The Health Benefits of Milk Thistle

Prickly yet pretty, milk thistle is a plant with a long, thin stem, spiny leaves, and a purplish-pink thistle at the top. Often considered a weed, it has been used for hundreds of years as a natural, herbal way to treat liver and gallbladder diseases.

This plant is named for the white lines that streak across its green leaves. If the leaves are ripped or crushed, a milky white liquid oozes out. You might also hear it called Mary thistle or holy thistle.

Milk thistle is native to Europe’s Mediterranean region. It now grows all over the world, including northern Africa, South Australia, and parts of North and South America.

It’s sometimes called silymarin, which is one of the main components of the plant’s seeds. The terms milk thistle and silymarin are often used interchangeably, even though they aren’t exactly the same thing.

Silymarin is considered an antioxidant and an anti-inflammatory. In the United States, it’s one of the most commonly used herbal supplements for liver issues.

It’s regularly used as a complementary therapy by people who have liver damage due to conditions like alcoholic liver disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, hepatitis and even liver cancer.

It’s also used to protect the liver against toxins like amatoxin, which is produced by the death cap mushroom and is deadly if ingested.

Studies have shown improvements in liver function in people with liver diseases who have taken a milk thistle supplement, suggesting it could help reduce liver inflammation and liver damage.

Although more research is needed on how it works, milk thistle is thought to reduce damage to the liver caused by free radicals, which are produced when your liver metabolizes toxic substances.

One study also found that it may slightly extend the life expectancy of people with cirrhosis of the liver due to alcoholic liver disease.

And although milk thistle extract is commonly used as a complementary therapy for people with liver diseases, there’s currently no evidence that it can prevent you from getting these conditions, especially if you have an unhealthy lifestyle.

This purgative, detoxifying botanical is featured in Lifestyle30 Cleanse.