Milk Thistle: What You Should Know

Of all the new "super supplements" popping up, chances are you've heard of this one (even if you're not sure what it is, what it does, or even if it comes from milk or not).


Well, to answer the first important question, no, it doesn't come from actual milk (just in case you were wondering). But it has been around and in use in traditional medicine for well over 2,000 years. There are a number of health benefits associated with milk thistle, making it an excellent addition to your daily vitamin regimen. Of course, before you begin anything, here's everything you need to know about what milk thistle does and doesn't know (plus a little bit about where it comes from). 

A Bit More About Milk Thistle

The plant itself has been around and in use for over 2,000 years. It comes from the region around the Mediterranean and comes from the same plant family as daisies and the sunflower. In fact, written record of the milk thistle being used by physicians dates back to around 40 AD, which means it had been used for likely decades, if not longer, prior to its written record. 

As milk thistle isn't anything coming from the utter of an animal, it earned its name due to the milky-like liquid that comes out of the plant when the stalk is snapped. Additionally, the leaves of the plant possess a spotted white appearance as well. 

How Does Milk Thistle Work?

Most of the health benefits of milk thistle come from the plant's ability to draw toxins out of the body (such as the liver). Due to this, the plant has been used as a way to combat liver disorders for centuries and a way to deliver high levels of antioxidants. 

The milk thistle extract doesn't just come from the stem of the plant though. It also comes from the seeds. The seeds of milk thistle are packed with large amounts of lipophilic extracts, which are bioflavonoid antioxidants. These kinds of antioxidants are used to help with the body's immune system (US National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health, 2010).


Liver Detox

When it comes to detoxing and helping the liver, milk thistle provides a number of helpful benefits. For starters, it helps rebuild cells within the liver while, at the same time, drawing out toxins from within the tissue walls of the organ. Due to this, a number of people will use it as a way to help cleanse the body after alcohol consumption. With heavy alcohol assumption, the damage has already been done so it's not a magic supplement designed to help prevent hangovers. 

However, while the best way to combat alcohol consumption on the liver is to limit its consumption in the first place, milk thistle can help draw out chemicals found in a food supply (like pesticides). It can also help remove the build-up of heavy metals within the liver, which may enter the body through drinking water. 

There are some who will say the liver does not need help detoxifying because that is its one job (and it is the largest physical organ within the body). However, with all of the different detoxifying jobs the liver must do, the milk thistle aids in keeping the organ itself clean. Think of it like a sponge. A sponge will absorb dirt and grime while cleaning. While the sponge is able to remove and absorb all of this, the sponge itself doesn't remain clean, which can affect its ability to absorb and perform its job. The milk thistle works as a cleaner that removes these toxins from the liver, allowing it to perform its function to the best of its ability. 

Some common liver issues milk thistle helps with include toxin-induced liver disease, varying forms of hepatitis and extensive damage sustained by your liver trough extensive alcohol consumption (Phytotherapy Research, 2010). 

Help Anti-Aging

As milk thistle is able to remove toxins from the body, it prevents these toxins from reaching your skin. It also helps prevent different toxins from entering the body through the digestive tract or from being circulated throughout through the blood. By preventing this (or by reducing it, at the very least), there's less of an impact on your body, which in turn helps reduce the effect of aging on your body. Due to this, while taking milk thistle, you're likely to see an improvement in your skin, not to mention a reduction in skin cancer symptoms, such as dark spots, lines, and wrinkles. 

It's important to not replace necessary skincare practices such as sunscreen with milk thistle, but when added to a current skincare regimen, it will help improve the appearance of your skin (Photochemistry and Photobiology, 2008).

Prevent Gallstones

If you've ever had any kind of "stone," you know just how painful this is. Stones form in different areas of the body. Kidney stones and gallstones are two of the most common. While anyone can experience the development of these stones, genetics do play a part. You may even know some people who seem to continually suffer from stones of one capacity or another (or perhaps you're this unlucky individual). By including milk thistle with your daily diet, it helps prevent the development of stones in your kidney, gallbladder, intestines, and pancreas to properly digest food without leading to the development of these stones. 

This is possible as milk thistle helps increase bile flow while helping with the detoxification of the gallbladder. Gallstones form with the combination of cholesterol within bile bind together. Think of it like a river. If a river doesn't flow it will collect debris and begin to dam. By improving the flow of bile within your system you'll help avoid the development of these stones (Alternative Medicine Review, 2005). 


Prevent Diabetes

Milk thistle helps reduce blood sugar levels. For anyone who suffers from higher blood sugar levels milk thistle, as well as a specific treatment plan, can help reduce these levels while improving the body's ability to prevent the development of diabetes (Phytotherapy Research, 2012). 

In Conclusion

There's much to love when it comes to milk thistle. It's one of those supplements that have been around for thousands of years and some families (especially those coming from the Mediterranean regions) that have used it in their diets for generations. Whether you've used milk thistle previously, you have family members constantly offering it to you or you're simply interested in checking it out and giving it a try, now is a great time to begin adding it to your daily dietary regimen.