The plant milk thistle is often looked at as a troublesome weed that grows near our homes and in the woods. The plants purple flowers are nice enough to look at, but they eventually turn into those annoying brown burrs that get stuck to your skin, clothing, and pets. However it appears that this plant is not as bad as it seems. Milk thistle actually is a very important herb for our health and is even responsible for prolonging and saving lives.
Milk thistle has been used medicinally for over 2000 years with its most popular applications being for liver and gallbladder disorders. The main active ingredient in the plant is a special flavonoid called silymarin which is extracted from the seeds. When supplementing milk thistle, it is most effective to take an extract as opposed to a tea from the seeds as the silymarin is not very water soluble and you get a much better absorption rate when taking it in an extract form.
When looking for a good milk thistle, it is wise to use one that is standardized. This means that the main active ingredient is measured to a consistent state. Typically, milk thistle is standardized to contain 70-80% silymarin.
There are many practical uses for supplementing milk thistle. Silymarin is a known antioxidant. This means that it helps to protect the body from oxidative stress and free radical damage.
Milk thistle has anti-inflammatory effects on the body. This is especially important for protecting the liver cells from swelling from stress or injury.
Silymarin assists in the new growth of healthy liver cells while at the same time discouraging the formation of unhealthy fibrous tissue. This is especially important for those with liver disease such as hepatitis, liver cancer, and cirrhosis.
Milk thistle has even demonstrated immune enhancing effects. This immune boosting property alone makes the herb important and warrants further research.
Milk thistle is generally considered a safe herb for nearly everyone. However, pregnant women should not take the herb as it may interfere with the normal development of the baby.
Women who have breast, ovary, or uterus cancer or some other form of hormone related cancer or health condition like endometriosis or uterine fibroids should not take milk thistle as the plant may have some possible estrogen like effects.
Men with prostate cancer should also no
t take milk thistle without doctor supervision again because of its estrogen like properties.
And finally, those who have allergic reactions to the family of plants that include chrysanthemums, daisies, and ragweed may want to use the herb with care as it is related to these possible allergens.