Written By Liz Oakes
There are benefits of milk thistle for most people as this is a powerful liver cleanser.
It helps you to get rid of built up toxins in your system, caused by a bad diet, alcohol or toxic chemicals.
Remedies made from this herb are powerful to aid liver disease. Milk thistle also aids kidney, gall bladder, adrenal, inflammatory bowel disorders and immune problems.
This herb has been in use in Europe for over 2000 years.
Around the time of the middle ages plants were taken from Europe to Asia, and became part of Chinese medicine.
It has since naturalized in many countries including in Australia and the United States, and has adapted to a range of climatic conditions.
Many of you may have seen this herb growing and know it as a common weed, and didn't know about its value as an excellent liver cleanser.
It can grow to a height of five foot (one and a half meters) if left to grow unchecked.
Few people let them get that big in their gardens as they have spiky leaves and spiny stems that make them a plant that can be difficult to have in the garden, unless you have a reason for growing it.
Milk thistle or Silybum marianum is a herb that has become very wide-spread, and most people think of it as a weed.
Some of the common names used to describe it are Legalon, Marian Thistle, Holy Thistle, St Mary Thistle and Our Lady's Thistle, as the white markings on the leaves were said to be splashes of the Virgin Mary's milk.
You may recognize the unusual white and quite distinctive coloration in the green leaves, see image below.
Some plants are more green, without the white splashes in the leaves, and it has white milky sap.
This plant has become quite established in many parts of the world, and there are quite a few uses for milk thistle.
It has attractive magenta flowers that can be eaten as a vegetable, that tastes a bit like artichoke.
Other parts of the plant that can be eaten are the stalks which are a bit like asparagus, and the leaves are eaten like lettuce.
The roots after being soaked overnight are used like oyster plant and the roasted seeds or fruit, can be used like coffee.
So this common 'weed' may be more useful than you thought. The most important uses for milk thistle are for medicinal purposes, and the seeds or fruit are collected to make remedies.
The most valuable part of milk thistle is the fruit, (also known as the seeds), which are used to make natural herb based remedies. There are many benefits of milk thistle seeds, as this is where silymarin is located.
Silymarin is a name used to describe the active ingredients in milk thistle, four elements, flavonolignans, that are as a group known as silymarin.
These are bioflavonoids, the strongest of which is silibinin, which is a potent antidote for poisoning from the deathcap mushroom, in fact the only known treatment for this.
The dried seeds of the plant are made into a tincture with alcohol as silymarin does not absorb well in water.
The benefits of milk thistle relate primarily to its role as one of the herbs for liver and digestion.
The liver is a very important organ, which not only produces bile for digestion as well as hormones, but is also highly protective, acting to protect your system from poisonous material circulating in your blood.
Liver problems caused by toxins such as alcohol, toxic environmental chemicals or liver disease such as hepatitis, may cause inflammation and enlargement of the liver and cause damage to liver cells.
This may prevent the liver from doing its role to protect the body.
Milk thistle is one of the bitter herbs and will assist your digestion by stimulating the flow of bile, as well as helping to reduce liver inflammation and to heal any damaged cells.
This is one of the liver support herbs that helps to regulate digestion, particularly of fats, and aids liver detoxification.
It also has a role to assist the excretion of specific hormones. Emotional disturbances such as anger and feeling out of sorts generally, are common effects of liver problems.
The most common reason most people use this bitter herb is that it there are so many benefits of milk thistle for helping liver disease and the health of the liver generally.
The active ingredient silymarin stimulates the flow of bile, essential for digestion to work properly.
It improves the production of glutathione, which is one of the chemicals utilized by the liver to assist detoxification, and stimulates the creation of new liver cells.
This herb is unique, and as yet they have found no drugs that have an equivalent action to aid the liver.
It is very effective to treat liver related disease, and to help a number of other related health conditions, including the following:
Alcoholic cirrhosis: Cirrhosis of the liver, alcoholic fatty liver and alcoholic hepatitis are all related to over consumption of alcohol that has damaged the liver.
Silymarin, the group of active ingredients in milk thistle, reduces the inflammation in the liver and works to regenerate the cells of the liver by stimulating protein synthesis.
This was clearly shown in a study done by a German pharmaceutical company, who examined 2637 people who had used milk thistle to aid a range of disorders.
These included cirrhosis of the liver, hepatitis and fatty liver. After taking a standardized extract of milk thistle capsules daily for eight weeks, 63 percent said that their symptoms had disappeared.
This included health problems such as fatigue, nausea, lack of appetite and abdominal distension. Note that it may help cirrhosis before it becomes advanced, but once it has progressed too far it may no longer be effective.
Lowers Cholesterol: Milk thistle helps to stabilize blood sugar and cholesterol, and to reduce inflammation of the intestines.
Studies are currently being done and have seen promising results to lower cholesterol as effectively as a common drug normally used.
Cancer: Milk thistle is thought to be anti-carcinogenic but so far trials are at the laboratory stage only.
People with cancer have had good results using it, but as yet it has not been proven clinically.
Breast cancer cells and prostate cancer cells have shown changes in studies in mice, so it is believed that this may be a promising treatment for these cancers in the future.
Cervical Dysplasia and Fibroids: Cervical dysplasia and fibroids are often attributed to liver problems.
There are benefits of milk thistle for a number of complaints that relate to excess hormones circulating, as it helps to remove excess estrogen and testosterone byproducts, and prevents any more toxins from entering the liver.
Anti-Aging and Immune system: Silymarin helps the liver to remove impurities from the blood, and is an antioxidant, that works to protect your liver cells from being damaged by free radicals.
By cleaning up the blood, the immune system is helped, as it does not have to work as hard to keep you healthy.
If you have an over-active immune system this herb will help to regulate its action.
This liver herb also inhibits the production of leukotrienes which are inflammatory compounds that cause liver damage. It also helps to boost the healing of the liver cells when damage has already taken place.
IBS, Crohn's Disease and Constipation: If you have inflammation in the bowel, milk thistle increases the production of bile, which is the fluid that the liver creates to help to break down fat in the small intestine.
This helps to relieve constipation including constipation attributed to irritable bowel syndrome, and protects the lining of the intestines relating to Crohn's disease.
Milk thistle also protects the liver from medications that are liver toxic. It is a common ingredient in herbal bitters and is helpful to aid digestion.
Liver Detoxification: There are few other liver support herbs that are as powerful to aid liver diseases, such as cirrhosis of the liver, liver poisoning, viral hepatitis and liver detoxification.
Due to the large number of pollutants in our environment many of us have health problems caused by breathing in pollution, which may cause heavy metal poisoning, and by eating chemicals present in our food.
Some chemicals in non-organic food are caused by farming practices, including the use of herbicides and pesticides that remain in the food chain and that you end up eating.
Other chemicals include additives used to preserve food or coloring or flavoring used to make it look or taste better.
If you have liver damage caused by a build up of toxins from any source, that is causing health problems for you, including chemical sensitivity or chronic fatigue syndrome, there are benefits of milk thistle to help your liver.
It is both hepa protective and will help to regenerate damaged cells.
A milk thistle liver detox will help you as this liver herb also changes the liver cell membranes, making it less easy for toxins moving past to find their way in, which gives the liver time to heal.
There are a large number of benefits of milk thistle and very few side effects as this liver herb is a very safe and effective herb to take.
There are very few side effects and most are quite mild, such as a mild laxative effect for some people.
Milk thistle also protects the kidneys and is good for psoriasis and weakened immune systems...and helps gallbladder disorders and adrenal exhaustion.
Parkinson's disease and specific types of diabetes may also be helped by using this herb.
If you are into living naturally and natural health, you may have an organic or permaculture garden where you may find this herb to be very useful, as it also has value to create a natural rennet replacement from the fruit.
A quite amazing herb!