Milk Thistle - Soothing Mediterranean Herb that Cures

by Sam Malone

Medicinal herbs were used widely by ancient Greek, Chinese, and Indian healers, and they are still used today by modern European physicians. One such effective medicinal herb is milk thistle. This effective medicinal herb has been in use since as early as the Greco-Roman times.

Milk Thistle

Milk thistle gets its name from the milky sap that comes out of the leaves of the plant when they are crushed. It is a flowering plant, and it grows in dry, sunny areas. Milk thistle is an annual or biennial plant of the Asteraceae family. Even though it is widespread all over the world, basically, it is a native to the Mediterranean. It grows up to six-feet tall and has prickly edged leaves. The red flower of the milk thistle has a typical thistle, and the ripe seeds are the medicinal parts of the plant.

The scientific name of milk thistle is Silybum marianum, and it has a lot of common names such as Marian thistle, Mediterranean milk thistle, St Mary’s thistle, etc. Milk thistle is commonly used for gallbladder and liver complaints, loss of appetite, diabetes, hangovers, heartburn, and uterine problems. It is also used to increase breast milk production. The leaves and flowers are sometimes used as a substitute for spinach in salads. The roasted seeds are used as a coffee substitute.

St Mary’s Thistle Benefits

Milk thistle has been widely used to treat liver and gallbladder diseases. In herbalism, milk thistle is used to cure liver diseases and gallbladder diseases as it has the property of protecting liver against toxins. Apart from the liver, milk thistle has many benefits with respect to other organs. Given below are some of the milk thistle’s benefits.

  • Liver: Milk thistle protects the liver from viruses, alcohol, and toxins. Excess intake of alcohol and paracetamol like acetaminophen can cause liver damage. The active component in the milk thistle, silymarin, is effective in restoring liver health. Silymarin not only hampers the factors that cause liver damage but also increases the production of glutathione, a liver compound that helps in detoxification. Liver cirrhosis, jaundice, and chronic hepatitis cause severe damage to the liver, and milk thistle can enhance the production of new liver cells, thereby helping in the liver regeneration process.
  • Gallbladder: Milk thistle can reduce inflammation of the gallbladder. It also helps in removing toxins from the bladder. It is also used in the treatment of viral hepatitis. It is traditionally used as an emergency antidote to poisoning by death cap mushroom. By injecting silymarin extract within 24 hours, it can significantly reduce the risk of liver damage.
  • Skin: Impure blood causes skin problems such as acne and eczema, and the liver is responsible for the purification of blood. One of the prime milk thistle benefits is detoxification of the liver, which, in turn, helps to flush toxins from the blood stream. Thus, milk thistle helps in lessening skin-related problems as well. Its demulcent property also helps to moisten the skin.
  • Kidney: UTI and milk thistle are strongly related as urinary tract infections are caused by intrusion of bacteria into the urinary tract and milk thistle’s detoxifying effects helps to reduce the chances of UTI. Extract of milk thistle can serve as an effective home remedy for urinary tract infections. Milk thistle extract has become an effective remedy for people who alternate between diarrhea and constipation. The mild laxative property of milk thistle helps to reduce toxins in the kidneys and maintain the consistency of stools. It soothes mucous membranes, kidneys, and bladder irritations and inflammations because of its demulcent property.
  • Diabetes: One of milk thistle’s benefits is reducing insulin resistance in people with type 2 diabetes. The liver plays a vital role in diabetes control as it is involved with the utilization of insulin. The active component in milk thistle, silymarin, helps in improving metabolic control, thereby reducing the requirement of endogenous insulin in type 2 diabetes patients.
  • Tinea: Tinea is a chronic fungal infection of the skin. The symptom of tinea versicolor is a discolored or patchy skin. Milk thistle and tinea are also related. Since milk thistle is a detoxifying agent, it acts as an effective home remedy to reduce the redness caused by tinea.
  • Cancer: Milk thistle is used to inhibit the growth of cancer cells. Silymarin has strong antioxidant properties that reduce the growth of cancer cells in breast, cervical and prostate cancers.
  • Cholesterol: Silymarin, the active component of milk thistle is used as a cholesterol lowering drug.

Silymarin is the active component of milk thistle, and it is extracted from the seeds. The seeds are used to prepare capsules, extracts, powders, and tinctures. Silymarin is a powerful liver protecting compound, and as of today, milk thistle seed is the only known source of silymarin. In general, milk thistle is considered to be safe for most adults. However, nausea, diarrhea, bloating, and indigestion are some of the less common side effects.

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