Natural Remedies: the Multiple Medical Benefits of Milk Thistle Include Liver Health, Lowering Blood Pressure and Cholesterol and Fighting Numerous Cancers
With so many natural remedies which are promoted one day and ignored the next, it can be difficult knowing which ones are tried and true remedies that withstand the test of time.
One such remedy has been used for thousands of years to treat the same conditions for which it is used today. Milk thistle, so named due to the fact that its leaves have white splashes and for the milky sap it produces, is one natural herbal remedy that has been shown to be both safe and effective.
Its seeds have been used to treat chronic liver problems and remove toxins from the liver. Its active ingredient, silymarin, is one of the strongest liver protectors known. In studies, it has been shown to help treat cirrhosis, hepatitis as well as help repair damage done by toxic chemicals. When damage to the liver has occurred, silymarin has been shown to help speed a production of proteins which help heal it. Silymarin also binds to the membranes of the liver cells, which can prevent damage from taking place.*
In addition to the well-known benefits of milk thistle for aiding the liver, it has been shown to have many additional uses as well. As an antioxidant, studies show that the silymarin is ten times more potent than Vitamin E. Milk thistle is a natural bitter herb, which means that it can aid in digestion, especially digestion of fats, if it is consumed before a meal. Bitter herbs naturally assist digestion by preparing the digestive tract to start producing the hormone gastrin, which in turn starts the production of gastric acid and bile as well as other secretions which help with digestion. Additional studies show that milk thistle, in conjunction with other therapies, can saves the lives of people who have been poisoned by consuming Amanita (death cap) mushrooms. Milk thistle has also been shown to lower both blood pressure and cholesterol.
The roots of milk thistle are natural astringent. In parts of Asia, this has been used as a treatment for hemorrhoids. In the West, milk thistle is becoming a more common ingredient in natural supplements which assist in hemorrhoid care. This may be in part because milk thistle can prevent constipation due to aiding in digestion.
For cancer care, the silybin in silymarin has been shown to help prevent the toxicity of chemotherapy. In addition, in vitro studies have shown that the silybin may inhibit cancer cell growth or even block tumors from starting or continuing to grow.
There have been a few side effects associated with milk thistle. Although these are uncommon, they may include: upset stomach, diarrhea, bloating, itching and headache (often in people with allergies to milk thistle). Though it has been shown to help people suffering from type 2 diabetes from developing insulin resistance, it can lower blood sugar levels and may interact with certain medications. Milk thistle may interact with oral contraceptives and might also cause some sexual dysfunction. People with allergies toward plants in the same family as milk thistle, such as ragweed or daisy, should never take milk thistle. Still, these side effects are rare and Germany's Commission E has stated its overall safety.
It is important when taking milk thistle to understand the different forms in which it can be bought. Milk thistle capsules are readily found in most health food stores and are usually standardized to contain 70-80% silymarin. Many herbalists recommend taking it in extract from. As milk thistle's silymarin does not dissolve in water, some experts state that taking milk thistle teas are useless. In tincture form, the alcohol would make needing to take a great deal to receive any of milk thistle's benefits.
* For additional sources, please see The Woman's Book of Healing Herbs by Sari Harrar and Sara Altshul O'Donell. Pages 66, 207, 253, 444