Milk thistle, also known as Silybum marianum, is used for its health benefits for thousands of years. But what are the health benefits of milk thistle?
What is milk thistle?
Milk thistle – also known as Silybum marianum or milk thistle – is a purple flowering plant with white veins that grows wild in Southern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. The English name milk thistle comes from the fact that a milky liquid comes out of the milk thistle leaves when they are cut.
Traditionally, milk thistle has been used to support the liver and spleen for over 2000 years. In the Middle Ages, the leaves were used in salads, but today the seeds are most commonly used in supplements. Milk thistle seeds are rich in silymarin – a powerful compound of flavonoids that may fight free radical damage and have an anti-inflammatory effect. Milk thistle extract used in supplements on average contains 65-80% silymarin.
What is milk thistle good for?
Milk thistle is known as a natural detoxifier. Milk thistle is said to support the liver, our body’s most important organ for filtering toxins such as alcohol. (The claim that milk thistle supports good liver function is still pending from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)).
According to a study carried out at the Institut Català de Oncologia (ICO) in Girona, published in Oncotarget, silibinin, a natural substance present in the fruit Silybum marianum, has been shown to be able to reduce brain metastases from lung cancer resistant to chemotherapy and radiation therapy. The antitumor role of silibinin had been seen in cell models and mice, but it is the first report of its efficacy in humans with cancer.
The fruit of the milk thistle (Silybum marianum (L.) Gaertn, from the Asteraceae family) contains complex flavonolignans with clinically demonstrated hepatoprotective and antioxidant activities. Silymarin is considered the main active ingredient of the plant and consists of a mixture of at least seven flavonolignans and one flavonoid. The most abundant and active constituents in silymarin are two diastereoisomeric compounds (silybin A and silyibin B) known as silybin or silibinin, which is represents 50-70% of silymarin. Several clinical studies have shown that silymarin is effective in treating various liver diseases, including hepatitis, cirrhosis, fatty liver infiltration (fatty liver due to alcoholic and non-alcoholic causes) and inflammation of the bile ducts. The antioxidant properties of silymarin greatly increase liver resistance to toxic effects.
Milk thistle is also one of the 5 ingredients in Protandim Nrf2. Among other things, this food supplement significantly reduces oxidative stress in the cells.