Milk thistle is an annual herb of the genus Silybum in the Compositae family. Often used as a natural remedy for a range of health problems. What are the proven health benefits of milk thistle?
Milk thistle, also known as Mary thistle or holy thistle, contains an active ingredient called silymarin. Milk thistle is mainly used as a treatment for liver diseases, but there are also some claims that it can also lower cholesterol in the body and is effective in managing type 2 diabetes.
This article will give 10 potential health benefits of milk thistle and clarify whether there is scientific evidence to support its use. The article also examines how to take milk thistle and whether there are any risks to consider.
What is milk thistle?
Milk thistle is a flowering plant from the same family as daisies. It grows in Mediterranean countries and is used to make natural medicines.
Different parts of milk thistle can be used to treat different health problems, the most common application being the treatment of liver diseases. Some claim that milk thistle can be used to help treat cirrhosis, jaundice, hepatitis, and gallbladder disorders.
Other potential health benefits include lowering cholesterol levels to protect heart health and helping people manage type 2 diabetes.
Ten potential health benefits of milk thistle
1. Supports Liver Health
The most common application of milk thistle is in the treatment of liver diseases. A 2016 study found that milk thistle improved diet-induced liver damage in experiments with mice. But more evidence is still needed to confirm that milk thistle has the same effect in humans.
However, researchers believe that milk thistle does have this effect in humans. The active substance in milk thistle is silymarin, which acts as an antioxidant to reduce the production of free radicals in the body. Scientists believe that this creates a detoxifying effect, which is also the reason why milk thistle works so well for liver problems.
Of course, milk thistle cannot be recommended as a primary treatment for liver problems unless confirmed by more research. However, it may be a very helpful complementary treatment.
2. Promote skin health
Milk thistle may help promote healthy skin. A 2015 study found that when milk thistle was applied to the skin of mice, it helped improve inflammatory skin conditions.
In another study, milk thistle was found to have both antioxidant and anti-aging effects on human skin cells in a laboratory setting.
As for the specific benefits of applying milk thistle to the surface of human skin, in-depth research is needed to confirm.
3. Reduce cholesterol
High cholesterol can cause heart disease in people and increase the risk of stroke.
A 2006 study revealed that milk thistle may play an important role in keeping cholesterol levels low. The study found that those who took milk thistle for diabetes had significantly lower cholesterol levels than those who took a placebo.
4. Supports Weight Loss
A 2016 animal study found that milk thistle reduced weight in mice fed it for weight gain.
This suggests that milk thistle may promote weight loss. However, more research is needed to confirm the weight loss effects of milk thistle in humans.
5. Reduce insulin resistance
A mouse study found that milk thistle extract can help reduce insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is a major problem in type 2 diabetes patients.
While this study suggests that milk thistle plays an important role in diabetes management, more trials are needed to confirm whether milk thistle can reduce insulin resistance and support diabetes management in humans.
6. Improve allergic asthma symptoms
The active ingredients in milk thistle can help reduce symptoms of inflammation. A 2012 study found that its active ingredient, silymarin, protected the airways from inflammation in mice with allergic asthma.
However, more experiments are needed to confirm whether there is the same improvement in allergic asthma function in humans.
7. Limit the spread of cancer
For some types of cancer, milk thistle may help slow or limit their spread in the body. A 2016 review wrote that milk thistle extract can inhibit the growth of colorectal cancer cells.
More research is needed to determine how milk thistle fights cancer cell growth.
8. Supports Bone Health
At the same time, milk thistle may also play a key role in maintaining bone health. A 2013 study found that milk thistle helps prevent bone loss.
The study is particularly concerned with bone loss caused by estrogen deficiency. However, we still don't know if milk thistle has the same effect on other different causes of bone loss. Further research is needed to conclude that milk thistle in humans can support bone health.
9. Improve Cognitive Ability
A 2015 study found that milk thistle increases resistance to oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is a potential cause of Alzheimer's disease.
In this sense, milk thistle may improve cognition, as well as treat diseases that affect the degeneration of the brain. More human studies are needed to confirm the cognition-improving effects of milk thistle.
10. Boosts the immune system
Milk thistle also helps boost people's immune responses and helps them avoid some infections.
A 2016 animal model trial found that when milk thistle extract was consumed, immunity was significantly improved. An earlier study also showed that milk thistle extract also had a positive effect on the human immune response.
More human trials are needed before scientists can say with certainty that milk thistle can boost the human immune system.
How to use milk thistle
Milk thistle is available as a supplement in many health food stores. There is no standard dosage for milk thistle, so your best bet is to read the dosage recommendations on the package.
Milk thistle can also be used as a tea. If drinking milk thistle tea, it is best to limit your daily intake to 6 cups.
Risks and Precautions
Because milk thistle is used as a supplement, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate it as a regular drug. It is for this reason that it is important to purchase milk thistle from some reputable suppliers.
As with any other natural remedy, people should talk to their doctor before taking milk thistle.
Milk thistle may also interact with other medications. This also requires special consideration if people are already being treated for liver disease.
Milk thistle has a range of potential health benefits because of its active ingredient, silymarin, an antioxidant.
More experiments are needed to confirm the benefits of milk thistle. That said, milk thistle is a health supplement worth trying alongside traditional remedies.
Of course, it's best to speak with a health care professional before starting milk thistle or other supplements, as they may interact with other medications or conditions.
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