20 Milk Thistle Benefits And Nutrition Facts
Milk thistle, also known as holy thistle or Mary thistle, is a spiky and bright pink flowering plant with leaves that have milky-white veins. The leaves produce a milky fluid when broken open, and according to Christian folklore, the milky fluid was a drop of the Virgin Mary’s milk. This plant is native to southern Europe, northern Africa, and the Middle East.
Traditionally, milk thistle treats liver and gallbladder disorders. Nowadays, people use it to treat various conditions and often ingest it in a capsule, tablet, or tea form. With that, here are the 20 milk thistle benefits and nutrition facts.
1. Protect Liver
Milk thistle is best known for protecting the liver. Its main active compound, Silymarin, is a powerful antioxidant that keeps toxins from attaching to liver cells. It also protects the liver against certain drugs like acetaminophen (Tylenol).
This painkiller is often misused, and people take it without a prescription. They are unaware of the consequences Tylenol has on their liver when they take it too much. Our body breaks down Tylenol and eliminates toxins through urine, but sometimes, it is broken down into a byproduct known as NAPQI. This byproduct can build up and damage the liver’s cells.
2. Strengthen Bones
Our bones provide support and allow us to move. It also protects vital organs, like our brain and heart, and produces blood cells that deliver oxygen throughout the body and fight infections. However, as we age, our bones weaken, which increases the chances of osteoporosis, a disease that causes fractures.
Therefore, we need to slow the progression of osteoporosis by exercising and including calcium-rich foods that strengthen our bones, like milk thistles. This is especially important for women because, after menopause, their estrogen levels decrease, which puts them at risk of osteoporosis. According to researchers, milk thistle may be considered for use in the treatment of osteoporosis in postmenopausal women.
3. Lower Blood Sugar Levels
Milk thistle is also useful in the management of type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is a chronic condition that results in unusually high blood sugar levels because the body cannot use insulin properly. There is no cure for this condition, and all one can do is control it with a healthy lifestyle and medication.
Milk thistle may help control sugar levels in diabetes patients without the side effects. Silymarin works like some diabetic medications by improving insulin sensitivity and decreasing blood sugar. A study by the Journal of Diabetic Research discovered that people who consistently took silymarin experienced a significant reduction in their fasting blood sugar levels.
4. Increase Breast Milk Production
Another benefit of milk thistle is that it increases milk production in lactating mothers. Breast milk is essential for newborns, so much so that the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months of an infant’s life. Breast milk contains all the essential nutrients in the correct composition, which makes the baby healthy. It is also loaded with antibodies that keep babies from falling sick.
Unfortunately, not all mothers have an easy time lactating. They could rely on formulas, but for those who do not want to, milk thistle extracts may help them. According to experts, this plant stimulates the milk-producing hormone called prolactin.
5. Treat Indigestion
During festivities and holidays, we overindulge in food and drink that might upset our stomachs and cause problems like indigestion and bloating. Stomach problems can take a toll on our digestive system, so gut-healthy foods are a necessity at this point.
Our gut breaks down the silymarin from the milk thistle into its main constituent, Silibinin, a polyphenol responsible for the soothing effects on our stomach. This polyphenol undergoes chemical reactions with the help of gut bacteria and is converted into substances that provide energy and relief from stomach problems.
6. Treat Acne
Acne is a common skin problem caused by excess sebum production. The excess sebum oxidizes and inflames the skin, causing a proliferation of bacteria. Bacteria clog our pores, which leads to outbreaks of lesions known as pimples. There are treatments for this skin condition, and one of them is silymarin. It is a powerful antioxidant that reduces oil production and prevents oxidative stress.
A study evaluated the effectiveness of silymarin in the treatment of acne. Researchers found that people who took 140 milligrams of silymarin experienced a reduction in acne lesions.
7. Lower Cholesterol
Having a healthy blood cholesterol level is critical to our health. Our body needs cholesterol for various functions, such as making hormones and digesting fatty foods. Our body makes all the blood cholesterol it needs, but because of modern eating habits, we are constantly consuming food that increases cholesterol levels.
Such an unhealthy lifestyle is why experts recommend including food that helps lower cholesterol, like milk thistle. Silymarin lowers our lipids or fat compounds that cause health complications when there is too much. It works like statin-type cholesterol-lowering drugs by blocking enzymes that raise lipid levels.
8. Has Anti-Cancer Properties
In 2020, more than 18 million people were diagnosed with cancer globally, and experts opine that soon, one out of three people will have cancer. All one can do is maintain a cancer-prevention lifestyle by following a healthy diet with food that can decrease cancerous tumor growth.
Milk thistle may not treat cancer, but it is used during chemotherapy. Various studies suggest silymarin reduces inflammation, which in turn plays a role in suppressing cancerous tumors. The active compound targets tumors while protecting the healthy cells from the toxicity of chemotherapy.
9. Slow Down Cognitive Decline
As we age, our brain becomes weaker, resulting in cognitive decline. We experience problems with memory, thinking, and other brain processes. Severe decline in brain function leads to diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. The former affects our ability to carry out simple daily tasks, while the latter causes problems with movement, mental health, sleep, and pain.
For 2000 years, milk thistle has been used as a brain food. According to science, silymarin in the plant inhibits the production of amyloid plaques. These plaques are clusters of protein that build up between nerve cells, which affect our cognitive function.
10. Supports Immune System
Milk thistle also supports our immunity system. Our immune system protects us from foreign invaders by activating inflammatory responses. However, sometimes, these responses do not stop, causing healthy tissues and cells to stop working properly.
Milk thistle extract has antioxidant and inflammatory properties that protect our body from oxidative stress and tissue damage. The plant extracts work by increasing lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell. These white blood cells produce antibodies that fight bacteria, viruses, and toxins.
11. Detoxifies The Body
According to experts, our body needs detoxification from time to time. Detoxification is a process whereby the body gets rid of various toxins. These toxins can ruin our health and cause diseases and illnesses. When we get rid of them, our immune system, skin, and mental health becomes stronger, amongst many other health benefits.
Silymarin in milk thistle helps in detoxification. The extracts help our liver filter toxins like pollutants, heavy metals, pesticides, and other harmful chemicals. These toxins are everywhere, and a build-up can cause irreparable damage.
12. Aids Kidney And Gall-Bladder Function
Milk thistle increases the choleretic effect of our body. Choleretics are substances that stimulate the production and secretion of bile from the liver. Bile is a liquid that aids in digestion and removes unnecessary and harmful substances from the body.
By stimulating the production of bile, the body releases toxins effectively and improves the detoxification capacity of our cells and tissue. Additionally, it ensures our liver and gallbladder function properly and prevents the formation of gallstones. Milk thistles also protect the kidney by helping repair and regenerate protein cells responsible for cellular life.
13. Promote Wound Healing
Milk thistle can promote wound healing thanks to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It is important to heal wounds on time because it can lead to infections and, in severe cases, cause organ failure and death.
BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies conducted a research to evaluate the effect of milk thistle ointment on episiotomy wound healing and pain intensity in primiparous women. For the unversed, episiotomy is a surgery done to make a women’s vaginal opening larger for childbirth. The results from the study show that the ointment sped up wound healing and decreased pain intensity.
14. Treat Psoriasis
Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition in which the immune system is overactive and causes the skin cells to multiply ten times faster. This results in dry and itchy skin on the scalp, elbows, knees, and other parts of the body. Unfortunately, there is no cure for psoriasis, and patients can only manage it with topical creams and ointments.
The active compounds of milk thistle inhibit leukotrienes, an inflammatory molecule that plays a role in psoriasis. So, if you’re looking for a natural psoriasis treatment, milk thistle may be your answer.
16. Treat OCD
OCD, or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), is a long-lasting mental disorder that causes uncontrollable and recurring thoughts known as obsessions. These obsessions make a person do something over and over again like washing hands repeatedly. This repetitive behavior is called compulsions. Obsessions and compulsions can cause significant distress and make it difficult to carry out everyday activities in daily life.
People with OCD undergo therapy and rely on nutritional and herbal supplements that contain beneficial compounds like silymarin. According to research, milk thistle is as effective as an antidepressant drug used to treat OCD symptoms. The plant extracts had positive effects without severe side effects.
16. Soothe Allergies
Although allergies are not a chronic disease, it can cause discomfort and affect aspects of our lives. No one likes sneezing their brains out, especially during hay fever season. Hay Fever results in cold-like symptoms such as a runny nose, itchy eyes, nasal congestion, and sneezing. It happens when our immune system overreacts to allergens like pollen and dust mites.
According to several studies, silymarin is effective in relieving symptoms of allergies. The compound inhibits the release of histamine, a chemical that causes many of the symptoms of allergies. Experts recommend taking milk thistle alongside antihistamine medications for increased effectiveness.
17. Provide Menopause Relief
Menopause is the end of a menstrual cycle due to lower hormone levels. This change in hormone levels can impact women's mental and physical health. A menopausal woman has symptoms like mood swings, loss of self-esteem, hot flashes, insomnia, depression, headache, increased risk of heart attack or stroke, etc. These symptoms are caused by hormonal imbalances.
The active ingredient, silymarin, balances hormones in the body and may have an oestrogenic effect, meaning it can increase estrogen levels. It also helps excrete excess hormones via the liver and gut. A study in Phytotherapy Research discovered that women who took milk thistle extract twice a day for 12 weeks had less frequent and severe hot flashes and felt better in general.
18. Help With Mucositis
Milk thistle is used to treat mucositis, a condition where the mucous membranes that line our mouth and entire gut are inflamed. It is a common complication of cancer treatments involving radiation or chemotherapy. This condition can be painful, and if it does not heal on time, it can cause infection.
The active compounds in the plant can decrease the severity of ulcers in the mouth and gut by interrupting the mucositis process. It also prevents oxidative stress and anti-inflammatory reactions, which in turn promotes healing.
19. Promote Hair Growth
In the same way, milk thistle’s active compound, silymarin, purifies the body by removing toxins, it heals and protects our scalp and promotes hair growth. Silymarin eradicates damaged and diseased cells and improves cell regeneration in hair follicles responsible for producing hair strands.
Additionally, silymarin eliminates toxins and other harmful substances that may inhibit the functioning of hair follicles. Apart from silymarin, vitamin E, which acts as a natural sunscreen for hair and skin, protects our hair follicles from UV rays and airborne pollutants.
20. Enhances Mood
Our mood affects everything we do. When we are in a bad mood, things can go haywire, but a prolonged bad mood can lead to depression. Depression is a chronic condition and is said to be caused by low serotonin levels. Serotonin is our body's natural "feel-good" hormone that helps us focus and feel calm and happy.
If you are feeling low, anxious, and stressed, milk thistle could help. It contains powerful compounds that can act on your serotonin receptors, which improves our mood, memory, and cognition.
Nutrition Facts Of Milk Thistle
Milk thistle is a healthful food that contains essential minerals and vitamins. It has a high amount of silymarin, made up of three different flavonoids: silybin, silydianin, and silychristin. These flavonoids are responsible for the majority of its healing properties. A 100g of milk thistle seeds contain:
- Energy: 485 kcal
- Carbs : 37g
- Fats: 26g
- Protein: 23g
- Fiber: 4g
- Sugar: 0g
- Sodium: 0.01g
The fruits of the plant contain:
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin E
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