Some of the most important health benefits of milk thistle include its ability to detoxify the liver, speed organ repair, treat certain symptoms of cancer, treat fungal infections, cure hangovers, protect against side effects of pharmaceuticals, slow the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, reduce the risk of heart disease, and manage the symptoms of diabetes.
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What is Milk Thistle?
You may know milk thistle by any number of other names, depending on where you are in the world, including Marian thistle, Mediterranean milk thistle, Scotch thistle, and many others. Scientifically, it is known as Silybmom marianum, and it is an annual flowering plant with reddish-purple flowers. Although this plant was once native to southern Europe and certain parts of Asia, it has now been naturalized in many places around the world. This plant is so widely known and highly praised due to the powerful organic components found in its seeds. It is from these seeds that milk thistle extract is derived, which includes high concentrations of silymarin, the most unique and active ingredient in the extract. The extract also contains various fatty acids, including linoleic acid.
Although research is widespread concerning the medicinal benefits of milk thistle, many of the results are contradictory or hotly debated. What has been agreed on is the significant impact that milk thistle extract can have on liver function and health, for which this plant has been used for centuries. The roots are occasionally eaten raw or boiled, and the shoots can be boiled down to something like asparagus. Even the leaves can be used as a replacement for spinach, but none of these culinary uses are nearly as popular as the use of the extract for various herbal and alternative health remedies. Let’s take a closer look at some of these important health benefits of milk thistle.
Health Benefits of Milk Thistle
Health benefits of milk thistle includes:
Detoxifies the Body
Perhaps the most common usage of milk thistle extract is as a detoxifying agent, due to its strong impact on the liver. As you know, the liver is responsible for handling many of the toxins in the body and eliminating them safely. Milk thistle’s range of organic components is very effective at stimulating the function of the liver and cleaning out the lymphatic system to keep your body running right.
When people suffer from liver disease or cirrhosis, the liver is essentially compromised and its functions suffers. While this damage to the liver can be reversed, it is a slow process. Milk thistle extract can help to speed up the healing process in the liver, undoing much of the damage from excessive drinking or other damaging behaviors on the liver.
Although research into milk thistle’s effects on cancer is still in its early stages, it appears that milk thistle extract can have an inhibitory effect on the growth of cancer cells and tumors on the skin and can also help prevent cancerous growth in the prostate, breast, and cervix. Given the rapidity and mortality rates of those particular types of cancer, milk thistle extract may be a major herbal advantage.
There are certain fungal infections that milk thistle has been shown to neutralize, and that probably relates to milk thistle’s traditional use as a remedy for mushroom poisoning. Many varieties of mushrooms are dangerous, and the “death cap” mushroom is particularly toxic, but milk thistle can be administered to prevent mortality.
Although the exact pathway is uncertain, it appears that the mixture of antioxidants, fatty acids, and sylimarin in milk thistle extract can actually work to regulate insulin levels and maintain even blood sugar levels for people who suffer from or are at risk of developing diabetes.
Improves Heart Health
As mentioned earlier, milk thistle extract contains high concentrations of beneficial fatty acids and omega-3s, which are essential for maintaining heart health. Omega-3 fatty acids are able to balance the cholesterol levels in your body, which can prevent atherosclerosis, thereby lowering your risk of experiencing a stroke or a heart attack.
Pharmaceutical Side Effects
Many people who suffer injuries are required to take pharmaceuticals to manage the pain. Very strong painkillers not only have a profound effect on your body’s perception of pain, but also on your liver. When taken for long periods of time, which can happen if patients become addicted, milk thistle extract can help to protect the liver, which can easily be damaged by excessive pharmaceutical use.
This is a relatively new area of research for milk thistle, but some researchers believe that using milk thistle extract can stimulate cognitive ability and open up new neural pathways, effectively slowing the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
A Final Word of Warning
It is not a commonly allergenic substance, although it has been known to cause nausea, cramping, diarrhea, and excess gas. Also, if you are allergic to ragweed, you should avoid using milk thistle, as they are closely related. Finally, women with estrogen deficiencies or endometriosis should avoid this extract, as it can cause estrogen levels to fluctuate.