Milk Thistle and the Benefits It Provides
Now that the holidays are over (at least as I write this they are coming to an end), many of us are feeling the weight of our celebration.
I mean that figuratively as well as literally.
Because the holidays are a time when many of us overindulge in things that aren’t all that great for us I wanted to write an article on how you can help support healthy detoxification.
There are a ton of things you can do to support healthy detox, like drinking a gallon or so a day of purified, alkaline water while engaging in a 48+ hour fast as an example.
But if you want to simply add something to your regimen to help with detox then taking a milk thistle supplement is a great choice.
People have relied on milk thistle for centuries to help them detox (although they didn’t understand that’s why it made them feel better), and today we have all kinds of data to show why milk thistle is a wonderful plant-based tool for keeping us healthy.
Let me show you why milk thistle is a dependable (and safe) item to take for detox support.
Here’s What Milk Thistle Does For the Human Body
As I’ve written about before, the entire notion that you can take a supplement or follow a protocol for detoxifying your body isn’t nearly as crazy as some people have claimed.
In reality, you can give your body additional support to help cleanse itself of toxins by way of augmenting either nutrition or environment.
So what is milk thistle?
Well, it’s kind of a weed, kind of not. It is a prickly (and pretty) plant with a long, thin stem, spiny leaves, and a purplish-pink thistle at the top. When the leaves are sliced or crushed they exude a milky white substance which is where it derives its name from.
The milky sap was used for centuries for various ailments and now milk thistle is used as one of the chief nutritional supplements for enhancing your body’s detoxification systems so they simply work more efficiently.
One of the main benefits milk thistle offers is to help give the liver an additional layer of support.
1 – Helps Support a Healthy Liver:
As the liver is the main organ associated with detoxification (and the largest internal organ), it can take all the help it can get.
The liver’s primary task is to filter our blood (though it also helps with hormone production, blood sugar balance, aids in fat absorption, and more)
While there aren’t many studies on milk thistle and the liver specifically, cursory studies indicate it has some effects on the liver.
As WebMD writes about the benefits of milk thistle:
“ [ a substance in milk thistle called] Silymarin is said to keep toxins from attaching to liver cells. It also holds free radicals in check. These unstable molecules are byproducts of your body’s functions. But they can harm healthy cells and lead to health issues.
Medical research on milk thistle and liver health has led to mixed results. Studies show that silymarin may help ease inflammation and promote cell repair. This may help ease symptoms from liver diseases like jaundice, cirrhosis, liver cancer, and fatty liver disease.”
And a study written in the journal Molecular Carcinogenesis shows that silymarin can help the liver detox from radiation,
Based on what we know so far, the presence of silymarin is the main factor in helping with detox support.
Studies seem to indicate milk thistle may even be so good at helping support the liver that it can help people with known liver issues experience acute relief from the issues. The World Journal of Hepatology indicated milk thistle supplements “may slightly extend the life expectancy of people with cirrhosis of the liver due to alcoholic liver disease.”
If future studies could replicate those findings it would be a key factor in showing evidence that milk thistle is great for helping support the healthy function of the liver.
But, helping the liver isn’t the only way milk thistle can help with detoxification.
It can also help with blood sugar.
2 – May Help Balance Blood Sugar (protects kidneys and detox processes)
Another important aspect of healthy detoxification is maintaining healthy blood sugar.
If blood sugar is out of whack, then it makes it difficult for the body’s detoxification systems to function properly.
This is why it’s good to know there’s support for claims around how milk thistle can help to support healthy blood sugar levels.
According to the journal Review of Diabetic Studies, milk thistle extract may work as well as conventional interventions at improving insulin sensitivity and helping normalize blood sugar.
This study was supported by a more recent study showing people who took milk thistle (silymarin) even saw both fasting blood sugar levels as well as HbA1c fall precipitously, showing additional support behind claims it’s an effective agent for helping control blood sugar.
And if that weren’t enough, researchers who wrote the article in the Review of Diabetic Studies, even concluded milk thistle’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties could be incredibly effective at “reducing the risk of developing diabetic complications like kidney disease,” which is significant as the kidneys are another essential organ for detox.
Best of all exhaustive research into the safety of milk thistle shows it’s quite safe to take with the few undesirable side effects being related to gastrointestinal distress.
However, if you take any of the following medications you may want to avoid taking milk thistle:
- Diabetes medications. Milk thistle might lower blood sugar in people who have type 2 diabetes. Closely monitor your blood sugar levels, and talk to your doctor before taking milk thistle supplements if you take diabetes medications.
- Cytochrome P450 2C9 (CYP2C9) substrates. Taking milk thistle might affect this enzyme and drugs it processes, such as diazepam (Valium), warfarin (Jantoven) and others. This means milk thistle might affect the levels of these drugs in your body.
- Raloxifene (Evista). Milk thistle may affect how your liver processes this osteoporosis medication, causing higher levels of the drug in your bloodstream. Talk to your doctor before taking milk thistle if you’re taking raloxifene.
- Simeprevir. Taking milk thistle with this hepatitis C medication might increase levels of the drug in your blood plasma. Avoid using milk thistle and simeprevir together.
- Sirolimus (Rapamune). Taking milk thistle with this immunosuppressant might change the way your body processes the medication.
So how much should a person take?
As there are many kinds of milk thistle extracts and blends, I would say that if you are getting 500mg a day of an extract as a minimum, that’s a good starting point.
Some people take as much as 1 gram daily, which could also work well.
You can also supplement with this for a short time, or as part of an ongoing regimen.