Milk thistle is a herb that’s been used for thousands of years to support liver, kidney and gallbladder health. It contains the flavonoid silymarin, which is responsible for liver protection and shows antioxidant, anti-viral and anti-inflammatory properties.
Native to the Mediterranean, milk thistle is regarded as a weed in some areas, despite its therapeutic potential. When the leaves are crushed they release a milky sap, giving this herb its characteristic name.
The active component of milt thistle is actually a group of compounds (silibinin, silidianin and silicristin). They work together to provide multiple liver healing benefits. Milk thistle is an anti-fibrotic, which means it prevents tissue scarring, and it’s thought to act as a “toxin blockade agent”.
Scientist show that milk thistle can be used to treat alcoholic liver disease, acute and chronic viral hepatitis and toxin-induced liver diseases. This powerful compound has been shown to reduce liver injury caused by a number of drugs and environmental toxins. These include carbon tetrachloride (carcinogen common in building materials), radiation, alcohol, amanita phalloides (the poisonous mushroom), psychotropic medications and negative effects of chemotherapy.
Aside from liver health and cancer protection, milk thistle’s protect your kidneys. It stimulates cell regeneration in the kidneys and is recommended for patients on dialysis.
Milk thistle also appears to raise levels of beneficial HDL cholesterol and decrease the the bed cholesterol (LDL) and the risk of atherosclerosis. Silymarin may also help reduce blood pressure.
Among people with diabetes, those who took silymarin for four months experienced improvements in their glycemic profile. The improvement included a significant decrease in glycosylated hemoglobin which measures blood sugar. It’s also improved fasting blood glucose, total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.
On top of this the plant has some neuroprotective properties and there is early research suggesting it may be beneficial for multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease. Animal studies also suggest that silymarin may suppress the formation of amyloid beta-protein (a toxic protein linked to Alzheimer’s), thereby helping to prevent Alzheimer’s disease.