Milk thistle, also known as holy thistle and St. Mary’s thistle, and whose Latin name is Silybum marianum, is a flowering plant that is native to Mediterranean countries and other areas in Europe, including the European part of Russia. It also grows in North and South America and is widely used as a natural remedy for liver problems. The plant’s benefits seem to go beyond protecting the liver. It may also help lower blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes, decrease levels of cholesterol, and relieve heartburn (in combination with other herbs).
So far, human studies on the effects of milk thistle have been limited, and it’s too early to make reliable conclusions about its effectiveness.
But early evidence suggests milk thistle may be used for the following:
Research suggests that silymarin, one of the active substances in milk thistle, may help lower blood sugar AND cholesterol levels in people with type two diabetes. It’s not yet clear whether the herb has the same effect on cholesterol in people who don’t have diabetes; further studies are needed to establish that.
A combination of high blood sugar, elevated blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, and large waist size is defined as metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome puts you at risk of developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and milk thistle is one of the herbs that may help prevent this condition.
Milk thistle has been shown to reduce symptoms of a variety of liver problems, including alcoholic hepatitis, hepatitis C, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Milk thistle may help reduce inflammation of the liver and protect new healthy liver cells.
Milk thistle may help lower the levels of total cholesterol, LDL “bad” cholesterol, and triglycerides, which in turn can help reduce the risk of problems with heart and vessels. However, this suggestion is based on a study of people with diabetes, and it’s too early to tell whether the herb can have the same effect on people who don’t have diabetes.
Using milk thistle extract along with traditional medicines used to treat allergies seems to relieve allergic asthma symptoms better than taking just medicines.
Milk thistle can help counter the poisonous effect of death cap mushroom (Amanita phalloides), especially if taken within 10 minutes of eating the mushroom. If taken within 24 hours of ingesting the mushroom, milk thistle can lower the risk of damage to the liver and death.
According to preliminary evidence, milk thistle in combination with selenium is helpful in treating symptoms of prostate enlargement (medically known as benign prostatic hyperplasia) in men.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
There is some evidence that taking milk thistle leaf extract might help improve symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder, but it’s hasn’t proved to be more effective than traditional medicines used to treat the condition.
Side effects and of milk thistle and interactions with medicines
Milk thistle is considered generally safe for most people. However, some people report digestive symptoms, including diarrhea, nausea, bloating, and gas, after taking milk thistle.
People who are allergic to related plants, including ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigolds, chamomile, yarrow, or daisies, shouldn’t use milk thistle as it can cause an allergic reaction.
Taking milk thistle is also not recommended for the following groups of people:
- pregnant and breastfeeding women;
- women who have breast cancer or any cancer of the reproductive system.
Substances found in milk thistle interact with the following:
- diabetes drugs;
- antipsychotic medicines;
- oral contraceptives;
- hormone therapy drugs;
- statins (medicines used to lower blood cholesterol);
- any drugs processed by the liver.
If you want to start taking milk thistle in any form, consult your doctor first.
This article is purely for informational purposes. Do not self-medicate, and in all cases consult a certified healthcare professional before using any information presented in the article. The editorial board does not guarantee any results and does not bear any responsibility for harm that may result from using the information stated in the article.
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