What do you first think of when you hear “Milk Thistle?” If you are like me when I first heard about milk thistle, I pictured a milky, thorny, plant. Little did I know! I laugh to this day because when I recommend milk thistle to others now, I often get that same perplexed look, and every once in a while somebody exclaims, “I am allergic to dairy!” Well, turns out milk thistle is actually a weed, a ragweed to be exact, and though it can grow in almost any warm climate around the world, milk thistle is found in abundance in my home state of California!
Milk thistle has an incredible amount of health benefits, and the more I learn about it, the more I love it! I am now sure to incorporate it into the daily supplement routine of every member of my family and I often double up in the winter for an extra boost when the cold and crud hit. This little ragweed is a natural herb with many anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It has been used as an herbal remedy over 2,000 years for a wide range of diseases including liver, kidney and gallbladder problems. It is also has antioxidant benefits similar to that of vitamin E or vitamin C, which help fight free radical damage. 1, 2, 3
Detoxifying the LiverOne of the primary reasons that milk thistle is so beneficial to overall health is that it purges the body’s natural immune fighting, toxin detoxifying organ: the liver. The liver is your body’s most primary defense against dietary and environmental toxins. Our society today is full of toxins. The food we eat can be full of preservatives, pesticides, GMOs, and other harmful contaminants. The air we breathe is full of pollutants. Even the water we drink contains many harmful toxins such as pharmaceuticals, heavy metals, and other compounds such as fluoride. (Learn how to get rid of harmful toxins in drinking water.) Sadly, this all takes a major toll on the liver.
After time, the liver can become so full of these cumulative toxins that it begins to function poorly, and can even shut down. Signs and symptoms of this include poor skin tone, headaches, fatigue, and overall lowered immune function. The liver is responsible for performing over 300 metabolic functions throughout the body, so you can see how an ineffective liver can be such a detriment.
The active compound in milk thistle extract, called silymarin, has been studied for many years and is found to be one of the best supplements on the planet for liver health. 1 It has been shown to protect liver cells by essentially blocking or neutralizing certain hepatotoxic compounds such as acetaminophen, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen, anti-depressants, and cholesterol lowering medications. 4 Furthermore, preliminary research shows that silymarin may not only protect liver cells, but also regenerate ones that become damaged. 5
My, is anyone else’s liver starting to crave milk thistle?!
Milk Thistle & GlutathioneFor a long time, the biochemical mechanisms behind milk thistle’s benefits were unclear. Laboratory research has now shown that the silymarin from milk thistle promotes the synthesis and activity of certain enzymes that act in detoxification pathways. In particular, silymarin stimulates the glutathione S-transferase pathway, which enhances the intracellular concentrations of glutathione. 6 Glutathione is known to be the body’s master antioxidant and is vital for proper liver function. It is also essential for fighting off disease and maintaining overall health.
Glutathione is so critical in illness prevention that Jeremy Appleton, ND – chairman of the department of nutrition at the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon, stated the following:
“If you look in a hospital situation at people who have cancer, AIDS, or other very serious disease, almost invariably they are depleted in glutathione. The reasons for this are not completely understood, but we do know that glutathione is extremely important for maintaining intracellular health.” 7
Milk thistle appears to be a gentle, natural way to promote healthy glutathione levels in the body, thereby supporting liver detoxification and general wellness.
Using Milk Thistle
There are a number of different ways to incorporate milk thistle into your daily routine, but probably the most convenient way is through supplementation of milk thistle extract. Few adverse side effects have been reported for milk thistle, but it is always best to check with your healthcare provider when adding a new supplement to your routine.
When choosing a brand, it is crucial to be sure that silymarin, the active compound, is standardized to at least 70 percent. As with any supplement, there are many brands advertising “milk thistle” but they are simply a synthetic version. 2
Here at Radiant Life, we are pleased to offer a pure milk thistle extract product, which is certified organic, vegan, non-GMO, and gluten free. It is also verified to contain a full 70% of silymarin, which includes silybin A & B, silychristin, and silydianin. Check it out and read about it more here.