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Milk Thistle History

Milk thistle is an ancient herbal remedy, mainly used in European medicine. The plant’s leaves are threaded with milk-white veins. Old legends tell tales of the Virgin Mary’s milk dripping on to the plant’s leaves, leaving potent stains. For this reason, the herb is believed to enhance lactation.

Milk Thistle as an Anti-inflammatory

To date, milk thistle is a valuable supplement. According to the National Center for Complimentary and Alternative and Medicine (NCCAM) milk thistle is believed to have protective effects on the liver, improving its functions. It is often used to treat conditions like liver cirrhosis, gallbladder disorders and chronic hepatitis (liver inflammation). The active ingredient is called Silymarin (an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory), which is extracted from the seeds of the milk thistle plant and prepared for use in capsules, extracts and teas.

Milk Thistle for Lower Cholesterol & Blood Sugar Levels

According to the NCCAM milk thistle is thought to reduce cholesterol levels, making it an ideal preparation for those with high cholesterol who desire to reduce their cholesterol through diet and alternative remedies. Other studies have proven milk thistle’s ability to lower blood sugar levels in individuals with type 2 diabetes (a disease that affects the way the body makes insulin). In addition, the plant may also be effective at staving off insulin resistance, a major characteristic of type 2 diabetes.

Milk Thistle for Cancer Treatment

According to the NCCAM, milk thistle may reduce the growth of cancer cells among those with breast, cervical and prostate cancer. The National Cancer Institute and the National Institute of Nursing Research continue to study milk thistle for cancer prevention as well as to treat complications in HIV patients.

Milk Thistle for Liver Disease and Cirrhosis

According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), milk thistle has been used by herbalists and ancient physicians for the treatment of liver-related and gallbladder conditions. Cirrhosis (an alcohol-related liver disease) as well as jaundice and hepatitis patients may benefit from the use of milk thistle. One of the healing benefits include protecting the liver from a host of poisons.

Milk Thistle Side Effects

Clinical trials have found some minor side effects including upset stomach, diarrhea, bloating and in some individuals, milk thistle has a laxative effect. In addition, some individuals experience allergic reactions. Those with allergies to other plants like chrysanthemums, daisies, marigolds and ragweed, are more likely to be affected.

Sources:
Diabetes: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000313.htm#Definition

AHRQ: http://www.ahrq.gov/clinic/epcsums/milktsum.htm

NCCAM: http://nccam.nih.gov/health/milkthistle/ataglance.htm

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