Milk thistle: what is it for and how to drink it

This content is part of the Alternative Medicine category and may contain information that lacks scientific studies and/or medical consensus.

Milk thistle ( Silybum marianum ) is an herb known for its positive effects in the treatment of problems that affect the liver , such as: hepatitis, cirrhosis and poisoning .

This medicinal plant also serves to control blood glucose and cholesterol levels in the blood and relieve the discomfort of indigestion.

It is easy to use and has very few contraindications. Curious to find out more? So know below its main uses and how to use it safely.

What is the milk thistle for

treat liver problems

One of the main therapeutic uses of milk thistle is in the treatment of liver problems .

Its composition is rich in sibylin and silymarin, substances with a strong protective effect on liver cells, preventing their oxidation (degradation) and preventing damage that causes serious problems.

Sibylline, in particular, prevents the formation of scars caused by the exaggerated formation of tissues that impair the organ’s functioning.

This same compound represents almost 70% of the entire composition of the plant, it makes the gland (part that can produce and secrete substances) better metabolize fat and alcohol, for example. ( 1 )

In fact, it is due to this potential that the infusion made with the herb can be used as a complementary treatment for diseases such as cirrhosis , alcoholic hepatitis and steatosis ( fat in the liver ).

Another interesting point is that sibylin and silymarin are able to prevent the replication of viruses that cause hepatitis B and C.

Tea can be a natural way to control viral infection without having the negative effects of traditional antivirals. ( 2 )

The plant prevents damage caused by drugs that are harmful to liver cells, such as paracetamol, which increases protection for people who already have weakened livers due to the aforementioned diseases. ( 3 )

Control diabetes

Milk thistle helps in the treatment of type 2 diabetes mellitus , one of the most common forms of the disease.

It causes an increase in the amount of sugar in the blood and is often caused by a problem called insulin resistance, that is, the body is unable to take full advantage of this hormone, which metabolizes glucose.

The herb acts precisely by decreasing this resistance, making the body able to recognize and use the insulin produced and secreted by the pancreas. ( 1 )

This in itself already promotes blood glucose control, but milk thistle goes further and stimulates the use of this nutrient by the cells, favors its elimination by the body and even protects the organs from the damage that the greater amount of sugar causes in the organs.

The best part is that the extracts of this medicinal plant have few side effects. ( 4 )

It is necessary, however, to emphasize that this does not mean that using tea cures the disease, it is necessary to adopt the treatment proposed by the doctor and healthier lifestyle habits.

Lowering Cholesterol and Protecting the Heart

Do you know that effect silymarin has on liver metabolism? So he makes the consumption of the herb extract a natural remedy for high cholesterol , which lowers the risk of cardiovascular problems .

The main substance of milk thistle increases the excretion of LDL cholesterol (Low Density Lipoprotein), the popular bad cholesterol, while limiting its synthesis by the liver and “shields” the cells from possible damage caused by this excess.

All this serves to prevent the formation of fatty plaques , which attach to organs and increase the risk of heart problems.

Treatment with the plant not only lowers LDL, but also raises levels of HDL (High Density Lipoprotein), cholesterol that is good for health. ( 5 )

Milk thistle also has the ability to protect heart cells against the damage caused by oxidative stress, a process that can cause changes and even lead to cell death. ( 6 )

Relieve Symptoms of Inflammatory Problems

The tea or milk thistle extract serves to provide relief from inflammation, which is the body’s own defense mechanism.

That is, it serves to eliminate possible health threats, but it has as a side effect all those uncomfortable symptoms, such as burning, pain and accumulation of pus.

The infusion prevents the release of a type of defense cell that the body sends to a place it thinks is being attacked by external forces and another substance, hydrogen peroxide, which is released by the immune system and works to kick-start inflammation. ( 7 )

The phytochemical compounds found in the leaves and seeds of the plant, on the other hand, improve the immune response, preventing an exaggerated reaction and protecting the region against the discomfort caused by the inflammatory process. ( 8 )

Thanks to these components, milk thistle can help in the treatment of inflammation in various organs, such as the liver, stomach and also rheumatic diseases.

End indigestion

Drinking a cup of milk thistle tea can get rid of that bloated feeling after eating something that doesn’t go down well.

It improves liver metabolism, which includes the production and excretion of bile, a type of natural detergent that acts directly on the digestive process. ( 9 )

Decrease the risk of neurodegenerative diseases

The compounds present in milk thistle have the potential to mitigate the risks of neurodegenerative diseases and reduce the risk of brain trauma caused by oxidative stress or diseases that impede the normal flow of blood to the region.

Part of this is due to the effect that the herb’s active compounds have on protecting brain cells . ( 5 )

Furthermore, silymarin and sibylin act as antioxidants, preventing cell degeneration in the region, which is a common problem in the elderly. As a result, there is a lower risk of developing diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s . ( 10 )

Assist in cancer treatment

Milk thistle is considered a natural chemoprotective and chemopreventive agent. This means that it can help prevent and reverse cancer .

Silymarin is anti-proliferative, that is, it prevents cancer cells from replicating and spreading to other tissues.

This herb acts against the growth of various types of cancer, such as: leukemia, liver, colon, gastric, pancreas, skin, prostate, breast, bladder, and cervical. ( 10 )

How to use milk thistle?

Milk thistle can be used in the form of tea , tincture or capsules.

In tea, it should be prepared by boiling 1 tablespoon of the herb leaves and seeds in a cup of water for 10 minutes. Then simply strain and drink the infusion three times a day .

If you decide to use the tincture, just dilute between 3 and 6 ml in a glass of water and drink it three times a day. The dosage is the same as indicated for the capsules. ( 5 )

Care and contraindications

The only contraindication found for the use of milk thistle is for people who have any allergies to plants of the Asteraceae family , to which it belongs.

Furthermore, the plant is considered safe to use, even during pregnancy, breastfeeding and by small children, as long as the indicated amount is respected and always use it only with medical authorization in these cases.

There are no toxic side effects from recurrent use. However, avoid long-term consumption without expert advice. ( 5 )

Where to find?

Milk thistle can be easily found in natural and herbal products stores , in the form of tincture, infusion or capsules, or in street markets across the country.

It is also possible to find the herb growing naturally in some Brazilian regions. It has large pale green leaves and flowers, which can reach up to 12 centimeters, and are a vibrant shade of purple and have small white lines.

Ellie Lauderdale

My name is Ellie Lauderdale, MD and I am USA based professional Nutritionist .

I am a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and board certified specialist in sports dietetics who is trained in integrative medicine. I have worked with hundreds of clients, from those suffering with chronic disease to professional and olympian athletes. My goal is to help optimize you from the inside so that you can feel, perform, and look your best on the outside.

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