Milk thistle, like many herbal remedies, has been used for thousands of years. The ancient Greeks and the Romans used it to treat snake bites and liver disorders. Today it is still used for a range of conditions including problems with the liver, bile ducts and gall bladder.
What is Milk Thistle?
Milk thistle is a plant native to Europe and America. It’s available as capsules or tablets but is rarely used in tea as it does not dissolve well in water. Milk thistle has both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
Why do I need Milk Thistle?
Milk thistle is best known for treating liver complaints. Dried milk thistle seeds contain an active ingredient called silymarin which is responsible for its many health benefits. Studies have shown that silymarin strengthens cell walls making it harder for toxins to penetrate the cells. It also appears to stimulate enzymes that make toxins less harmful and, like all antioxidants, blocks the action of free radicals. Free radicals are dangerous particles that breakdown DNA and other cells causing disease and ageing.
There appears to be some evidence, that milk thistle helps repair liver tissue and may also have cancer-fighting properties. In studies on cancer cells grown in the lab, an active compound of silymarin - called ‘silybin’ has been shown to make chemotherapy drugs work better against breast and ovarian cancer and to slow down cell growth in prostate cancer and colorectal cancer.
In a study* in which children with leukaemia were given silymarin, they reported fewer side-effects from chemotherapy.
It would seem the milk thistle remedy had lessened the chemo’s toxic effect on the liver.In animal studies on rats, it’s also helped regenerate liver tissue. A component of milk thistle is used as an antidote against a rare form of mushroom poisoning that causes liver failure.
Milk thistle may also lower cholesterol but more research is needed. Like many herbal cures - scientists are mixed in their opinions on its effectiveness.
Can Milk Thistle ever be bad for you?
If taken in large doses milk thistle can cause stomach upset, diarrhoea and nausea but it is largely considered to be safe.