Milk thistle has been used for thousands of years as a medicinal plant. It is native to the Mediterranean region but can now be found throughout the world. It’s generally seen as beneficial for liver, kidney, and gallbladder issues, but research in recent years indicates it may do even more.
Silymarin, a substance within milk thistle, is largely credited with its benefits. It has both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and could be the leading cause of milk thistle’s benefits. Scientists isolating and researching this compound has led to milk thistle being approved for treating liver disease back in 1986, a considerable achievement for a natural substance in this world that worships Big Pharma above all.
Silymarin promotes a healthy liver by increasing protein synthesis. The liver is responsible for filtering the blood and ridding the body of harmful toxins. In the case of alcohol consumption, the liver can be taxed while trying to maintain homeostasis, or a healthy balance.
Milk thistle has been shown to have dramatically positive effects on those people suffering from mild forms of liver disease in five studies reported by the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research. While it wasn’t as effective in those with serious liver damage, the research was certainly promising.
Other studies have indicated its benefits in the treatment of viral hepatitis. One study found that nearly half of all patients who didn’t respond to traditional hepatitis treatments were able to decrease the hepatitis C to undetectable levels with the use of milk thistle for only 14 days.
Silymarin may also have anti-cancer benefits. The University of Maryland says it seems to stop cancer cells from proliferating, also shortening their life span and reducing blood supply to tumors.
A recent study from the University of Colorado Cancer Center has found it can also prevent skin cancer and photo-aging. Skin cells treated with silibinin from milk thistle were able to fight damage from sun radiation. The substance was able to differentiate between healthy and potentially pre-cancerous cells, only killing the latter.
Children suffering from acute lymphoblastic leukemia were able to fight hepatotoxicity with the use of milk thistle during chemotherapy treatment, according to one study. The milk thistle extract was able to reduce toxicity levels within the children’s livers without negatively effecting the effects of the chemotherapy.
And finally, one recent study found in the University of Colorado Skaggs School of Pharmacy journal report has produced evidence of milk thistle halting the spread of and reversing lung cancer.
We live in an exciting time, when plants used for centuries can be taken into a lab and studied for the benefits that have long been well-recognized by people long before us. As with milk thistle, there is much to be learned from these plants and the people who used them long before scientists wore lab coats.