Milk Thistle (Silybum marianu) is a short, wide, prickly plant that is, ironically, considered an “invasive species” and is toxic to cattle. However, the seeds of this plant contain copious amounts of a very beneficial ingredient called Silymarin.
The Silymarin in Milk Thistle is a powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), Milk Thistle has been used for more than 2,000 years as to address problems of the liver, bile ducts and gallbladder. Recent studies have shown that it improves the health of people with Type II Diabetes, lowering cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
Not surprisingly, because Milk Thistle is a powerful antioxidant it has strong cell-protecting capacity. Many scientific studies have shown that it has hepato-protective effects—that is, it can help protect the liver from damage from toxic or disease-causing agents. Studies on animals have shown that Milk Thistle/Silymarin supplementation can reduce the damage caused to the liver by Acetaminophen (Tylenol), alcohol, excessive iron and carbon tetrachloride.
Although results have been mixed, some human studies show improved health in humans with cirrhosis and hepatitis. A recent clinical trial has also suggested that Milk Thistle may reduce the liver toxicity associated with cancer chemotherapy.
While few side effects have been reported from the use of Milk Thistle seed extract, capsules or tablets can sometimes cause stomach irritation. A mild laxative effect has been reported as well. Despite its relative safety, the usual cautions apply for pregnant/nursing women and anyone taking prescription drugs. Anyone wanting to use Milk Thistle for a serious medical condition must consult with their health care professional first.
Milk Thistle is widely available as a nutritional supplement in many forms—tablets or capsules, liquid extract and as part of multi-ingredient nutritional supplements. It can be purchased in health food stores and many mainstream drugstores and supermarkets.
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