Milk thistle has many great qualities, but it is most revered for its effects on the liver. It can improve liver enzymes, assist with rebuilding cells in the liver, and help those suffering from liver ailments.
One liver-related health problem that has been growing in recent years is nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Milk thistle can help to treat the condition and stop it from becoming its more serious form, steatohepatitis. Research has shown that milk thistle can help hepatitis patients get back to work sooner, and it also reduces anxiety and depression.
It can protect your liver from injury from drugs and heavy metals, and it also helps to detoxify it. For example, a review in Phytotherapy Research shows that silymarin, the antioxidant flavonoid that makes milk thistle so beneficial, can protect the liver from radiation, poisonous mushrooms, acetaminophen, iron overload and even alcohol.
It is also an excellent way to get protection from the toxic effects of chemotherapy. It has long been known that milk thistle can work against cancer, reducing the oxidative damage and inflammation that can spur the disease. It also helps your body to preserve glutathione, an antioxidant that fights inflammation. Researchers from the University of Minnesota have found that silymarin can fight cancer by preventing toxins from binding to the receptors in cell membranes.
A study that was recently published in the International Journal of Oncology found that a form of silymarin known as silibinin can suppress chemoresistance, which occurs when cancer doesn’t respond to drugs. The researchers also found that it can prevent further malignancy, inhibit tumor growth, and protect against the DNA mutations that cause cancer. Other researchers have noted that it can prevent damage to the liver caused by chemotherapy in addition to protecting the mucosal lining and skin from radiation therapy-related damage.
Did you know that milk thistle can also serve as a natural mood elevator? Studies in animals have shown that it can reduce the depression and anxiety brought about by traumatic brain injury. Another study showed that the silymarin in milk thistle can work just as well at supporting the mood as drugs like fluoxetine (Prozac) and diazepam (Valium). It has the power to turn around changes in the hippocampus and cerebral cortex caused by stress while increasing levels of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin.
In addition, because it can reduce neurodegeneration and inflammation, it’s also being looked into as a potential treatment or preventive measure for Alzheimer’s disease.
Studies have shown that taking milk thistle in combination with boswellia and nettles can cut blood sugar levels significantly while also reducing triglycerides. It has also been shown to protect the retina from damage caused by diabetes. This could be why Ayurvedic healers have been giving diabetics milk thistle for hundreds of years.
The silymarin in milk thistle has also been shown to penetrate cell membranes in the Candida microbe, halting the growth and spread of this common fungus that causes brain fog, rashes, digestive problems and fatigue.
Although milk thistle is generally considered safe, it’s something you’ll want to steer clear of if you’re allergic to ragweed. In most people, however, it is well-tolerated, although higher doses might lead to some digestive upset.
Effective and relatively safe, this is one herb that is well worth considering if you’re concerned about your liver for any reason.
Sources for this article include: