Milk thistle is a vegetable supplement that performs a detox function on the organism. Moreover, it protects the vital functioning of the liver among other properties.
What is milk thistle?
It has been used for more than 2000 years as a natural remedy for liver disorders. The scientific name for this plant is Silybum marianum, although it is more commonly known as “milk thistle”.
The scientists have discovered that it contains silibinin, the essential active ingredient of this plant. For instance, it can reduce the hepatic injuries caused by alcohol, other drugs or environmental toxins, heavy metals and bacterial toxins.
That is why the milk thistle extract is used to preserve the health of the liver to protect the liver against the effects of toxins and a series of related hepatic diseases
The liver is a very resistant organ and it has the unique ability of regenerating itself and function even when it is damaged.
However, the liver can suffer permanent damage when it is saturated and has to remove too many toxins. For instance, the ones from the food we eat, water, drugs, alcohol, and even those that are up in the air.
The milk thistle seeds have been used by traditional medicine to heal hepatic diseases for more than two thousand years.
Moreover, silymarin can help to treat hepatic diseases caused by alcoholism or acute and chronic viral hepatitis.
Properties of milk thistle
On top of that, it reduces the inflammation (which is why it tends to be advised for those with liver inflammation or hepatitis). In fact, milk thistle can protect the liver cells, preventing harmful toxins from entering the body and eliminating them.
The active ingredient (that protects the liver) is known as silymarin. More specifically, is a chemical compound extracted from its seeds. Actually, silymarin belongs to a group of flavonoids (silibinin, silidianin and silicristin). The scientists believe that it can help to repair the hepatic cells damaged by alcohol and other toxic substances. Nevertheless, it has been proven that silibinin is the most biologically active and beneficial compound from milk thistle extract. In fact, it makes up around a 50% – 70% of silymarin.
The use of this plant for liver-related diseases include, among others:
- Alcoholic cirrhosis
- Active chronic hepatitis
- Hepatic damage caused by drugs and alcohol
- Acute viral hepatitis
- Fatty liver, a nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NAEH)
- Fibrosis and cirrhosis
- Hepatic toxicity caused by steroids
- Toxin and environmental sensitivity
- A medical conditions that requires the use of hepatotoxic medication
Silymarin, the key ingredient from milk thistle
The scientists have found out that silibinin reduces the damage to the liver caused by different factors. For example, toxic substances like alcohol, acetaminophen (Tylenol), drugs, environmental toxins, heavy metals, bacterial toxins and green poison from amanita.
Its seeds have great antioxidant and regenerating properties. Therefore, they stimulate a proper functioning of the liver, which partially supports those who suffer this disease.
Moreover, those who suffer hepatitis C can also benefit from the great properties of this plant.
Benefits of milk thistle
The experimental and clinical studies suggest that its extract also has other benefits:
- Lowering the cholesterol levels, which benefits our heart
- Reducing the growth of cancer cells in the breasts, lungs, colon, prostate, kidneys and cervix
- Functioning as a therapeutic agent to prevent Alzheimer’s disease
- Improving the blood sugar levels
- Having many anti-aging properties
- Reducing the cell damage caused by radiation and chemotherapy treatments
- Producing a powerful antioxidant effect
- Relieving the hot flushes and other menopausal symptoms
- Providing support for intestinal problems / indigestion
Milk thistle and diabetes
There are clinical studies that prove how diabetic patients improve by combining a conventional treatment with milk thistle. This is due to the fact that it helps to lower the blood sugar levels and the insulin resistance.
The latest 2016 clinical studies also suggest that this plant can reduce the glucose absorption by the cells. In any case, if you suffer diabetes, you should consult your doctor before taking milk thistle extract.
Milk thistle intake
This product is available in different formats, but the best ones are extracts or capsules. In fact, you can purchase milk thistle food supplements in herbalist’s shops, parapharmacies or specialized stores. Moreover, there are different studies that support its intake in infusions, although there are different stances on this matter.
Milk thistle infusions
Milk thistle and other supplements
A 2016 clinical study proved that combining it seeds with alpha lipoic acid and selenium is one of the most effective treatments against hepatitis.
Combining said nutrients can provide many benefits for the health of the liver through several mechanisms.
On the other hand, we can combine silymarin and glutathione with other dietary supplements, such as N-acetyl-cysteine and acetyl-glutathione. Consequently, it will produce high glutathione levels with antioxidant properties, specially in the liver.
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Contraindications of milk thistle
It is one of the most used plants for popular remedies. For hundreds of years, people have used it due to its many benefits and properties for health.
The milk thistle plants are completely safe. In fact, experiencing side effects is very rare. However, you should consult your doctor before taking it if you are pregnant, lactating, taking medication regularly (like analgesics or acetaminophen) or those who suffer allergy to ambrosia.
- Anwar S, Madkor HR, Ahmed N, Wagih ME. In vivo anticlastogenic effect of silymarin from milk thistle Silybum marianum L. Indian J Pharmacol. 2018 May-Jun;50(3):108-115. doi: 10.4103/ijp.IJP_660_16.
- Abenavoli L, Izzo AA, Milić N, Cicala C, Santini A, Capasso R. Milk thistle (Silybum marianum): A concise overview on its chemistry, pharmacological, and nutraceutical uses in liver diseases. Phytother Res. 2018 Aug 6. doi: 10.1002/ptr.6171.
- Drouet S, Doussot J, Garros L, Mathiron D, Bassard S, Favre-Réguillon A, Molinié R, Lainé É, Hano C. Selective Synthesis of 3-O-Palmitoyl-Silybin, a New-to-Nature Flavonolignan with Increased Protective Action against Oxidative Damages in Lipophilic Media. Molecules. 2018 Oct 10;23(10). pii: E2594. doi: 10.3390/molecules23102594.
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