Milk thistle benefits

Written by megan ashton
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Milk thistle benefits
Milk thistle comes in a variety of forms for ease of use. (health supplement pills image by weim from Fotolia.com)

Milk thistle is an herb native to Europe and Asia and its fruit, leaves and seeds have been used medicinally for over 2,000 years. The seeds are the most commonly used part of the plant today and are manufactured and sold in capsule, tablet, extract and tincture form for a variety of health purposes. As with any herbal product, you should consult your doctor before taking milk thistle.

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Medicinal properties

The active ingredient in milk thistle seeds is a compound called silymarin. Silymarin is a potent antioxidant and it helps to prevent free radical-induced damage to your cells and DNA. Silymarin also has immune-stimulating, anti-tumour, anti-inflammatory, anti-fibrotic and blood sugar-lowering properties, according to “Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database.” It also appears to protect the liver, kidneys, pancreas and prostate from damage and aids in the regeneration of healthy liver and kidney cells.

Uses

Herbal medicine practitioners use milk thistle to help treat a wide range of conditions including heartburn, hangovers, malaria, psoriasis, rosacea, ageing skin, depression and appetite loss. People also use milk thistle to help treat adrenal, gallbladder, uterine, spleen and inflammatory bowel disorders. In addition, women take milk thistle to stimulate breast milk flow and menstrual flow. Many of these uses are based on anecdotal reports; however, and more research is necessary to confirm the efficacy of milk thistle for these purposes.

Liver health

Milk thistle prevents free radical damage, thus protecting the liver from toxins and pollutants, according to Phyllis Balch and James Balch, M.D., in their book “Prescription for Nutritional Healing.” Drugs.com states that it has been used since ancient Greek times to treat jaundice and remove liver obstructions. In addition, herbal medicine practitioners use milk thistle to treat hepatitis, chronic inflammatory liver disease, cirrhosis and alcohol-related liver disease.

Type-2 diabetes

Milk thistle may be a useful adjunctive herb for the treatment of Type-2 diabetes. A double-blind clinical trial cited in the December 2006 edition of “Phytotherapy Research” examined the effects of the milk thistle constituent silymarin on Type-2 diabetic patients. The subjects were given 200 mg of silymarin three times daily for four months in combination with conventional diabetic treatment. The patients taking the silymarin experienced a significant decrease in fasting blood glucose levels and a decrease in A1C - the measurement used to gauge the average blood sugar levels of an individual over a three-month period. The subjects also experienced a decrease in total cholesterol, triglyceride and low-density lipoprotein, or “LDL” cholesterol levels. This is important because many diabetics also have high cholesterol, triglyceride and LDL levels, and that increases their risk of developing heart disease.

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