3 Amazing Health Benefits of Milk Thistle

health benefits milk thistle

What is Milk Thistle?

Milk thistle (Latin name: Silybum marianum) is a flowering plant, native to Europe but can now be found worlwide. The fruits and seeds of milk thistle contains the most concentrated active ingredient that has protective effects on the liver.

Active Ingredient in Milk Thistle

Silymarin, the primary compound in milk thistle that provides benefits for liver health. It is a group of flavonolignans that includes silybin, isosilybin, silydianin and silychristin. Silybin is the most active component and makes up 50-70% of silymarin.

Properties of Milk Thistle

- anti-cancer
- anti-diabetic
- anti-oxidant
- anti-inflammatory
- liver regenerating
- immunomodulating
- anti-fibrotic
- anti-lipid peroxidative
- cardioprotective

Traditional Uses of Milk Thistle

Milk thistle extract has been used for more than two thousand years as a traditional herbal remedy for liver diseases.

Current Uses of Milk Thistle

1. Protect liver against toxins
Silymarin prevents toxins from entering cells and stimulates synthesis of enzymes that enhance detoxification. As an antioxidant, silymarin protects the cell membranes from free radical damage.

2. Treatment of chronic liver diseases
Milk thistle extract is used to treat non-alcoholic liver diseases, liver cirrhosis, viral hepatitis and toxin induced liver diseases. It promotes protein synthesis, helps in regenerating liver tissue,  controls inflammation and prevents glutathione (potent antioxidant) depletion.

RELATED: Does Milk Thistle Help Fatty Liver?

3. Supportive treatment of Amanita phalloides poisoning
Silibinin, the active flavonoid of silymarin, is used as an antidote for deathcap mushroom (Amanita phalloides) poisoning. It is suggested silibinin may protect the liver by:
- inhibiting the binding of mushroom poison to liver cell membranes
- inhibiting TNF- alpha (proinflammatory cytokine) release in the injured liver
- stimulating protein synthesis and thereby, enhancing liver regeneration

Potential Use For Cancer Treatment

In cell culture and animal studies, silibinin’s anti-cancer efficacy has been shown in various organs/tissue origin such as prostate, bladder, skin, lung, colon, breast, kidney, etc. Silibinin can reduce tumor cell proliferation, angiogenesis and metastases. It induces cancer cell apoptosis and cell cycle arrest. This suggests that silibinin can potentially be used as an adjunct therapy to conventional cancer therapies and to prevent/reduce toxicity associated with chemotherapy and radiation.

More studies in human trials are needed to evaluate the chemopreventive and chemotherapeutic effects of silymarin against various cancers.

Side Effects of Milk Thistle

Milk thistle has a good safety profile. Side effects are rare. They include mild gastrointestinal distress or  allergic reactions. Serious toxicity is rarely reported.

RELATED: What Is The Best Milk Thistle Supplement?

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