Scientifically it is known as Silybum marianum, but it is practically usual to name it as milk thistle.
A robust plant, of great rusticity and that in good soils can reach the meter of height. It is a biennial herbaceous plant of the Asteraceae like many other medicinal plants that we have mentioned on the web.
This plant is very typical in the Mediterranean area, also finding identical species and subtypes in China and India.
Today it is widespread practically all over the world and widespread in Europe (countries such as Russia, Poland, Ukraine, etc.)
Characteristics of milk thistle
If we see it in the field, many classify it as a weed, both for the shape of its leaves, pointed and punctured when rubbing against them, and the morphology of the entire aerial part.
The floral part also has pointed shapes that protect the flower from violet or pink color.
Its stem is ribbed, similar to celery, with a powerful root system and a great capacity for water and nutrient absorption.
Flowering occurs in spring and summer (between April and August). Milk thistle is used to growing in areas where there are good levels of organic matter and nitrogen available.
It grows to a height of 1300 meters in calcareous and even stony soils. We can see it isolated in all types of soils and areas, such as roadsides, clearings, train tracks, etc.
In ancient times it has been used as floor protector, thanks to the powerful root system it generates, and as an ornamental in some gardens.
Although we are going to comment on the most important medicinal properties of milk thistle, it should also be mentioned that it is used in cosmetics and in traditional gastronomy to curdle milk and make yogurts and cheeses.
Medicinal properties of milk thistle
Active ingredients present in the plant
The highest concentration of active components in this plant are found in the seeds. Analyzed by chromatograph, the following active ingredients have been studied.
- Silymarin (flavolignans)
- Unsaturated fatty acids (palmitic, oleic and linoleic)
1. Treatment of liver damage
Milk thistle is a perfect complement to treatments against acute hepatitis and chronic hepatitis.
However, it is necessary to consult it before with a specialist to know possible contraindications with modern pharmacology.
2. Fatty liver and liver disease
By favoring the reduction of triglycerides and its accumulation in the liver tissue, reduces the problems derived from the fatty liver. Positive effects have also been seen in the treatment of liver diseases related to acute and chronic cirrhosis.
It helps reduce high bilirubin levels and restore affected liver tissues.
The silibinin, present in milk thistle, has been shown to offer good protective activity of the liver against poisoning by the fungus Amanita phalloides.
Initially an intravenous treatment is done with the pure extract, and subsequently maintenance is done orally with this active substance.
3. Food poisoning
Milk thistle, taken as an infusion after heavy, lipid-rich meals, promotes digestive transit, helping to reduce the fixation of fats and favoring the segregation of stomach acids.
Some currently present research has identified milk thistle as a potent antitoxic effect on lead fixation in liver tissue in combination with Vitamin C.
4. High cholesterol
Different combinations of pure milk thistle extract have been tested, with positive results in analysis of cholesterol and triglycerides. Above all, this result is interesting in patients where statins (blockers of cholesterol production by the liver) have been eliminated.
In trials on mice, the Active ingredient silymarin encouraged the increase in levels of good cholesterol, as opposed to triglycerides and bad cholesterol.
5. Digestive tonic
Some of its active ingredients favor the secretion of bile. This improves intestinal transit in complicated digestions.
It favors, in turn, a better fat removal, acting as a chelator of toxic compounds (such as heavy metals) for the body.
6. Preventive against respiratory infections
Pure milk thistle extract has been tested along with antihistamines currently used, demonstrating that it enhances its effect and further reduces the processes of allergy and respiratory infections caused by pollen, dust and other causes.
In addition, it has anti-inflammatory effect by the active substance similarin.
7. Promotes the elimination of gallstones
A study of Spanish origin evaluated the effect of milk thistle on pregnant women affected by cholestasis (gallstones). The results were very positive and did not produce toxic effects in the people subjected to the treatment.
These benefits have been localized to the active substance of silymarin, a flavonoid that stimulates recovery from the affected liver tissue.
8. Anti-inflammatory effect
The active substance similarin has a strong anti-inflammatory action in the short term, which in research has come to surpass modern drugs. These studies have been tested with excellent results in patients with knee problems and lower body mobility problems.
In a tested trial on animals subjected to dermal lesions and inflammations (due to the presence of mites), milk thistle promoted the reduction of skin lesions and skin inflammation.
9. Reduces bleeding
Among its active ingredients, we can find several with astringent power. This helps to contract the tissues with hemorrhages, favoring the healing of wounds. We can use milk thistle to reduce pain from burns, skin ulcers, acne or nosebleeds.
10. Antioxidant properties
In combination with other herbs, such as Bacopa monnieri, has been shown to create a potent antioxidant effect by the presence of vitamins C and E. It was applied in elderly patients (>75 years), obtaining a notable increase in the concentration of all kinds of vitamins with antioxidant action, being able to supply the current food supplements rich in this type of vitamins.
11. Improvement of enlarged prostate symptoms (benign hyperplasia)
Although research is still being carried out today, it seems that there are good results combining current drugs and pure milk thistle extract over a period of 6 months.
These clinical trials must be repeated to have clear medical certainty of their efficacy.
12. Reduces the effects of menopause
At a certain age, it is normal for hormonal changes to occur in women that cause night sweats and hot flashes.
The medium-term treatment (more than 3 months) of the pure milk thistle extract in the clinical trial managed to reduce hot flashes by up to 75% and night sweats by 70%, significantly improving the quality of sleep.
Dosage and how to take it
The dose for acute liver damage you must concentrate a minimum of 400 mg of pure silymarin extract, on a daily basis, with a duration of 6 months.
This means 3 to 6 tablets a day, taken with plenty of water.
When looking for different tablets with pure silymarin extract, it is recommended to buy those with a minimum percentage of 70%.
Purchase options with high silymarin content:
Milk thistle treatment for diabetes
It is recommended to consume 200 mg of milk thistle extract 1 or 2 times a day for 4 months.
Against upset stomach
In specialized stores there are combinations that contain milk thistle and other herbs that have proven their efficacy in digestive treatments, taking one infusion a day for 2 months until the upset stomach is eliminated.
There are a number of contraindications to milk thistle, from the point of allergic sight.
Although it has been shown that it does not produce alterations in pregnant women, some of its principles can be toxic and cause stomach disorders (diarrhea), due to the laxative effect of some of its principles.
In topical applications, there have been the case of dermatitis and the appearance of eczema.
Some detected disorders caused by a high consumption of silymarin (Bordeaux broth):
- Stomach disorders
- Nausea and vomiting
- Allergic processes
Before taking it, it is advisable to decrease the standard dose and check that none of the negative effects indicated occur.
- Anti-inflammatory activity of silymarin in patients with knee osteoarthritis. A comparative study with piroxicam and meloxicam.
- A randomized controlled trial to assess the safety and efficacy of silymarin on symptoms, signs and biomarkers of acute hepatitis.
- Inhibition of atopic dermatitis by topical application of silymarin in NC/Nga mice.
- The induction of human superoxide dismutase and catalase in vivo: a fundamentally new approach to antioxidant therapy.
- Amelioration of lead toxicity on rat liver with Vitamin C and silymarin supplements.
- Pilot study of oral silibinin, a putative chemopreventive agent, in colorectal cancer patients: silibinin levels in plasma, colorectum, and liver and their pharmacodynamic consequences.