Every minute of every day our bodies, especially our liver and kidneys, deal with toxins. From the processed foods we consume, to the store-bought produce covered in chemicals, environmental pollutants, and pharmaceuticals – toxins are unavoidable. Milk thistle may be an undesirable weed when it’s found in our vegetable or flower gardens, but when it comes to our bodies – milk thistle benefits can help our liver detoxify and regenerate our kidneys.
Where Does Milk Thistle Come From?
Milk thistle grew originally in North Africa, Asia Minor, southern Europe, and southern Russia. It’s now been naturalized in North and South America, too. Milk thistle is an edible plant that grows purple, tubular flowers and has green leaves with white stripes containing a white, milk-like juice.
For over 2,000 years, milk thistle has been used to cleanse and detox the kidneys, liver, and spleen, or as a natural treatment for liver and gallbladder disease. Milk thistle seeds were given to European women to encourage healthy milk production for their breastfeeding babies.
What’s In Milk Thistle?
Milk thistle contains the flavonoligan silymarin as well as fatty oils, apigen, silybonol, taxifolin, phytosterols, and proteins.
How Milk Thistle Improves Liver Protection and Functioning
The therapeutic effects on liver from milk thistle are mostly a result of silymarin. Silymarin changes the structure of the hepatocyte cell membrane on liver cells, preventing toxins from entering the liver cells’ nucleus. Silymarin is also responsible for increasing ribosomal protein synthesis, a process that helps the liver regenerate itself and form new hepatocytes. Studies suggest it can also help the kidneys regenerate. For helping with liver disease, silymarin offers anti-inflammatory and anti-fibrotic effects.
Other Milk Thistle Benefits
In addition to helping the liver and kidneys, milk thistle has a number of other benefits to the body, including:
- Reducing cholesterol
- Cleaning the blood
- Reducing insulin resistance
- Protecting kidneys from damage from acetaminophen and other medicines
Some studies are suggesting that milk thistle may be beneficial in protecting the kidneys from chemotherapy damage in cancer patients.
Milk Thistle Supplements
There are three primary forms of milk thistle supplements: extracts such as pills or capsules, an essential oil, or consuming the milk thistle seeds themselves. Unlike other natural supplements, it is not useful to turn milk thistle into a tea because the nutrients in the seed are poorly soluble in water. Instead, the seeds can be ground up and then added to foods. Milk thistle is also available as an essential oil extracted from the seeds, which can then be applied directly to the skin.