The monumental benefits of milk thistle seed (Silybum marianum) have been known for a good part of history. Used as a natural remedy for 2000+ years for its potential positive effects on the liver and gallbladder, milk thistle seed continues to be the go-to herb for liver health.
The ancient philosophers Pliny and Galen both recommended the herb for liver cleansing and support. Milk thistle seed is native to the Mediterranean area and some people call it Mary thistle and holy thistle. The stems of the milk thistle plant are regularly consumed by those in this area to help reduce oxidative damage in the liver and biliary tract. Presently, milk thistle can be found in the United States growing wild in a variety of settings such as along roadsides and in backyards.
Silymarin in Milk Thistle Seed
The seeds of the milk thistle plant contain the highest amounts of the active compound, silymarin. Silymarin includes silybin, silydianin, and silychristin, and usually composes close to 4-6% of milk thistle seed. The most active compound in slymarin is silibinin which has been extensively used in patients with liver disease. When silymarin was used in animals it was discovered that it reduces liver injury caused by acetaminophen as well as showing positive effects in alcoholic liver disease, hepatitis and toxin-induced liver concerns. And currently, the safety record of milk thistle, when taken in recommended dosage range, is good with very minimal side effects such as a mild laxative effect. Serious toxicity as well as drug interactions have not been reported.
Note: Antioxidants like those found in milk thistle have been shown to possibly interfere with the efficacy of some chemotherapy drugs by protecting cancer cells from cell death. Understanding appropriate doses and examining blood concentrations is important before using milk thistle with chemotherapy. There is also a possibility that higher flavolignan concentrations in the gut could interfere with prescription medications. Ask your doctor for recommendations.
Health Benefits of Milk Thistle Seed
- Liver detoxification
- Support for healthy liver function
- Therapeutic treatment for fatty liver disease, damage from alcoholism, jaundice, psoriasis, hepatitis
- Boosts the immune system
- Supports healthy inflammation
- Supports heart health
- May help control symptoms of diabetes
- Helps support healthy gallbladder
- A potent inhibitor of UV-induced oxidative stress that can cause skin concerns
- Anti-aging support
- Supports glutathione formation
- May help to regenerate liver cells
- Shows promise for stimulating cell regeneration in the kidneys and may prove useful even in patients on dialysis
- Exhibits antineoplastic effects
- Some research suggests, based on a number of pharmacological studies, that topical silymarin would be a beneficial addition to sunscreens in protecting against ultraviolet-B-induced skin cancers
- Supports healthy brain. May have potential as a neuroprotectant
- Animal studies suggest that silymarin may suppress the formation of amyloid beta-protein (toxic protein linked to Alzheimer’s), helping to prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
If you are experiencing any concerns about your liver or kidney health, or are interested in any of the potential health boosting properties of silymarin, a high-quality milk thistle supplement may be worth considering. Silymarin can be found in artichokes, turmeric, and coriander (cilantro), although milk thistle is the richest known source.
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- American Botanical Council December 31, 2007