According to James Duke, PhD, milk thistle (Silybum marianum) has been used for at least 2000 years as a remedy for liver ailments. The common name, milk thistle, refers to both the white veins visible on the leaves and the herb’s use as a lactation aid for nursing mothers.
There is a reason for its long history – it is effective. It is particularly applicable to our modern world, where the liver gets bombarded by industrial toxins and chemicals daily.
What Is In It?
One of milk thistle’s known active components is a compound called silymarin. Silymarin aids the liver in removing toxins from the body.
The seeds or sap are generally the parts of the plant that are used medicinally and are available commercially. (The white, latex-based sap gives milk thistle its white-veined appearance.) Capsules and extracts of seeds and sap can be purchased at health food stores.
You can also grow your own plants. Generally regarded as a weed, milk thistle is not hard to grow. The seeds can be roasted, ground, and brewed like coffee. The young leaves can be eaten in salads, as they have not developed their spiky spines and bitter flavor yet. The silymarin content in young leaves is quite low; however, the young leaves are high in the important nutrients magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, zinc, iron, chromium and selenium.
What Does It Do?
The silymarin or silymarin flavonoids in milk thistle actually help regenerate liver cells, helping to replace diseased liver cells with healthy ones. Interestingly, milk thistle does not increase the regeneration of cancerous liver cells; only healthy ones.
Milk thistle acts as an antioxidant, prohibiting enzymes that lead to the formation of free radicals. It can help prevent liver damage and improve overall functioning of this vital detoxifying organ.
Milk thistle improves liver function and is useful for inflammatory liver conditions, cirrhosis, jaundice and hepatitis. Silymarin protects against industrial toxins.
Who Should Take It?
Milk thistle can be taken by anyone wishing to improve his or her liver health, prevent liver damage, or simply to help the body detoxify. It has no reported toxic effects. Here are some situations where taking milk thistle is indicated.
- Following alcohol consumption
- As an aid to recovering alcoholics
- Before and/or after exposure to industrial chemicals or toxins
- During an overall body cleanse
- In cases of liver disease such as cirrhosis, jaundice, hepatitis, or chronic inflammation
- In any case of liver damage
Note: always check with your medical practitioner before taking any supplement or medication. Some users may experience side effects.