27 Benefits of Milk Thistle, in Addition to Liver and Gallbladder Support
27 Benefits of Milk Thistle, in Addition to Liver and Gallbladder Support
Milk thistle and the mixture of milk thistle antioxidants known as silymarin aren’t just for liver and gallbladder health. This venerable ancient herbal medicine has at least 27 applications to a variety of health conditions affecting organ systems all over the body. It even appears in modern cosmeceuticals. The following article will outline 27 milk thistle uses in addition to liver and gallbladder support.
Milk Thistle for Liver Health Specifically
Milk thistle and silymarin are far more versatile in supporting liver health. It is the most well known of milk thistle uses.
- Milk thistle with silymarin improves liver enzymes in alcoholics. A study in a Finnish military hospital found that men with alcoholism who were given 420 mg of silymarin a day had lower liver enzymes, ALT and AST, in four weeks. Milk thistle does not, however, affect the reaction of the central nervous system to alcohol. As a result, people who drink get the same “buzz” from alcohol when they drink alcohol and when they do not.
- Milk thistle protects the liver from damage caused by common medications. Many common drugs, including steroids and immunosuppressants, like those used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, cause extensive liver damage. Milk thistle compounds modulate the immune system so that it does not remove “stressed” liver tissue by attacking it with white blood cells or generating inflammation.
- Silymarin limits liver damage caused by viral hepatitis A, B, and C. In an Italian study of 20 patients with chronic active hepatitis, taking just 240 mg/day of silybin-phosphatidylcholine complex every day for seven days significantly lowered serum liver enzymes that measure liver damage, including AST, ALT, gamma-glutamyltransferase (GGT), and alkaline phosphatase. In addition, silymarin lowered total bilirubin.
- Silymarin also helps to limit the damage caused by fatty liver when efforts to lose weight by diet are unsuccessful. If you diet and you take silymarin, a clinical study tells us that you will see improvements in your liver enzymes faster. In one study, non-alcoholic steatohepatitis patients who took just a low dose of silymarin (210 mg a day) had improved ALT and AST in eight weeks.
- Furthermore, silymarin is being investigated as a therapy for lung cancer, prostatic cancer, colon cancer, breast cancer, bladder cancer, and liver cancer, after laboratory discoveries of the mechanisms by which it regulates cancer cell growth, proliferation, apoptosis, and angiogenesis.
Milk Thistle for Gallbladder and Liver Health
The most common of milk thistle uses, of course, are for conditions of the gallbladder and liver. Milk thistle extracts and silymarin are used to treat a “static” gallbladder, a condition called cholestasis. Some of the symptoms of cholestasis are innocuous. There is usually dark urine. In addition, there may be yellowing of the skin.
One of the symptoms of cholestasis is extremely unpleasant, namely, constant, severe itching. People in this phase of the disease may not be able to sleep, work, or eat, and often result to self-mutilation just to stop the itch. Milk thistle will help to stop the itch if cholestasis is the cause.
Milk thistle stops cholestasis by stimulating the liver to secrete bile. The bile carries waste products out of the liver and into the bowel, where they can be flushed away with stool. Furthermore, silymarin also protects membranes that are irritated by bile salts that were not carried out of the liver with bile to stop the itch.
Doctors are most likely to recommend silymarin for cholestasis that does not respond to the more commonly used prescription drug ursodeoxycholic acid. Additionally, clinical studies find that silymarin is most effective in a dose of 180 mg taken three times a day, although it is not necessary to exactly duplicate this dosing schedule.
1. Milk Thistle Is An Edible Medicinal Weed
It is hard not to notice a stray milk thistle plant that sprouts in your garden. Who would have thought the list of milk thistle would be so long? This prickly green herbaceous plant can grow 3 to 10 feet (1 to 3 meters) tall. Its stalks sprout alternating green leaves that have white veins. If you cut a milk thistle leaf, it will ooze a milky sap. That’s how the plant got its name, milk thistle.
If you touch the edges of a milk thistle leaf, you will be poked by tiny barbs. In addition, at the top of the plant there is a purple flower that bears “fruit” and seeds. It is the fruit that is the best source of the well-known milk thistle chemical called silymarin, although silymarin is also found in the leaves, seeds, and taproot.
2. Milk Thistle as Food
One of the milk thistle uses that is often overlooked is the fact that milk thistle is an edible plant. The leaves make an interesting, spinach-like addition to salads—but it is important to remember to snip off their thorns first. In addition, the mature flower head can be eaten like a tiny Globe artichoke, but again, remember to remove the thorns. Furthermore, the peeled stalk can be cooked like celery, and the taproot tastes something like a Jerusalem artichoke. Furthermore, the seeds can be used in crackers and ground to make teas.
Most of us, however, don’t have milk thistle growing conveniently in our kitchen gardens. Rather, most of us use either milk thistle seed, or an extract called silymarin that contains the most important healing chemicals in the seed, or a combination of both.
However, milk thistle is not always taken orally. Sometimes it is used in cosmetics. That is because one of the antioxidants found in silymarin, silibinin, can even improve your skin tone.
4. Milk Thistle for Age-Related Macular Degeneration
Some very preliminary studies show that the silibinin in silymarin may stop the action of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), which accelerates the growth of fragile blood vessels that characterize the “wet” form of age-related macular degeneration. Though this is one of the milk thistle uses that is least studied, it appears that there is great potential here.
5. Milk Thistle Fights Germs
Milk thistle contains an unusually broad variety of compounds known as phenols, which have antibacterial activity. Among the microorganisms neutralized by silymarin in laboratory studies are Escherichia coli, extended spectrum β-lactamases (ESBL) producing Escherichia coli, Proteus mirabilis, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Pseudomonas aeruginosa.
6. Clinically Proven Milk Thistle Relief for Benign Prostatic Hypertrophy (Enlarged Prostate)
A clinical trial involving men who had benign prostate hypertrophy conducted in the Czech Republic found that taking 240 micrograms of selenium plus 570 mg of silymarin every day for 180 days improved urine flow, enlarged bladder capacity, and lowered prostate-specific antigen (PSA).
7. Milk Thistle for Beta-Thalassemia
Little known in the United States, beta-thalassemia is one of the world’s most common causes of anemia. Over one hundred million people in North Africa and Asia have this hereditary disease.
It is possible to treat the anemia with blood transfusions, but repeated blood transfusions cause toxic levels of iron to build up in the body, especially in the liver, kidneys, pancreas, and brain.
Clinical reports show that silymarin treatment helps prevent dysfunctions of the organs in conjunction with chelation therapy. Therefore, because silymarin is one of the active ingredients in the milk thistle plant, helping beta-thalassemia is another one of milk thistle uses.
8. Milk Thistle for Increasing Breast Milk Production
Mothers of pre-term infants (“preemies”) often have difficulty producing breast milk. Silymarin has been used to stimulate breast milk production for centuries.
The principle is so well established that outside the United States doctors simply accept it as a folk remedy with proven results and as one of the main milk thistle uses.
Unfortunately in the United States there was concern that the herb might somehow be harmful. However, it is not. A recent study confirmed that no harmful compounds go into breast milk from milk thistle.
9. Milk Thistle for Lowering Total Cholesterol While Raising HDL
A small-scale clinical trial with volunteers who had type II (hereditary, not dietary) high cholesterol found taking 420 mg of silymarin (a pharmaceutical grade form of milk thistle sold in Europe as Legalon) for 90 days “slightly” lowered total cholesterol but increased the percentage of protective HDL cholesterol without adversely affecting liver function. This is one of the milk thistle uses that is becoming more widely realized, and it has shown promising results so far.
10. Milk Thistle for Correcting Liver Disorders Caused by Preeclampsia
Preeclampsia is a condition of dangerously high blood pressure during pregnancy. It often requires early delivery of the baby to save the life of both the newborn and the mother. Preeclampsia often causes both liver and kidney damage.
Iranian scientists who gave mothers just a small 70 mg dose of silymarin 3 and then 24 hours after the pregnancy ended found that liver enzymes were more nearly normal on the second and third day compared to women who did not get silymarin. This is one of the most exciting newfound milk thistle uses, and we will surely see more research on this in the future.
11. Milk Thistle for Hearing Loss
Some preliminary studies suggest that silymarin may help prevent hearing loss caused by loud noise or chemical agents. While there is not as much research available to show this as one of the standard milk thistle uses, there are early findings that show great potential.
If you struggle with hearing loss, then taking a milk thistle supplement is worth a try. If nothing else, you will enjoy all of the other health benefits that this powerful plant has to offer.
12. Milk Thistle for Kidney Damage Caused by Contrast Dyes
The dyes used for MRIs and CAT scans sometimes cause serious kidney damage. In a clinical study, this kind of damage happened only about one-third as often in patients who had taken 420 mg of silymarin before the procedure.
13. Milk Thistle for Kidney Damage Caused by Diabetes
Kidney failure is a dreaded complication of long-term, uncontrolled type 2 diabetes. A clinical trial showed that adding milk thistle to common medications for diabetic kidney failure reduces protein “leaks” from the kidneys and improves creatinine levels.
14. Milk Thistle for Methamphetamine Abuse
Some very preliminary research suggests that a component of silymarin called silibinin may help In recovery of mental function after methamphetamine abuse. While yet to be extensively studied and added to the list of milk thistle uses, it appears that milk thistle could be a useful supplement for people who are struggling with methamphetamine addiction.
15. Milk Thistle for Mushroom Poisoning
In Europe, intravenous silymarin is standard treatment for poisoning by the deadly Amanita “death cap” mushrooms. Silymarin is also used to treat mushroom poisoning in the US but doctors are usually not familiar with it. However, this is certainly one of the undeniable milk thistle uses.
Just how well does silymarin work against this particular kind of mushroom poisoning? Generally speaking, severe liver damage can be avoided if silymarin is given by a doctor by IV within 24 hours of the poisoning. In one study, a series of 18 patients were treated with silymarin, and all patients survived except one patient.
16. Milk Thistle for Osteoporosis
Preliminary experiments show that silymarin helps rebalance the processes of bone destruction and bone creation to prevent fractures while building sturdier bones.
17. Milk Thistle for Parkinson’s Disease
Although the research is very preliminary, several studies suggest that silymarin may help stabilize the energy-making mitochondria in the cells of the hippocampus of the brain, preserving their ability to make and respond to dopamine, and slowing or stopping the progression of Parkinson’s disease.
As you are probably starting to realize, the list of milk thistle uses seems to be ever expanding. As more research is conducted, new important discoveries are made about this common weed as a healing plant.
18. Milk Thistle for Peptic and Duodenal Ulcers
Preliminary studies show that silymarin helps to resolve gastrointestinal ulcers by reducing production of stomach acid and by increasing the production of protective antioxidants such as superoxide dismutase.
19. Milk Thistle for Peyronie’s Disease
A study of 120 men with Peyronie’s disease (curvature of the penis) found that including silymarin with other daily antioxidants such as vitamin E, bilberry, and gingko reduced pain during sex and improved erectile dysfunction.
Antioxidant supplements are always maximally effective when combined with other medical treatments, such as topical diclofenac sodium and injectable pentoxifylline (PTX).
20. Milk Thistle for Prostate Cancer
Laboratory studies with prostate cancer cells suggest that silibinin is likely to inhibit the migration of prostate cancer into bone. Therefore, because silibinin is one of milk thistle’s active compounds, helping prostate cancer may be on the list of known milk thistle uses.
Once again, if you have prostate cancer, then it is worth a try because you will at the very least enjoy all of the other benefits this incredible plant has to offer.
21. Milk Thistle for Radiation-Induced Mucositis
One of the most difficult complications of radiation therapy for cancer is mucositis, a blistering of the soft tissues of the mouth, lips, and throat that make eating and drinking painful. A clinical trial involving volunteers who took 140 mg of silymarin or a placebo three times a day for six weeks found that silymarin delayed and decreased this painful reaction to radiation therapy.
22. Milk Thistle for Radiation Therapy for Prostate Cancer
One of the components of silymarin, a milk thistle chemical called silibinin, makes prostate cancer cells more susceptible to radiation treatment by inhibiting their DNA repair mechanisms. When the cancer cell is irradiated, it is more likely to die when there has been silymarin treatment. Yet another reason to add it to the list of milk thistle uses.
23. Milk Thistle for Rheumatoid Arthritis
An international clinical trial involving volunteers who had rheumatoid arthritis treated with Prednisolone, Hydroxychloroquine or Sulfasalazin, and Methotrexate tested the effects of adding a silymarin supplement. All of the volunteers for the trial had RA for at least two years already.
Taking 140 mg of silymarin three times a day for three months resulted in a complete remission from joint tenderness in 61 percent of the volunteers and a complete remission from joint swelling in 71 percent.
In addition, these results agreed with laboratory findings that “sed” rate and CRP, both measures of inflammation, were negative in approximately 70 percent of the volunteers by the end of the study. Therefore, this may quickly be becoming one of the main milk thistle uses.
24. Milk Thistle for Sepsis
Some very preliminary studies point to the use of silymarin in preventing potentially deadly lung and brain injury caused by sepsis, especially in diabetics. If this indeed turns out to be one of the proven milk thistle uses, then it would be an ideal natural treatment for sepsis.
25. Milk Thistle for Weight Control in Type 2 Diabetes
The plant chemical berberine, found in goldenseal and Oregon grape root, has long been believed to be useful In controlling blood sugar levels and helping type 2 diabetics to lose weight. The problem with berberine is that it is poorly absorbed.
Combining berberine with a silymarin phytosome, however, increases the absorption of both. In addition, a clinical study in which type 2 diabetics were given silymarin plus berberine or a placebo for 52 weeks found that the combination of these two herbal supplements resulted in:
- Lower weight.
- Lower waist line measurements.
- Lower waist/hip ratio.
- Lower triglycerides.
- Lower total cholesterol.
- Higher HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol),
- Lower levels of uric acid, which meant that the volunteers who took both silymarin and berberine were less susceptible to gout.
Therefore, natural weight control may become one of the top milk thistle uses. OmniBiotics stays up to date with all of the most recent scientific research on natural supplements, especially with our own ingredients. As a result, you will see updates in all of this information as the research evolves.
26. Milk Thistle for Wound Healing
Sterile dressings with silymarin help newly formed skin cells find their way into the protein matrix of new skin forming over a wound. This property may be used to create products that accelerate the healing of slow-to-heal wounds of diabetics.
27. Milk Thistle in Cosmetics
Herbal cosmeceuticals for nourishing as well as improving the appearance of the skin are becoming more and more popular. Since the primary mechanism through which exposure to the sun ages the skin is oxidation, herbal antioxidants are an obvious, natural remedy for rejuvenating the skin.
Silibinin is possibly the most versatile of all the herbal cosmeceutical ingredients on the market today. And because milk thistle contains silibinin, herbal cosmeceuticals is another one of the milk thistle uses becoming well known.
Scientific studies have shown that silibinin:
- Stops the progression of DNA damage In skin cells to skin cancer.
- Activates a gene called p53 to ensure that precancerous cells in the skin don’t multiply.
Furthermore, some of the most advanced cosmeceuticals use silibinin to:
- “Calms” the skin to prevent outbreaks of rosacea.
- Moisturizes and prevents chafing of sun-dried lips.
What is the best form of milk thistle?
Most of the clinical research into the applications of milk thistle has used silymarin, a mixture of eight antioxidant chemicals found in milk thistle, because this mixture can be standardized to yield reliable results. The true potency of healing plants, however, is not limited to any one healing chemical.
That’s why it is always best to take a product that delivers both the known power of silymarin in a standardized dose, along with the whole herb for the fullest range of milk thistle benefits.