What is Milk Thistle for?
Milk thistle is a plant. The above ground parts and seeds are used to make medicine. The seeds are more commonly used.
Milk thistle is used most often for liver disorders, including liver damage caused by chemicals, Amanita phalloides mushroom poisoning, jaundice, chronic inflammatory liver disease, cirrhosis of the liver, and chronic hepatitis. Nevertheless, researchers have not yet concluded with certainty that milk thistle is effective for any of these uses.
Milk thistle is also used for loss of appetite, heartburn (dyspepsia), and gallbladder complaints.
Some people use milk thistle for diabetes, hangover, diseases of the spleen, prostate cancer, malaria, depression, uterine complaints, increasing breast milk flow, and starting menstrual flow.
In foods, milk thistle leaves and flowers are eaten as a vegetable for salads and a substitute for spinach. The seeds are roasted for use as a coffee substitute.
Milk thistle gets its name from the milky sap that comes out of the leaves when they are broken. The leaves also have unique white markings that, according to legend, were the Virgin Mary’s milk. Don’t confuse milk thistle with blessed thistle (Cnicus benedictus).
What is a Milk Thistle Possibly Effective for?
• Heartburn (dyspepsia), when a combination of milk thistle and several other herbs is used. The combination product (Iberogast, Medical Futures, Inc) contains milk thistle plus peppermint leaf, German chamomile, caraway, licorice, clown’s mustard plant, celandine, angelica, and lemon balm. When used daily over a period of 4 weeks, this combination seems to reduce severity of acid reflux, stomach pain, cramping, nausea, and vomiting.
• Diabetes. A compound in milk thistle called silymarin appears to lower blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes.
Most studies of milk thistle’s effectiveness have used a specific extract standardized to 70% to 80% silymarin. In the U.S., this formulation is found in the brand name product Thisilyn (Nature’s Way).
• Liver disease caused by excessive use of alcohol. There is conflicting evidence about the effectiveness of milk thistle for treating alcohol-related liver disease.
• Amanita mushroom poisoning. Giving silibinin, a chemical found in milk thistle, intravenously (by IV) may lessen liver damage due to Amanita phalloides mushroom (death cap) poisoning. However, it is hard to get silibinin in the U.S.
• Hepatitis B or hepatitis C. Milk thistle and some of the chemicals in it do not seem to improve survival or decrease liver function tests in people with hepatitis B or C.
• Liver disease caused by chemicals. Some research suggests milk thistle may limit liver damage after exposure to industrial poisons such as toluene and xylene.
• Spleen disorders.
• Gallbladder problems.
• Swelling of the lungs (pleurisy).
• Menstrual problems.