Top 6 Milk Thistle Benefits
1. Liver Detoxification & Health
As a liver support and liver aid, milk thistle is a powerful liver cleanser. It helps rebuild liver cells while removing toxins from the body that are processed through the liver. Milk thistle is effective at naturally reversing the harmful effects of alcohol consumption, pesticides in our food supply, heavy metals in our water supply, pollution in the air that we breathe and even poisons!
The liver is actually our largest internal organ and is responsible for performing a number of essential detoxifying functions. The condition of our blood throughout our whole body is mostly reliant on the health of our liver. As a “blood purifier,” the liver needs to actively clean the blood each and every day in order to support nearly every system within our body.
The liver helps remove harmful substances from our blood, aids in hormone production, detoxifies the body, releases glucose into the bloodstream in order to give our body steady energy and releases bile into our small intestine so fat can be absorbed from foods. You can see why poor liver function can create so many problems!
Milk thistle has been historically used for various liver diseases, including:
- alcoholic liver disease
- acute and chronic viral hepatitis
- toxin-induced liver diseases
2. Help Protect Against Cancer
Milk thistle seeds are a high source of the antioxidant flavonoid called silymarin, which is actually composed of several other active compounds known as flavolignans. Silymarin is associated with decreasing the risk for cancer development by boosting the immune system, fighting DNA damage and reversing cancerous tumour growth.
In 2007, after reviewing numerous studies involving milk thistle therapeutic treatments, researchers at the University of Minnesota found that:
There is strong preclinical evidence for silymarin’s hepatoprotective and anticarcinogenic effects, including inhibition of cancer cell growth in human prostate, skin, breast, and cervical cells.
About 50 percent to 70 percent of the silymarin molecules present within milk thistle are the type called silybin, also known as silibinin. This antioxidant stimulates protein synthesis and changes the outside layer of healthy cells, keeping them protected from damage and mutation. It inhibits toxins from dwelling in the body; helps with cell renewal; and counteracts the harmful effects of pollutants, chemicals and heavy metals that can cause “free radical damage.”
Silymarin acts as a cancer protector because it’s “a toxin blockade agent” and inhibits the binding of toxins to the cell membrane receptors, according to researchers at the University Magna Graecia Department of Experimental and Clinical Medicine.
3. Help Lower High Cholesterol
The U.S. National Library of Medicine considers milk thistle to be a powerful anti-inflammatory. Milk thistle benefits heart health and helps lower high cholesterol levels by reducing inflammation, cleaning the blood and preventing oxidative stress damage within the arteries.
Although more formal research is still needed, preliminary studies show that when silymarin (milk thistle extract) is used in combination with other traditional treatment methods, total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol and triglycerides levels all improve compared to levels before taking milk thistle.
Something important to keep in mind, however, is that existing studies on possible heart benefits of milk thistle have only been done involving people with diabetes, who tend to have high cholesterol levels. So at this time, it’s unclear if milk thistle has the same effects in people without diabetes and if it will be used to naturally lower cholesterol levels in the future.
4. Help Control or Prevent Diabetes
According to the National Institute of Health, there’s some compelling research showing that taking silymarin, the main chemical found in milk thistle, along with conventional treatments, can help control symptoms of diabetes by helping with glycemic control. The valuable effect of antioxidants found in milk thistle has been reported in experimental and clinical studies to help decrease blood sugar levels in insulin-resistant patients.
One 2006 study conducted by the Department of Pharmacology at the Institute of Medicinal Plants found that when diabetic patients were given silymarin extract over a four-month period, their fasting blood glucose and insulin levels improved significantly compared to patients receiving a placebo.
This is likely true because the liver is partly responsible for regulating hormones, including the release of insulin into the bloodstream. Insulin is responsible for managing blood glucose (sugar) levels in the blood, which is especially important for those with diabetes.
5. Help Prevent Gallstones
The liver is a major digestive organ, helping process nutrients and toxins that enter our body through foods, water and air. Because the liver and other digestive organs — like the gallbladder, pancreas, intestines and kidneys — work closely together to improve liver health, milk thistle is also able to help prevent gallstones and kidney stones.
Although the research on this topic is limited, because of milk thistle’s ability to increase bile flow and aid the liver and gallbladder in detoxification, it may be useful in the prevention of gallstones. Gallstones are formed when cholesterol and other matter within your bile bind together. This is problematic because they can become more solid and become lodged in the inner lining of your gallbladder.
6. Has Anti-Aging Effects
Because milk thistle’s antioxidants help prevent free radical damage throughout the body and remove pollutants and waste from the blood and digestive tract, the herb may actually help slow the ageing process. This applies to both the surface of your skin and your organs, as antioxidants can protect your body from chronic disease.
Milk thistle’s protective qualities of the skin may make it great for reducing visible signs of ageing, so consuming milk thistle may be an easy way to prevent skin cancer and skin damage, such as dark spots, wrinkles, lines and discolouration. Although the research on this topic is limited, an animal study published in Photochemistry and Photobiology found that silymarin protected the skin of mice that were to UV-induced oxidative stress and reduced leukocytes that promote an inflammatory response. So if you’re wondering if milk thistle is good for your skin, the answer may be yes because of its antioxidant properties.