Milk thistle is famous for its positive effects on the liver. Silymarin, the active component, is a powerful liver-specific antioxidant that helps to protect liver cells and detox the liver. This includes many types of liver damage: alcohol, hepatitis, and environmental toxins.
There are other reported benefits to milk thistle, too: it may support a healthy gallbladder, good cholesterol levels (and related heart benefits), help to manage OCD, it may reduce the risk of/help manage Type 2 Diabetes, as well as reduce the risk for certain types of cancer (including breast, cervical, and prostate).
But not everyone should take milk thistle!
Because it’s in the ragweed family, certain allergy sufferers should take milk thistle only under medical supervision, or not at all. It also may have estrogen like effects, so women need to be mindful of that. You also need to check and make sure any other medications you take won’t interact with milk thistle.
There hasn’t been a really good study on milk thistle or silymarin, just middling ones. It’s benefits for people with Type 2 Diabetes are pretty well supported, and there’s good science behind it’s benefits for the liver. Everything else came out neutral to beneficial (nothing bad).
Because it’s a common allergen, some people may suffer stomach upset, most commonly diarrhea. BUT, if you’re treating a serious disease, the benefits will probably outweigh the risks. Most recommendations say to use it as complimentary medicine, and be sure to let doctors know you’re taking it because of the risk of interactions.
And just because it’s interesting: many monks (of different faiths) have had strong associations with milk thistle. It’s completely edible, so stories range from monks growing it and using it as herbal treatments, to ascetics who live off of milk thistle alone for years.
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