Milk Thistle Health Benefits & Side Effects

milk thistleMilk thistle or Silybum marianum is a flowering plant associated with daisy and ragweed family. It is annual or biannual plant belonging to Asteraceae family. It has typically shiny pale green leaves with whiter veins and red to purple flowers. This herb is mainly found in Mediterranean countries, a native of Southern Europe to Asia. It is also identified by the names blessed milk thistle, Mary thistle, Marian thistle, Scotch thistle and Mediterranean thistle.

Milk thistle has been used for about 2000 years as an effective herbal remedy to cure several different ailments, specifically gall bladder, liver and kidney problems. As per comprehensive scientific studies, milk thistle, due to its content of flavonoid called silymarin, is able to protect the liver from harmful toxins, such as certain medications like acetaminophen, which in higher doses can cause liver damage. Silymarin possesses anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, due to which it helps the liver repair itself by new cell generation.  This herb can be used in the form of capsules of standardized dried herb, tincture, liquid extract and silymarin phosphatidylcholin complex.

Medicinal Uses of Milk Thistle

Since ancient times, milk thistle has been popularly used to treat various health problems, especially liver diseases. Seeds are most commonly used for medicinal purposes. Roasted seeds can be used as a coffee substitute. Leaves and flowers can be used as a vegetable in the salads and a substitute for spinach.

Milk Thistle for Liver Disorders: Milk thistle is most often used for liver problems such as liver damage caused by chemicals, chronic hepatitis, viral hepatitis, especially hepatitis C, jaundice, liver cirrhosis and chronic inflammatory liver disease. Sylimarin is an active ingredient in milk thistle, which is known to protect liver from chemical damage. It contains a group of flavonolignands, which help to repair liver cells damaged due to alcohol and other toxic chemicals by enhancing protein synthesis. It prevents invading of toxins by causing alteration in the outer layer of liver cells. Silymarin also reduces inflammation due to hepatitis, causing antioxidant effects. Milk thistle is also effective in the treatment of alcoholic cirrhosis and alcoholic hepatitis and improves liver function.

Milk Thistle for Cancer: According to the laboratory studies, silymarin present in milk thistle also possesses anticancer properties. It has an ability to prevent division and reproduction of cancer cells, minimize their lifespan and cut down blood supply to the tumors. Silymarin also provides protection from sunrays, reducing the risk of skin cancer. Due to its antioxidant properties, milk thistle can be used to treat breast, prostate and cervical cancer.

Milk Thistle for Obesity: The liver contributes a lot in fat reduction. Enhancing liver function is associated with weight loss. The liver can significantly purify the blood and metabolize fats in the body. As silymarin improves the functioning of liver, it fastens fat metabolism, which results in early weight loss.

Milk Thistle for High Cholesterol: Another important health benefit of silymarin is to lower cholesterol levels. It increases the levels good HDL cholesterol and reduces the risk of heart attack.

Milk thistle can also be used as the best remedy to heal heartburn, loss of appetite, diabetes, spleen disorders, malaria, prostate cancer, irritable bowel syndrome, depression, skin conditions like psoriasis, seasonal allergy symptoms and uterine complaints.

Side Effects of Milk Thistle

The most common side effect of milk thistle is upset stomach. It can cause the symptoms like loss of appetite, diarrhea, bloating and heartburn. Besides, milk thistle can trigger the allergic reactions such as hives, rashes, swelling and breathing difficulties. In some cases, people may experience headache, joint pain and sexual dysfunction. When using milk thistle, there is a risk of lower blood sugar levels. Therefore, diabetic people should take precautions while using milk thistle to avoid hypoglycemia.