Milk thistle is an ancient plant that dates back to the first century and has been used to treat a variety of ailments, particularly those affecting the liver, kidney, and galbladder. It’s native to the Mediterranean region but can now be found growing throughout many parts of Canada, the US, and the world.
Milk thistle gets its name from the white sap that is produced when its wide leaves are crushed. The flowers are a reddish-purple, and the fruit (commonly referred to as the seed) is hard, brown, and shiny. The active ingredient, which is extracted from the seeds, is silymarin – a group of flavonoids with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
Although milk thistle as a healing plant became less common during the 20th century, it seems to be making a comeback as more people are looking for natural remedies for their ailments and health issues. The most common use of milk thistle is to promote liver health, but there are some other less known health benefits from this healing plant.
Health Benefits of Milk Thistle
Liver Health – During the 1980s, researchers found that silymarin helps liver cells regenerate through a bodily process known as protein synthesis. Silymarin has also been found to help repair liver cells damaged by toxic substances such as alcohol or poisons. It also keeps new liver cells from being destroyed by these same toxins, as well as preventing liver damage if taken before toxin exposure.
Cancer – Silymarin not only stops cancer cells from dividing and reproducing, it also shortens the life span of the cells and reduces the blood supply sent to the tumors. Silibinin (a flavonoid in milk thistle) has been specifically shown to inhibit prostate cancer cell growth and induce cell death in human colon cancer cells.
Hepatitis C – Silibinin has been shown to have antiviral effects and improve liver function in patients with Hepatitis C. This study concluded that orally-administered silibinin is a potent anti-viral agent in patients with chronic Hepatitis C who are otherwise no longer responding to traditional forms of therapy. Silymarin has also been found to improve symptoms of acute clinical hepatitis.
Osteoarthritis – Silymarin’s anti-inflammatory properties make it a great contender to replace conventional medications for osteoarthritis of the knee, as shown in this study. When compared with 2 major osteoarthritis drugs, silymarin significantly reduced serum levels and complement proteins when used alone.
In general, anyone with a liver-based health issue including cirrhosis, jaundice, hepatitis, damage from alcohol or drug abuse, or liver poisoning from other foreign chemicals can benefit from the healing effects of the milk thistle plant.
How to Take Milk Thistle
Milk thistle comes in a variety of forms, including capsules of dried herbs, liquid extracts, and tinctures. From Mother Earth Living:
For preventive care, take 420 mg of silymarin divided into three doses for six to eight weeks, after which the dose can be reduced to 280 mg per day for an indefinite period. Look for preparations that are standardized to 80 percent silymarin.
If you have a liver condition and are considering adding milk thistle to your health care regimen, please consult your doctor, as liver disease can be life threatening and should be managed under the care of a health care professional.
There are no studies showing whether it’s safe to give milk thistle to a child, so it’s best to speak with your child’s doctor before giving this or any herb to your child.
Where to Buy Milk Thistle
Milk thistle can be found at your local natural and health food store, like Healthy Planet. You can also order it online from Healthy Planet, and this month until July 3rd, 2013 you can purchase the Organika Milk Thistle 250 mg 90 Capsules for just $8.79 – that’s almost 20% off the regular price!
Have you experienced the healing effects of the milk thistle plant? How has it helped you on your journey to health?
Image: Eran Finkle
About the Author:
Sarah UmmYusuf is a former school teacher turned stay-at-home wife and mama with a passion for all things simple, natural, and homemade. She loves the natural world, and believes the solutions to many of the world’s ailments lie in nature. Her blog, Nature’s Nurture, began as a way to document her family’s journey to a greener home, but has since become a thriving community and resource for those wishing to take small steps towards a more eco-friendly, natural and sustainable lifestyle. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Pinterest.