Milk Thistle

Milk thistle has been used for medicinal purposes dating back 2000 years. It’s been known by many names. Its botanical name is Silybum marianum. Several of milk thistle’s common names are Marian Thistle, St. Mary’s Thistle, Holy Thistle, Our Lady’s Thistle, Wild Artichoke, and Mary Thistle. The milk thistle plant is indigenous to Europe. The seed is the medicinal portion of the plant.

Milk thistle contains the antioxidant silymarin. Silymarin contains four isomers: Silibinin, isosilybinin, silychristin, and silydianin. The most active ingredient is Silibinin.

Historically, milk thistle has been used as treatment for liver dysfunctions. For centuries, Native Americans have used milk thistle to treat boils and other skin ailments. Today, the primary use of milk thistle is to treat various liver conditions, inflammation, gall bladder disease as well as hepatic problems related to diabetes.

The active ingredient Silibinin plays an important role in the treatment of hepatitis, cirrhosis and many other liver conditions. Milk thistle prevents toxic damage by stimulating the growth of new liver cells to replace damaged ones. Silymarin is known to stimulate the production of glutathione. Increased glutathione levels increases the potential for liver detoxification.

Milk thistle not only protects and regenerates the liver but also encourages the liver to cleanse itself of toxic substances such as alcohol, drugs, metals, pesticides, and anesthesia.

Clinical studies found that silymarin prevents toxic chemicals from entering cells by stabilizing cell membranes. Other studies demonstrated that Silibinin stimulates enzymes responsible for detoxifying the liver and neutralizes free radicals.

An unusual property of milk thistle is that it is an effective antidote for Amanita phalloides or Death-cap mushroom. Amanita phalloides is a deadly mushroom which ingested causes liver failure and ultimately death.

It has also been suggested that milk thistle helps slow down the growth of new cancer cells. Experimental studies suggest that Silibinin assists cisplatin and doxorubicin in fighting ovarian and breast cancers. Milk thistle’s cancer fighting properties inhibits the growth of certain cancer cells.

It’s been reported that milk thistle is beneficial in treating psoriasis by inhibiting inflammatory prostaglandins. This also helps to reduce general inflammation throughout the body.

Milk thistle has a mild laxative quality due to its ability to increase bile secretion and flow in the intestinal tract. Improvement in bowel regularity and stool consistency has been demonstrated in clinical trials.

Milk thistle has also been used to treat gallbladder conditions by improving the solubility of bile. Studies have shown that individuals who ingested 420 mg of milk thistle daily for 30 days had a significant reduction in biliary cholesterol concentration and bile saturation index.

Other potential benefits of milk thistle include lowering cholesterol, stimulating milk flow in nursing mothers, liver regeneration effects, treatment for minor hypotension, stimulate adrenal functions, reduce sorbitol accumulation, treatment of jaundice, colitis, and pleurisy, diseases of the spleen, and reducing symptoms of toxic liver damage.

It is not recommended that HIV/AIDS patients take milk thistle supplements. HIV/AIDS medications are protease inhibitors or non-nukes which are processed by the liver enzyme CYP3A4. The active ingredient Silymarin decreases the presence of CYP3A4.

Due to its lipophilic nature (which means it dissolves easily in lipids), milk thistle is available in capsules and tablets. The recommended daily dosage for adults is 250 mg taken once a day.