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Milk Thistle

Updated on March 11, 2010

milk thistle growing in the wild

Milk thistle
Milk thistle

Nature's Liver Medicine


The plant milk thistle can be perceived as a troublesome weed that grows on the sides of the road and in the woods. The plants purple flowers that may be pretty while in bloom, but they eventually turn into those annoying brown burrs that get stuck to your skin, clothing, and pets. However it appears that this plant is not as bad as it seems. Milk thistle is actually one of the most important herbs for our health and is even responsible for prolonging and saving lives from serious diseases.

Milk thistle has a rich history and has been used medicinally for over 2000 years. It’s most popular applications are for treating liver and gallbladder disorders, but it is also helpful for the kidneys. The main active ingredient in the plant is a special flavonoid called silymarin that is extracted from the seeds. It is important to remember that if you choose to take milk thistle, it is most effective to take an extract as opposed to a tea from the seeds as the silymarin is not very water soluble and you get a much better absorption rate when taking it in an extract form.

When looking for a good milk thistle product, it is best to use one that is standardized. Standardization means that the main active ingredient is made to be in a consistent state from pill to pill. Typically, milk thistle is standardized to contain 70-80% silymarin.

There are many uses for supplementing milk thistle for your health. Silymarin is a known antioxidant. That means that it helps to protect the body from oxidative stress and free radical damage.

Milk thistle is an anti-inflammatory, and reduces inflammation in the body. This is especially important for protecting the liver cells from swelling from stress or injury.

Silymarin helps to assist in the new growth of healthy liver cells while at the same time, it discourages the formation of unhealthy fibrous tissue. This is especially important for those with liver disease such as hepatitis, liver cancer, and cirrhosis.

Milk thistle has even demonstrated immune enhancing effects. This immune boosting property alone makes the milk thistle important for nearly everyone’s health.

Milk thistle is generally considered a safe herb for the vast majority of people. However, pregnant women should not take the herb as it may interfere with the normal development of the baby.

Women who have breast, ovary, or uterus cancer or some other form of hormone related cancer or health condition like endometriosis or uterine fibroids should not take milk thistle as the plant may have some possible estrogen like effects.

Men with prostate cancer should also not take milk thistle without doctor supervision again because of its estrogen like properties.

And finally, those who have allergic reactions to the family of plants that include chrysanthemums, daisies, and ragweed may want to use the herb with care as it is related to these possible allergens.


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    • profile image

      Carole lilley 5 years ago

      It's very confusing. Is it good or is it bad for women with fibroids. I recently read it was very beneficial. Now after taking it I read it is not!!

    • badback profile image

      badback 10 years ago from United States

      Great hub, ty for the information! I had no idea.

    • daniellephoto profile image

      daniellephoto 10 years ago from Hallandale

      I didn't know that women with uterine fibroids or other hormone dependant conditions shouldn't take milk thistle. Great lens.

    • profile image

      simonds.doe@gmail 10 years ago

      i was really not knowing that there is a herb likemilk thistle.

      Really good informative hub.

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