Milk thistle is a flowering herb that is related to the daisy and ragweed family and is native to Mediterranean countries. Several scientific studies have suggested that the compounds contained within milk thistle can protect your liver from toxins and the damaging effects of certain over-the-counter and prescription drugs which can cause liver damage in high doses. It is a therapeutic herb with a long history of use in traditional Chinese, European, and Ayurvedic medicine. Originally native to Southern Europe, the Mediterranean region and Asia Minor, the plant now grows wild throughout the world. The health benefits of milk thistle include supporting liver health and also benefits the cardiovascular system, prostate, and gallbladder.
The Health Benefits of Milk Thistle
The health benefits of Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) lie in an extract from its seeds called silymarin, which is a potent antioxidant. The extract contains natural compounds called flavonolignans, which are phytochemicals that are part flavonoid and part lignan, of which Silibinin is the most active flavonolignan in silymarin. While silibinin itself is a strong antioxidant, silymarin is around ten times more potent than silibinin alone in scavenging free radicals.
Supports Liver and Gallbladder Health
Traditional medicine’s foremost use of milk thistle is to support liver and gallbladder health. The liver is one of your body’s primary organs for detoxifying chemicals and metabolizing drugs, and maintaining its proper function is critically important to your overall wellness. Milk thistle has been shown to promote liver health, as silymarin helps the liver to grow new cells by boosting protein synthesis, and may counteract some toxin-induced liver ailments.
Supports Prostate Health
The prostate is a small organ in the male reproductive system that produces prostatic fluid, which nourishes and protects sperm. Silymarin has demonstrated numerous benefits to prostate health both in vitro and in vivo, including normal cell development and the development of new blood vessels.
Promotes Healthy Skin
Topical preparations of milk thistle extract may offer beneficial effects for the skin, as studies have found that silymarin encourages normal skin cell development in mice. One observational study concluded that a silymarin-based skin cream applied topically effectively encouraged healthy skin. Further investigations are examining the potential of silymarin as a natural sunscreen.
Regulates Blood Sugar
Research has also been focused on milk thistle’s potential to regulate normal blood sugar levels. In human tests, daily administration of silymarin was found to promote normal blood sugar levels, however, more research is required to fully understand the relationship between milk thistle and blood sugar.
The health benefits of milk thistle are many and it is safe for most people except for those with an allergy to ragweed, as it is a member of the ragweed family. Also, those who suffer from low blood sugar should exercise caution. While safe for humans, milk thistle is toxic to cows and sheep when eaten in large amounts.