Milk Thistle: Benefits and Common Uses

Milk thistle has been used for over 2,000 years as a treatment of liver and gallbladder disorders, according to the Mayo Clinic. It was also a popular treatment for mushroom poisoning. Today, it can provide many health benefits and act as a treatment for many different problems.

What is Milk Thistle?

Milk thistle is a plant native to South Europe, but it is now grown all over the world. When the leaves are broken, a white sap oozes out, which gives it its name.

Though many companies make supplements using the entirety of the plant, the seeds seem to be the potent part of the plant. Silymarin, a name that is often used interchangeably with milk thistle, is actually made from the seeds of the milk thistle.

Health Benefits

Silymarin is a complex mixture of flavonolignans that have many health benefits and can be used to treat many ailments. In fact, it has seven types of flavonolignans, including silybin, isosilybin, silychristin (also known as silichristin) and silydianin (also known as silidianin), according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

Flavonolignans act as an antioxidant, which can help prevent cancers and aid in cell health. A study by University of Colorado Health Sciences Center found that milk thistle inhibits the growth of rat prostate cancer cells. Another study by Kanazawa Medical University in Japan found that milk thistle may help with human colon cancer. Not only does it help to prevent and treat cancer, it can also boost the effectiveness of some chemotherapy agents, making it useful to those who already have cancer, according to the NCI.

Milk thistle also stimulates detoxification pathways and can be used to stimulate the regeneration of liver tissue. A study published by the US National Library of Medicine found that milk thistle can improve liver functions in alcoholic patients.

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, the historical use of milk thistle to treat mushroom poisoning has been proven to be correct. It completely counteracts the toxic effects of death cap mushroom when administered within 10 minutes of ingestion of the mushroom and reduces the risk of liver damage if given to the patient within 24 hours of consuming the mushroom.

Over the past 40 years, intensive chemical, pharmacological and clinical research has confirmed the mechanisms of action and therapeutic value of milk thistle in a wide range of human liver-related and non-liver-related conditions. Hundreds of modern research studies have confirmed the remarkable ability of milk thistle to protect the liver and the body against virtually all types of damage.

Additionally, the United States National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have cataloged more than 400 scientific studies of milk thistle and its active compounds in their medicine database. These studies reflect what generations past knew and depended on – that milk thistle is one of the most valuable and beneficial herbal remedies and treatments available anywhere in the world.

Today, milk thistle is still one of the most commonly used medicinal plants in the world and is also the number one recommended natural herb for liver health. In fact, in Europe, milk thistle is a prescribed medication. The milk thistle extract is prescribed to treat mushroom poisoning, alcoholic cirrhosis, chronic hepatitis, drug and alcohol-induced liver damage and acute viral hepatitis, just to name a few.

Consuming Milk Thistle

Though milk thistle can be found in many supplements, creams and liquids, it can also be eaten like a vegetable. According to the US National Library of Medicine milk thistle’s leaves and flowers are can be eaten in salads and make a good substitute for spinach. The seeds can also be roasted as a coffee substitute.

Those taking supplements should stick to certain dosages, depending on their ailment, for the best results. According to the Mayo Clinic, these doses have been found to be helpful:

  • For acute viral hepatitis in adults take 160 to 800 milligrams of silymarin by mouth daily in three divided doses for three weeks.
  • For allergy nasal symptoms in adults take 140 milligrams of silymarin by mouth three times daily for one month.
  • For mushroom toxicity in adults take silibinin by mouth or take 20 to 50 milligrams per kilogram of silibinin in 500 milliliters of 5% dextrose solution by injecting it into the vein every six hours for one day.
  • For type 2 diabetes in adults take 200-230 milligrams of silymarin by mouth one to three times daily for four weeks to 12 months with regular therapy.
  • For diabetic nephropathy in adults (kidney disease) take 140 milligrams of silymarin by mouth three times daily for three months.
  • For cirrhosis in adults take 160 to 800 milligrams of silymarin by mouth in 2 or 3 divided doses daily by mouth for up to two years.
  • For antioxidant effects in adults take 140 milligrams of silymarin by mouth three times daily for three weeks.
  • For liver damage from drugs or toxins in adults take 160 to 800 milligrams of silymarin by mouth daily in three divided doses for 15 days to five weeks or 70 milligrams of silibinin can also be taken by mouth three times daily for 6 to 12 months.
  • For chronic liver disease in adults take 160 to 480 milligrams of silybin by mouth once or three times daily for up to three months or 120 to 420 milligrams of silymarin by mouth daily in three divided doses for four weeks to 12 months or silibinin injected into the vein for periods of 10 to 14 days.
  • For fertility take three doses of 70 milligrams of silymarin by mouth, in addition to standard therapy, over the course of one day.
  • For high cholesterol in adults take 200 to 600 milligrams of silymarin by mouth once or three times daily for four months in addition to standard therapy.
  • For osteoarthritis in adults take 150 milligrams of silymarin by mouth twice daily for eight weeks.
  • For radiation skin irritation in adults use a silymarin-based cream on the skin.
  • For liver damage from drugs or toxins in children (under 18 years old) take 80 to 320 milligrams of silymarin by mouth daily for 28 days.

As always, you should consult with your physician before making any changes to your dietary intake, supplement intake, or before a change in physician activity levels.


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