Do you like to have your fair share of alcoholic drinks? Is imbibing your idea of decompressing? Have you been on a course of antibiotics lately? If you said yes to these questions and want to know about a not-so-popular supplement, then perhaps you should know more about milk thistle.
What is Milk Thistle?
Milk thistle is an herb that has been in use for centuries to promote liver, gall bladder and kidney health. It is packed with the flavonoid silymarin, which is believed to be the carrier of many of its beneficial factors, which includes protection for the liver as well as anti-viral, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory characteristics.
Found in the Mediterranean but now present all over the world, milk thistle is considered to be a weed in some places, in spite of its therapeutic reputation. When its leaves are mashed, they bring out a milky-like sap, hence its name. Milk thistle is also capable of promoting healthy digestive function by aiding in enzyme creation, raising bile production, lessening inflammation and comforting the mucous membranes all over the body.
Liver Conditions That Can Be Treated by Milk Thistle
Milk thistle primarily is recommended to sustain liver health and to shield it from toxins like alcohol, a contaminated environment or work area, and many liver related ailments. Liver-related problems where milk thistle is recommended are:
- Alcoholic cirrhosis
- Fatty liver, nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)
- Fibrosis and Cirrhosis
- Chronic active hepatitis
- Drug and alcohol caused liver damage
- Acute viral hepatitis
- Hepatic toxicity due to steroid usage
- Environmental toxins and sensitivities
- Steady moderate-to-heavy alcohol drinking
- A medical condition that requires the use of hepatotoxic drugs
10 Detoxifying Benefits of Milk Thistle
Milk Thistle May Protect Against Drug Overdose and Hepatic Damage
Milk thistle has been proven to be a useful chemopreventive and antineoplastic agent, in addition to having antihepatotoxic activity. In one study, results showed that milk thistle demonstrated an ability to protect against hepatic damage during a paracetamol overdose model. This was due to efficient glutathione regeneration. Paracetamol is an over-the-counter drug that is toxic in high dosages, At 4g per day, hepatic necrosis may occur.
Paracetamol overdose may occur in patients undergoing treatments for tuberculosis or HIV infections, and alcoholics. Components of milk thistle are inhibitors of proinflammatory transmitters and may be a form of potential long-term treatment to offset hepatic damage and protect against chemotoxic agents. (1)
Milk Thistle Scavenges Free Radicals
Over the past decade, milk thistle has been used as a natural remedy for liver reatment. Its antioxidant mechanisms are thought to be the reason for its protective and restorative actions. The antioxidant mechanisms of milk thistle include preventing free radical formation, maintaining redox balance in cells, scavenging free radicals, and decreasing inflammatory responses
Milk thistle removes precursors of free radicals through three antioxidant enzymes namely catalase, glutathione peroxidase, and superoxide dismutase, in addition to metal-binding proteins such as myogoblin, ferritin, albumin, lactoferrin, haptogoblin and hemopexin. This line of defense is insufficient to completely prevent the formation of free radicals. However, the second line of defense which includes ascorbic acid, vitamin A, carotenoids, vitamin E and ubiquinol, play a substantial role in breaking chains to make the reaction as small as possible, helps further damage. Also, milk thistle inhibits certain enzymes that promote free radical production, along with maintaining the electron-transport chain of cell mitochondria during stressful conditions. (2)
Milk Thistle Promotes Cardiovascular Health
According to one study, milk thistle protected the heart from endogenous antioxidant enzymes, and protected the heart from a further drop in blood pressure. The same study showed how milk thistle was able to restore heart rate following the reperfusion period. Researchers also observed elevation of lipid peroxide levels in heart tissue, as well as an increase in infarct size. These results are indicative of free radical activity. Silymarin (milk thistle) significantly reduced infarct size at 500mg per kg dose, as shown by the altered serum and heart tissue. (3)
Milk thistle seems to elevate levels of good HDL cholesterol and lessen the risk of atherosclerosis. Silymarin could also aid at lowering blood pressure.
Milk Thistle Promotes Kidney Health
Milk thistle has been found to protect the kidneys from renal ischemia/reperfusion (I/R), which is a major cause of acute renal failure. Its hepatoprotective properties and cell membrane stabilizing activity make it an effective treatment for kidney diseases, and some findings show that it may have a more protective effect than deferoxamine against kidney iron deposition at a dose of 200 mg per kg. Renal iron overload increases risk of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes, therefore the beneficial effects of milk thistle on iron overload are not limited to the kidneys.
Milk thistle’s benefits on the kidneys are reported to closely resemble the herb’s effects on the liver. It appears to stimulate cell regeneration in the kidneys which could prove vital for patients undergoing dialysis. (4)
Milk Thistle May Offer Protection Against Radiation Damage
Radiation damage has been shown to happen in cancer patients who receive radiation therapy as a form of treatment, though it may also happen if the person is exposed to nuclear power, nuclear fallout from nuclear weapons, and x-ray imaging. If the radiation damage is severe enough, it can cause heart disease, cancer, and birth defects. In one study, oral administration of milk thistle prior to radiation exposure offered protection against tissue damage and oxidative stress.
Milk Thistle Has Protective Effects Against Toxic Chemicals
Hepatic disorders are mainly caused by toxic chemicals such as alcohol, heavy metals, mycotoxins, analgesic anti-inflammatories, anticancers, xenobiotics, etc. There is evidence that shows how the antioxidative properties of milk thistle may show detoxification effects against toxicants repairing, supporting and protecting the liver.
Milk thistle counteracts parameters of oxidative stress, as supported by the reduction of DNA damage in histopathological observations and DNA damage in the liver. Furthermore, results show that milk thistle protects against cell death in a dose-dependent manner. (5)
Milk Thistle Protects the Skin from UV Radiation Damage
Milk thistle has been shown to have benefits to skin when applied topically, but it is less understood if milk thistle also has chemopreventive effects. In one study however, results showed that milk thistle reduced the amount of DNA damage from UVB exposure, and even repaired UV-induced damage in healthy individuals. (6)
Protection against UV radiation is essential to preventing the development of skin cancer. With skin cancer diagnoses becoming more prevalent, it’s important to address the main causes to help protect against further incidences.
Milk Thistle May Help Protect Against Certain Cancers
Milk thistle has been shown to have protective effects against certain types of cancer such as colon cancer, liver cancer, bladder cancer, cervical cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer, ovarian cancer, skin cancer, and breast cancer. This is due to certain mechanisms of silybin found in milk thistle that modulate cell-signaling pathways. (7)
Milk Thistle May Protect Against Diabetes
In individuals with diabetes, those who were on silymarin supplements for four 120 days experienced improvements in their glycemic numbers, plus a noteworthy reduction in glycosylated hemoglobin, fasting blood glucose, overall cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides, when matched against those who took a placebo. Milk thistle could also aid blood sugar regulation among individuals with diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes has been linked to an increased risk of nephropathy—the leading cause of renal dialysis in the United States—and cardiovascular disease. Oxidative stress and inflammation both play a role in diabetes complications, but milk thistle, and herbal drug, has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. These may prevent the progression of diabetes complications and improve glycemic control. In a study on 270 patients, milk thistle administration saw a reduction in blood glucose levels. (8) Since diabetes is among the top growing health problems in the world with more than 280 million people affected, managing diabetes is a considerable challenge to providers and healthcare systems. Effective treatment options are needed to reduce the progression and development of the disease.
Milk Thistle May Prevent Neuronal Degeneration
Milk thistle seems to possess neuroprotective characteristics and there is evidence signifying it may be beneficial for Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.
The activation of microglia and the subsequent inflammatory response in the central nervous system are key events in the development of neurodegenerative diseases. In one study, results showed that milk thistle inhibited microglia activation, which prevented the production of inflammatory mediators and reduced damage to dopamine neurons. (9)
Other Benefits of Milk Thistle
Moreover, trial and clinical research have observed that milk thistle extracts also has the following non-liver related benefits:
- It possesses many anti-aging properties
- It mitigates cell damage due to chemotherapy and radiation treatments
- It reinforces sunscreen protection and could be useful to combat many kinds of skin disorders
- It performs as a free radical scavenger and potent antioxidant
- It lessens hot flashes and other related menopausal symptoms
- It helps with intestinal / indigestion problems