Milk thistle has been used medicinally for hundreds of years.
It is believed to be one of the most popular and effective herbs for the treatment of psoriasis, and liver related diseases such as hepatitis and cirrhosis, and gallbladder disorders.
Research in the US and Germany suggest that milk thistle is also invaluable in the treatment of damage and side effects caused by pharmaceutical drugs, anesthetics and poisoning.
The milk thistle is a flowering herb related to the daisy and ragweed family.
It is known as many other names including; Mary Thistle, Holy Thistle and Silymarin.
The religious connection is from when people believed the milk that dripped from the thistle came from the dripped milk of the Virgin Mary while she breast-fed Jesus.
Its flowering head can be a purple or reddish color and is often seen as an annoying, fast growing weed which can reach heights of 4 – 10 feet.
It was originally native to Mediterranean countries but can now be found growing throughout the world.
It is a hardy plant that thrives in dry, sunny conditions and spreads easily due to its parachute effect seeds.
The flowering head of the milk thistle produces black seeds, and it is these black seeds that are harvested in the summer months for their medicinal properties.
Milk Thistle and the Liver
The liver is understandably one of the body’s most important and constantly used organs, breaking down nutrients and cleansing the body of harmful toxins.
The main active ingredient contained in milk thistle seeds is made up of 3 flavonoids – silybin, silydianin and silychristin. These are collectively known as silymarin.
It is Silymarin that gives milk thistle its healthy properties and has such a beneficial effect on the liver.
Silymarin contains antioxidant properties which help protect the body’s cells from damage caused by a chemical process known as “oxidation”.
In oxidation, harmful substances produced in the body (free radicals) can damage cells, and can eventually lead to disease, including cancer.
There’s not much we can do from preventing free radicals as they are found everywhere, such as in our polluted cities, in alcohol, in many prescribed drugs, various foods, sitting in the sun or just by being stressed.
Studies believe that consuming milk thistle products can help prevent these free radicals from damaging liver cells.
Silymarin has anti-inflammatory properties which prevent the liver from dangerous swelling in response to injury.
Silymarin is thought to promote the regeneration and repair of certain liver cells, and reversing liver damaged ones.
A chemical process changes the outside layer of liver cells, preventing unwanted toxins from getting into the cells.
It is claimed that liver cell repair can help with several health issues including bad cholesterol levels, mushroom toxicity, gallstones, hepatitis C, cirrhosis and some cancers.
Milk thistle alone will probably not cure these conditions, but sustained and regular consumption of milk thistle, along with a healthier lifestyle may well help to alleviate or even reverse many of the symptoms.
Milk Thistle Supplements
The most common way to benefit from the health properties of milk thistle is to take it as a supplement.
Milk thistle supplements vary in strength and can range from 100mg to 300mg.
Depending on your personal circumstances, a supplement can be safely taken 2 or 3 times a day. Always read the label and check the strength before consuming.
The most popular milk thistle supplement on Amazon, is the Jarrow Formula Milk Thistle supplement.
It has some excellent reviews and can be taken as an effective treatment or prevention for liver problems.
It is important to consult with a medical professional if you think you may have a problem with your liver.
Liver disease is extremely serious and may need more treatment than over the counter supplements.
Taking milk thistle as a supplement should be more of a preventative measure rather than a cure and should not be taken for prolonged periods of over 12 months.
Milk Thistle Tea
Milk thistle tea is a great alternative to taking tablets or gel capsules and is preferable to consuming too much coffee.
You can make milk thistle tea at home although it’s not as straight forward as it may sound.
Alcohol based extracts are the most effective means of properly ingesting milk thistle, and for all the effort of doing this at home, you’re much better off buying milk thistle tea bags that are already prepared with an alcohol extract.
I often enjoy a cup of milk thistle tea and it is also caffeine free.
Apparently adding a few peppermint leaves to the tea increases its overall effectiveness and improves its taste. I’ve not tried this but it sounds like it might give it a fresher aroma.
You can also try adding a natural sweetener to milk thistle tea such as honey or licorice, to take the ‘edge’ off it.
A daily cup of milk thistle tea will go a long way in preventing liver damage and can be enjoyed as a delicious, caffeine-free, hot drink.
Check out the video below that talks about the benefits of herbal teas including milk thistle tea:
Milk Thistle Liver Detox
The liver has many functions, but primarily it filters harmful substances like alcohol and excess fat from entering our blood supply.
Milk thistle helps to detoxify the liver as well as protecting it against damage from drugs, alcohol and other potentially harmful substances.
Due to the world we live in and as a result of poor diet, the liver cannot always cope with the demands placed upon it, resulting in liver damage and disease such as hepatitis, liver cirrhosis and liver cancer.
The good news is the liver is the only organ in the body (except for skin and blood) that has the ability to regenerate if it is damaged.
The silymarin found in milk thistle actually helps the liver regenerate itself by stimulating the growth of liver cells to replace the parts of the liver that are damaged.
The liver is also subjected to medication induced liver damage.
This occurs when we take over the counter medications for a prolonged period of time.
The liver simply cannot work hard enough to filter all the potentially harmful toxins.
It’s clear to see why a liver detox every so often, could be beneficial in helping the liver to properly recover and perform at its most efficient.
Milk thistle is widely used in a liver detox because of its antioxidant properties.
A good detox plan such as the one I recommend below, should take approximately 7 to 10 days and your liver will be all the better for it afterwards.
Liver Detox Kit:
Maintaining a healthy liver is essential for a health body, to control your weight and to help prevent more serious conditions.
Everything we eat, breath or absorb through your skin must be filtered and detoxified by the liver. Look after it.
Milk Thistle Side Effects
As with any medications, either prescribed drugs or holistic/natural, there is always a possibility you may experience side effects.
The good news however, is that milk thistle side effects are very uncommon and usually mild, if any.
Milk thistle contains silymarin which is known to stimulate liver and gallbladder activity.
This may have a laxative effect causing a stomach upset and diarrhea. In rare cases it could result in nausea, gas and bloating.
Other than gastrointestinal problems, there is little evidence of any other side effects.
The only other problem that may occur is an allergic reaction to milk thistle.
The symptoms of an allergic reaction could be; itching, lip swelling, swollen throat, tongue or even the whole face, running nose, coughing, sneezing etc.
Pretty much anything unpleasant you experience after taking milk thistle.
Again, this is a worst case scenario and highly unlikely.
Studies have shown milk thistle to be safe for consumption for up to 3 and a half years.
So no adverse, long-term effects.
If you have any questions or comments regarding milk thistle, please drop them below.