If you’ve ever pulled weeds from your garden, you’re probably familiar with milk thistle. And attempts to remove it may not have gone so well because of its prickly stems and burrs that stick to clothing. Despite its outwardly pesky nature, milk thistle is one of the most powerful liver medicines available. While not a particularly attractive plant, and certainly not one you’d want to include in flower bouquets, milk thistle more than compensates for its less-than-appealing looks with therapeutic benefits.
Don’t be fooled by milk thistle’s modest history or unattractive appearance; this herb is potent medicine. The herb contains a compound called silymarin that protects the liver against cellular damage while also stimulating regeneration of liver cells. Milk thistle also prevents the depletion of the nutrient glutathione, which is essential for liver detoxification. And since the liver is involved in over five hundred bodily functions, these properties make milk thistle an important aid to overall health.
Protector against Acetaminophen Damage
By now you may have heard that over-the-counter pain killers like acetaminophen (Tylenol) can cause liver damage. Research shows that the use of milk thistle can help protect the liver from damage by these drugs.
According to Xandria Williams, author of The Herbal Detox Plan, silymarin found in milk thistle seeds works on cancer in multiple ways: (1) it acts as an antioxidant to eliminate cancer-causing free radicals; (2) it stabilizes cellular membranes so that they are less vulnerable to damage; (3) it stimulates detoxification pathways in the liver to help the body eliminate cancer-causing toxins; (4) it promotes liver tissue regeneration; (5) it inhibits the growth of some cancer cell lines; (6) it acts directly on some cancer cell lines to destroy them; and (6) it may increase the efficacy of some chemotherapy drugs. Silybin is another compound found in milk thistle that is believed to protect the genetic material within the liver cells while reducing the occurrence of liver cancer.
Fat Digestion Aid
Silymarin not only helps the liver recover from damage but also helps to alleviate indigestion, which can be a sign that the liver is struggling to digest excess fat in the diet.
Liver Disease Remedy
According to James Duke, PhD, botanist and author of the best-selling book The Green Pharmacy, milk thistle is useful in the treatment of jaundice, cirrhosis, hepatitis and liver poisoning.
Milk Secretion Booster
Dr. Duke also indicates that milk thistle can help women who are nursing to increase milk secretion.
Research reported in the medical journal Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome, and Obesity found that an extract of milk thistle improved numerous markers of the conditions for which the journal is named, including reducing triglycerides, LDL cholesterol (often considered the harmful one) and blood sugar levels. Interestingly, the herb worked even when statin drugs used for the purpose of lowering cholesterol did not.
Unlike other liver herbs, milk thistle is best taken as a capsule or as an alcohol extract. Because the substances silymarin and silybin are not particularly water soluble, a tea made from the plant won’t have sufficient healing properties. Instead, take one teaspoon of the alcohol extract three times daily (unless you have ever been an alcoholic) to reap the medicinal benefits of milk thistle.
Dr. Michelle Schoffro Cook, PhD, DNM is the publisher of the free e-news World’s Healthiest News, president of PureFood BC, and an international best-selling and 20-time published book author whose works include the upcoming book: Be Your Own Herbalist: Essential Herbs for Health, Beauty Cooking.