A medicinal plant that has been traditionally used in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for over 2000 years, milk thistle’s (Silybum marianum) botanical name Silybum is derived from the Greek physician Pedanius Dioscorides.[1]

The other half of the botanical name, Marianum, comes from a legend that the white veins running through the plant’s leaves were formed by a drop of the Virgin Mary’s milk.[2] Due to its association with Virgin Mary, milk thistle is also known as Mary thistle, St Mary’s thistle, Our Lady’s thistle and other such names.[2]

Three isomer flavonolignans (silibinin, silydianin, and silychristin) collectively known as silymarin form the active ingredients in milk thistle. Silymarin acts as an antioxidant and reduces free radical damage and lipid peroxidation, the process by which free radicals remove electrons from lipids in cells and damage them.[2]

Milk thistle has been commonly recommended for gallbladder disorders, jaundice, cirrhosis, hepatitis and protect the liver against damage caused by snake bites, insect stings, mushroom poisoning and excessive alcohol consumption.[2] Here are four ways in which milk thistle can benefit your health.

1) An Effective Galactogogue
Milk thistle can be used as a galactogogue, a substance that increases the production of breast milk in a nursing mother.[3]

A clinical study showed that supplementation with silymarin (the active component of milk thistle), increased milk production by 64 percent in subjects that took milk thistle than those who didn’t. Studies suggest that for it to work as an effective galactogogue one should either take 1-3g crushed seeds of milk thistle, or crush the seeds and steep them as a tea, thrice a day.[4,5] .[6]

2) Fights Liver Cancer
According to a laboratory study, milk thistle reduced the development of tumors, in cases where consumption of alcohol was directly related to an increased growth rate of liver tumors. The study showed that milk thistle countered the effects of alcohol in liver cancer.[7]

3) Regenerates The Liver
Milk thistle enhances cellular protein synthesis that can be useful in repairing a damaged liver.[8] Animal studies show that it increases DNA synthesis in rats with partial hepatectomy (missing parts of the liver).[9]

Milk thistle can also decrease the symptoms of steatohepatitis (fatty liver) and enhance cell survival by reducing lipotoxicity, accumulation of fat in non-fatty tissues such as the kidneys, heart, liver and muscles, that can cause cellular dysfunction and can be life-threatening.[10,11]

4) Protects The Prostate
Silibinin, the primary compound in silymarin in milk thistle, has a protective effect on the prostate.[12] It regulates protein development and ensures that the prostate cells function correctly as a person ages. Clinical studies show that in prostate cancer, silibinin causes apoptosis (cell death), controls cell signaling, decreases metastasis (spread of cancer cells) and increases angiogenesis (development of new blood vessels).[13]

How To Take It

  • Take ½tsp crushed milk thistle seeds in a cup. Add boiling water to it and steep for 15 minutes. Drink this tea twice daily for better health.
  • Alternatively, you can take a capsule of milk thistle extract twice daily to obtain relief from hepatitis. You can buy it here.

For more interesting stories, visit our Health page. Read more about Natural Remedies here.

Read More:
Milk Thistle: Liver’s Best Friend
Herbal Antidote Milk Thistle Seed Tea
#WorldHepatitisDay: 4 Herbal Remedies For Hepatitis
Quick Fix: Pomegranate Juice For Prostate Cancer
Relieve It With A Herb: Turmeric For Prostate Cancer 

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2. Abenavoli L, Capasso R, Milic N, Capasso F. Milk thistle in liver diseases: past, present, future. Phytother Res. 2010 Oct;24(10):1423-32. doi: 10.1002/ptr.3207. Review. PubMed PMID: 20564545.

3. Forinash AB, Yancey AM, Barnes KN, Myles TD. The use of galactogogues in the breastfeeding mother. Ann Pharmacother. 2012 Oct;46(10):1392-404. doi: 10.1345/aph.1R167. Epub 2012 Sep 25. Review. PubMed PMID: 23012383.

4. Low Dog T. The use of botanicals during pregnancy and lactation. Altern Ther Health Med. 2009 Jan-Feb;15(1):54-8. Review. PubMed PMID: 19161049.

5. Zapantis A, Steinberg JG, Schilit L. Use of herbals as galactagogues. J Pharm Pract. 2012 Apr;25(2):222-31. doi: 10.1177/0897190011431636. Review. PubMed PMID: 22392841.

6. Di Pierro F, Callegari A, Carotenuto D, Tapia MM. Clinical efficacy, safety and tolerability of BIO-C (micronized Silymarin) as a galactagogue. Acta Biomed. 2008 Dec;79(3):205-10. PubMed PMID: 19260380.

7. Brandon-Warner E, Eheim AL, Foureau DM, Walling TL, Schrum LW, McKillop IH. Silibinin (Milk Thistle) potentiates ethanol-dependent hepatocellular carcinoma progression in male mice. Cancer Lett. 2012 Dec 29;326(1):88-95. doi: 10.1016/j.canlet.2012.07.028. Epub 2012 Aug 1. PubMed PMID: 22863537; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3449310.

8. Sonnenbichler J, Zetl I. Biochemical effects of the flavonolignane silibinin on RNA, protein and DNA synthesis in rat livers. Prog Clin Biol Res. 1986;213:319-31. PubMed PMID: 2424029.

9. Pradhan SC, Girish C. Hepatoprotective herbal drug, silymarin from experimental pharmacology to clinical medicine. Indian J Med Res. 2006 Nov;124(5):491-504. Review. PubMed PMID: 17213517.

10. Song Z, Song M, Lee DY, Liu Y, Deaciuc IV, McClain CJ. Silymarin prevents palmitate-induced lipotoxicity in HepG2 cells: involvement of maintenance of Akt kinase activation. Basic Clin Pharmacol Toxicol. 2007 Oct;101(4):262-8. PubMed
PMID: 17845508; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4219607.

11. Salamone F, Galvano F, Cappello F, Mangiameli A, Barbagallo I, Li Volti G. Silibinin modulates lipid homeostasis and inhibits nuclear factor kappa B activation in experimental nonalcoholic steatohepatitis. Transl Res. 2012 Jun;159(6):477-86. doi: 10.1016/j.trsl.2011.12.003. Epub 2012 Jan 2. PubMed PMID: 22633099.

12. Cheung CW, Gibbons N, Johnson DW, Nicol DL. Silibinin–a promising new treatment for cancer. Anticancer Agents Med Chem. 2010 Mar;10(3):186-95. Review. PubMed PMID: 20015009.

13. Ting H, Deep G, Agarwal R. Molecular mechanisms of silibinin-mediated cancer chemoprevention with major emphasis on prostate cancer. AAPS J. 2013 Jul;15(3):707-16. doi: 10.1208/s12248-013-9486-2. Epub 2013 Apr 16. Review.
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