Milk thistle, scientific name silybum marianum, is a plant of the Asteraceae family, the same as the artichoke and dandelion, and is a remedy known and used for more than 2000 years. Science has dedicated several studies aimed at verifying and investigating the health properties of milk thistle. Today we will talk about the benefits of milk thistle and we will do so based on the latest scientific research.
Milk thistle for the liver
Milk thistle is very effective for protecting the liver and stimulating detoxification processes. In fact, the whole plant contains a compound called silymarin, the highest concentration of which is found in the fruits and seeds of milk thistle. Silymarin counteracts liver fibrosis and protects the liver from damage from toxins and drugs (Abenavoli et al, Phytother Res, 2010). This substance contained in milk thistle improves liver function and helps protect healthy cells, also being useful in cases of fatty liver (Gillessen et al, Adv Ther, 2020 - Hashem et al, Drugs Context, 2023). In people with diabetes and liver damage, milk thistle allowed to reduce the signs of liver dysfunction and to improve blood sugar levels (Gillessen et al, Adv Ther, 2020).
Milk thistle against cellular degeneration and aging processes
The active ingredient of milk thistle, silymarin, is antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, counteracts aging processes and cellular degeneration, inhibiting their formation and progression (Emadi et al, Iran J Basic Med Sci, 2022). Studies have observed that milk thistle tea has a greater antioxidant action than that of black tea (Aziz et al, Food Sci Nutr, 2021).
Milk thistle, cholesterol and diabetes
Milk thistle and brain
Milk thistle and its active ingredient silymarin have shown an interesting neuroprotective action, known by tradition and demonstrated in recent years also by science (Devi et al, Curr Drug Targets, 2017). This action can be traced back, in particular, to the ability to counteract neuroinflammation and free radical damage at the brain level, to stimulate the vitality of neurons, to regulate neurotransmitters and reduce the number of neurotoxic aggregates of beta amyloid proteins, the hallmark of Alzheimer's (Devi et al, Curr Drug Targets, 2017). Therefore, milk thistle and silymarin contribute to counteracting brain aging processes and neurodegeneration (Galhardi et al, Food Chem Toxicol, 2009).
Milk thistle and bone health
According to studies, milk thistle also protects bone health, counteracting bone loss and osteoporosis, even in post-menopausal women, when estrogen deficiency increases the risk of bone fragility (Kim et al, Biomed Res Int, 2013).
Milk thistle, other uses
As the famous herbalist Messegue states, milk thistle comes to the rescue in cases of constipation, poor appetite, but also a feeling of generalized tiredness thanks to its tonic action, asthma, allergies and nausea, even carsickness (Messegue, my herbarium).
Milk thistle, how to take it
Milk thistle can be found in herbalist's shops and pharmacies in the form of capsules, extracts, tinctures and preparations for herbal teas. Always try to stock up on shops you know and that sell quality products, as possible contamination of toxins and pesticides in milk thistle-based products that are not well tested and of low quality cannot be ruled out (Fenclova et al, Scientific Reports, 2019). As for the preparation of herbal teas, here is the recipe for milk thistle tea. Bring a cup of water to the boil, remove from the heat and add a teaspoon of the plant. Leave to infuse for ten minutes, then filter.
Milk thistle, warnings
Studies on silymarin, the compound contained in milk thistle, have shown that the remedy is generally safe and well tolerated. There are few studies on its safety during pregnancy and breastfeeding and therefore, pending further clarity, it is best to avoid milk thistle in these phases. The interaction of milk thistle with medicines is minimal but exists, it is therefore always necessary to ask your doctor for advice if you are taking medicines and intend to start treatment with milk thistle (Soleimani et al, Phytother Res, 2019).