Milk Thistle: A Promising Health-Promoting Herb

For approximately 2000 years, milk thistle extracts have been utilized as natural remedies. The extracts are still actively used to manage chronic liver disorders and protect the liver from poisons. Recent experimental and clinical investigations reveal that milk thistle extracts have anticancer, antidiabetic, and cardioprotective properties.

In this article, we shall learn more about this extraordinary herb and what scientific research says about its health benefits. First, let's peep into the first question that comes to your mind - "what is milk thistle.So, let's begin!


What is milk thistle?

Milk thistle is a blooming herb that belongs to the same family as ragweed and daisies. Other names for it include Mary thistle and holy thistle. It is indigenous to nations in the Mediterranean.


The scientific name of milk thistle is Silybum marianum. Its common name is milk thistle, which refers to the plant's white patterns on the leaves and the milky white sap that nursing mothers have traditionally relied on to produce more milk. However, Pliny the Elder (23–79 AD) and the Greeks are credited with discovering its benefits as a liver protector and decongestant, noting that it was effective for "carrying off bile."


The three flavonolignans silibinin, silychristin, and silydianin, which are collectively known as silymarin and are isolated from milk thistle seeds and fruits, which are sold commercially as a standardized extract, are the active compounds in Milk Thistle. The health advantages of milk thistle are mainly due to them. Let's now see what milk thistle is good for.


What are the benefits of milk thistle?

Milk Thistle Flower kidney cleansing herbs

Great natural antioxidant

It is claimed that silymarin's phenolic structure enables stable molecules formed from hydroxylic and oxygen radicals. The expression of superoxide dismutase (SOD), a natural antioxidant, in lymphocytes of patients with alcoholic cirrhosis was shown to be considerably elevated with silymarin.


Silymarin can also lower the free radical load and limit cell lysis, according to in vivo research done on rats. Wondering if milk thistle is good for kidneys? Silibinin in milk thistle could decrease or avoid the harmful consequences of drugs like paracetamol, cisplatin, and vincristine, which will be very beneficial in preventing the detrimental effects of drugs.


Due to their outstanding capacity to scavenge free radicals, milk thistle's bioactive components exhibit unrivaled antioxidant activity. According to some studies, silymarin has at least ten times as much antioxidant activity as vitamin E. It causes a 35–50% rise in glutathione in the liver. The liver's ability to detoxify becomes more powerful when there are high glutathione levels.

Also Read: Kidney Cleansing Foods, Herbs, and Vitamins


Impressive neuroprotective properties

In a cell study, milk thistle silymarin significantly reduced the damage to neurons by inhibiting the activation of microglia and the production of inflammatory mediators such as tumor necrosis factor-alpha and nitric oxide (NO).Additionally, milk thistle extract shielded neurons from oxidative stress-related cell death.


Outstanding anti-inflammatory properties

Milk thistle has fantastic anti-inflammatory properties owing to its immune-modulating capabilities. In numerous cell structures and pathways, silymarin exhibits anti-inflammatory and immuno-modulatory effects.

How does milk thistle work? According to a preclinical study, silibinin inhibited TNF's impact on hepatocytes by reducing the effects of harmful reactive oxygen species. Several pieces of evidence suggested that silymarin suppressed the production of adhesion molecules involved in inflammatory pathways. Silymarin is shown to reduce cytotoxicity in human cells in vitro studies, which aids in reducing inflammation.

Silibinin has been proven to modify the immune response in vivo by preventing the intrahepatic expression of inflammatory molecules such as tumor necrosis factor, interferon, interleukin (IL)-4, and IL-2.


Enhances protein synthesis

To recover from acute or chronic diseases, liver cells must regenerate. Fibrosis and cellular regeneration both occur concurrently in chronic illness—the nature of the procedure that predominates impacts the overall result. Protein is the primary factor in tissue regeneration.

According to reports, silibinin significantly increases the production of ribosomes, increasing the body's synthesis of proteins. To heal the injured hepatocytes and return to the liver's normal functioning, this action has significant therapeutic implications.


Noteworthy antifibrotic activity

The development of an excessive quantity of scar tissue in the liver is known as hepatic fibrosis. When the liver tries to replace and repair damaged cells, it starts to happen. It may cause the liver's structure to change, which may cause hepatic insufficiency, portal hypertension, or hepatic encephalopathy.

Silymarin suppresses molecules that cause necrosis after injury, delaying the development of scar tissue. Additionally, it prevents liver fibrosis by inhibiting protein kinases and other kinases. In one study, silymarin (50 mg/kg) given orally to rats who had sustained liver injury from carbon tetrachloride reduced the fibrosis in their livers by up to 55%.

In similar studies, 50 mg/kg/day resulted in a 30% reduction in scar tissue. Silymarin has also been observed to slow the progression of alcohol-induced liver fibrosis over time.

 Benefits of milk thistle infographics

Helps with diabetes

A daily silymarin dose of 600 mg for six months resulted in significant reductions in fasting blood glucose and mean daily glucose levels in patients with diabetes and alcoholic liver cirrhosis. There was no increase in episodes of hypoglycemia.

And the need for insulin was also reduced by 20%, indicating that the use of silymarin may have improved insulin sensitivity. After six months of treatment, it was also observed that HbA1c levels were significantly decreased, indicating its potential antidiabetic property.


Significant Cholesterol-lowering effects

According to studies, silybin, an ingredient in milk thistle, lowers cholesterol levels in mice just as well as the widely used medication probucol. According to a study, silybin can raise HDL (good) cholesterol levels without having adverse effects that are sometimes linked with pharmaceutical medications.


Has promising anticancer effects

Finding powerful, nontoxic antioxidants to prevent cancer is a crucial research topic because oxidative stress is one of the main factors in cancer development. It has been found that silymarin, a polyphenolic flavonoid antioxidant, displays therapeutic and anticancer properties against cancer in both animal and cell culture research.

For instance, silymarin significantly inhibits the promotion of malignant tumors and photocarcinogenesis in mice, particularly by scavenging free radicals and reactive oxygen species and boosting the antioxidant system. It has been seen that this active ingredient, silymarin, also prevents the growth of human prostate, breast, and cervical cancer cells.


Potential galactagogue

What's a galactagogue? Those are the foods and natural substances which help in enhancing the production of breast milk in feeding mothers. There is not much research to establish milk thistle as a galactagogue, but recent research has some promising findings. The study has shown milk thistle to significantly increase the amount of circulating prolactin hormone in the female body and thus enhancing the milk production in the milk ducts.

Hope you have got the answer to your question, "What does milk thistle do." This miraculous little herb can do wonders to your health if consumed regularly. There are lots of milk thistle tea-based products available in the market nowadays, but the bioactive compounds are poorly soluble in water; thus, the efficiency of such teas is questionable.

Are you confused about which brand you should go for? Comment below, and we would love to suggest some great brands according to your health goals.