk thistle acts as a natural estrogen in the body and can make estrogen-fueled conditions worse.
If you have been diagnosed with endometriosis, breast cancer, ovarian cancer or uterine fibroids, don’t use milk thistle.
If you are taking any medications that are broken down by the liver avoid milk thistle.
Taking milk thistle along with some medications that are broken down by the liver can increase the effects and side effects of the medications.
Common medications that are changed by the liver include ibuprofen, warfarin, tamoxifen, valium, celebrex, and fluvastatin, among several others.
So before taking this herb in any form, talk to your healthcare provider.
Milk thistle sometimes causes a laxative effect, which is great if that is why you are using the herb but not so great if that’s not the problem you’re experiencing.
Other less common side effects are nausea, diarrhea, indigestion, intestinal gas, bloating, fullness or pain, and loss of appetite.
External cream containing milk thistle is used successfully to treat a variety of dermatological problems such as acne, eczema, and skin rash caused by radiation treatments.
However, the use of the herbal cream can cause skin irritation in some people and use should be discontinued if the skin begins to itch, turn red or burn.