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Milk Thistle: uses, dosage & background

Siski Green / 21 September 2020

Milk thistle protects against liver damage from alcohol, hepatitis and chemical toxins, and research has found it can help diabetes patients manage blood sugar levels.

Milk Thistle plant
Milk Thistle protects against liver damage from alcohol, hepatitis and chemical toxins

The milk thistle plant is related to other thistles and although it does provide some impressive health benefits, it’s considered an invasive nuisance weed in north America where it has proliferated.

What is milk thistle used for?

Milk thistle contains compounds that help prevent liver damage, as well as ease indigestion. It’s also has antioxidant, anti-viral and anti-inflammatory benefits.

What’s the history of milk thistle use?

The plant has been used since around 2000 years ago. It was originally used in Greece to treat snake bites, but following that it was then popular as helping to treat liver disorders. Both the seeds of the plant and the plant itself have been used to treat ailments, and also simply as part of diet, in the form of leaves as salad greens or the seeds used in beverages.

What’s the best way to take milk thistle?

Milk thistle extract are the most straight forward way to ingest it, as you’ll get the active ingredients in a more concentrated form. You can also grow or get hold of fresh milk thistle, you can eat the stalks just as you would other vegetables. Young leaves can also be used in a salad. Then, once the plant has flowered, you can use the seeds too – adding them to muesli or smoothies, roasting them and sprinkling them into your food or even grinding them up and using them as a coffee substitute.

Does milk thistle really work?

Milk thistle does hold properties that appear help protect the liver and even aid recovery from liver disease and cancer. It seems that the milk thistle helps protect against free radicals in the liver. However, some studies showed no beneficial effect while others did, so more research is needed to decide what the dosage should be and for how long to produce a significant change.

The active ingredient in milk thistle – silymarin – has been found to prevent cell damage but again, it’s not known exactly how much is needed to prove beneficial. It is used in treatments for those with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s where neurological cell damage is a problem, the idea being that the silymarin could help prevent deterioration. Similarly some studies have shown benefits when using silymarin as part of a wider cancer treatment programme. More research is needed, however.

Research published in the Journal of Diabetes Research found that milk thistle extract can help diabetes patients maintain healthy blood sugar levels. Again, though, more research is needed as the studies were not entirely conclusive.

Where can I get milk thistle?

Milk thistle extract is available from chemists, healthfood shops and online. Seeds to grow your own can be found at garden centres or online.

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How long does milk thistle take to work?

Milk thistle extract of around 200mg should be taken daily for at least four months to note a significant difference.

What are the side effects of taking milk thistle?

There is very little evidence of any side effects.

Are there any contraindications when taking milk thistle?

Those with diabetes should consult their GP before taking milk thistle extract as it can affect blood sugar levels.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.