In this article you will learn how you can protect your liver and kidneys with milk thistle, a wonderful and underestimated herb.
We will also discuss health properties, contraindications of use, side effects and many other details.
CAUTION: Medical Disclaimer
Table of Contents
- 1 Herbal Name and Characteristics
- 2 About this Herb
- 3 What is Milk Thistle?
- 4 Benefits and properties of Milk Thistle
- 5 When and how to take it
- 6 Safety and side effects
- 7 Cycling
- 8 Dosage
- 9 Closing thoughts
Herbal Name and Characteristics
- Name: Milk Thistle,
- Pin Yin: Shui Fei Ji,
- Latin: Silybum marianum,
- Taste: Bitter, slightly sweet and astringent,
- Color: brown (powder),
- Constitution: N/A,
- Builds: N/A,
About this Herb
I tend to use a lot of herbs and supplements so it is part of my routine to have a couple of liver detox sessions within the year to allow my liver to recuperate and give my system a break. It is usually the time when I do not take any supplements except for this one. The goal is to clean my liver as much as possible, in order to optimize its health (and mine).
Another case when Milk Thistle can prove to be useful is for testosterone boosters since they can add excess stress on the liver and kidneys. For that purpose I take it 1 month before, during and after I am done with the protocol in order to protect my organs.
Another good reason to detox your liver, is to make your nutritional uptake more efficient. Everything goes through the liver so the better this organ functions, the better your health.
At this time, I need to note that there is not enough evidence for the effectiveness of Milk Thistle as mixed results have shown up in research.
I use the herb in powder form and capsules find them to be equally effective.
Below you will find more details about this herb, its benefits, side effects and precautions you need to know before using it.
What is Milk Thistle?
Milk thistle (aka Silybum marianum) is a plant which has been used for various problems of the liver, kidney and gallbladder. Its usage has been known since the Ancient Greek and Roman times.
Its consumption extends to the Middle East and it can also be found as part of Ayurveda and T.C.M.. Milk Thistle is given as treatment against liver and bladder poisoning (is the only antidote against poisoning from the Death Cap mushroom), as a liver tonic and to help with milk production in women.
Its name has nothing to do with milk unlike what some people think. Its name comes from the milky sap that comes out of its leaves when it is crushed.
Milk Thistle contains 3 flavonoids (silibinin, silidianin, and silicristin) the combination of which makes silymarins. Silymarin is an antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties which can protect the liver from toxins and help the liver repair itself.
Other active ingredients are:
- Sterols (cholesterol,campesterol, stigmasterol and sitosterol),
Most milk thistle products are standardized to contain 70 – 80% of silymarin (which is extracted from the seeds of the plant).
Milk thistle plant extract might enhance the effects of estrogen but as I have explained in my other articles, phytoestrogens do not interact with human estrogen levels in the same way that synthetic estrogens do. This means that in some people it may have a positive result, and in others, a negative one depending on their health and hormonal profile.
Benefits and properties of Milk Thistle
Summarizing the many benefits of Milk Thistle:
- It can help the liver repair itself by growing new cells as the active ingredient Silymarin increases the rate of protein synthesis in the liver. Currently the mechanism of how this happens remains unknown.
- It has certain anti-obesity effects by reducing glucose uptake in the cells which shows promise in helping with weight loss. However, evidence remains limited and the dose unknown.
- It also has strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and can reduce NF-kB in fatty liver conditions due to its silibinin content, iIt can also reduce DNA fragmentation and LDH release in damaged livers which is attributed to Silymarin.
- It is currently the only antidote for liver poisoning from the Death Cap mushroom which was only shown as a summary in some case studies. However, there can be no trial studies with living subjects on this matter (for moral reasons).
- It can reduce the growth of tumor cells (hepatic carcinomas) in various forms of cancer, especially liver cancer as shown in a study in rats. However, it will not be able to protect against liver cancer if consumption of alcohol is present. The combination of ethanol and milk thistle may have the opposite effect.
- Has galactogogue properties (just like Fenugreek) which means it can stimulate milk production in mothers.
Milk thistle is used most often for liver disorders such as:
- Liver damage caused by industrial chemicals and drugs (such as toluene, xylene, acetaminophen a.k.a Tylenol),
- Death Cap or Amanita phalloides mushroom poisoning (as silibinin),
- Chronic inflammatory liver disease,
- Cirrhosis of the liver (as long as it is not alcohol induced).
Milk thistle is also used for heartburn (dyspepsia) and seasonal allergies since it has been shown that taking milk thistle along with antihistamine has reduced symptoms more than just the antihistamine itself.
Other uses and applications of Milk Thistle that have not been fully proven yet:
- Chronic hepatitis (B or C).
- Gallbladder complaints.
- Diseases of the spleen,
- Starting menstrual flow
- Treating psoriasis (by increasing bile flow)
- Treating prostate conditions (due to its estrogenic effects).
When and how to take it
Alcohol based Tincture: In this way, you can extract many of the nutrients found in Milk Thistle. Hold the dose in your mouth (under the tongue) for 1 to 3 minutes until it gets absorbed. Then you can swallow it.
For people who have liver cancer or problems with alcoholism, the tincture can also be taken in a glass of water. Wait a couple of minutes for the alcohol to evaporate and then drink the tincture. This is perhaps the safest way to take a milk thistle tincture.
Tablets/Capsules: Milk Thistle can be taken in pills. I would advise you to be really careful when selecting tablets. Their quality and potency can be of questionable quality as you can assess the state of the herb used.
Powder: Buying Milk Thistle in powder form can be very versatile and efficient as you can make tinctures or tablets with it. You can also add it to your shakes or sprinkle it over your breakfast.
Another way to take it is to hold the powder in your mouth for 5 minutes and then swallow.
What you can also do, is alternate between 2 sources. The first would be a tincture and the second one, either powder or tablet form.
Tea: Perhaps the best way to take herbs such as Milk Thistle is by making a concoction a.k.a tea. All you need to do is boil some water, add some powder and let it sit over time. Then you can drink it as usual.
The best times to take it would be:
- Early in the morning,
- At times of detox,
- When you need some extra liver and gallbladder protection (great for people who use testosterone boosters or anabolic steroids),
- Before bed.
Safety and side effects
While Milk Thistle does not seem to have any toxicity levels, it does have some side effects after prolonged use (more than 2 months).
Reported side effects of prolonged usage include:
- Intestinal gas,
- Bloating and loss of appetite.
It also might have a laxative effect for some people.
Touching the actual Milk thistle leaves can give a rash to some people.
You should not take Milk Thistle if you:
- Are taking antidepressants or other types of medication including but not limited to antihypertensive drugs, immunosuppressive drugs or anticoagulant medication.
- If you have allergies to ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigolds, chamomile, yarrow, or daisies since Milk Thistle belongs to the same family of these herbs.
- Have any hormonal problems, cancer, diabetes or undergoing chemo treatment: Check with your doctor before using this herb if you have any of the above conditions.
- Are taking blood pressure medication as it can interfere with the dosage.
- Have low blood pressure as there is a high risk of hypoglycemia from using milk thistle.
- Are scheduled for an operation, organ transplant or you just underwent one. Certain ingredients may interfere with the sedation used during surgery, rejection of the organ, interfere with healing and/or cause internal bleeding.
The best thing you can do before taking any herb supplement is to test it. If you want to be safe while using herbs I strongly urge you to read my other article on how to test an herb for allergies and intolerances.
Contraindications or interactions with other medication/substances:
Avoid using this herb if you have any medical condition or take any kind of medication without consulting with your doctor first.
Special Precautions & Warnings:
Even though it is a galactogogue, due to lack of studies performed to determine the full safety of this product, pregnant women or breastfeeding women should avoid using this product.
Use for a maximum of up to 2 months and then take 4 weeks off. Repeat cycle after that.
While there are no side effects or toxicity associated with long term consumption, I would not use any herb for long periods of time without a break in order to keep them being effective and protect the body from accumulation of other toxins unrelated to the herb itself.
Over the past 20 years I have experimented with literally hundreds of herbs, supplements (and other natural products) and was finally able to discover the right doses for amazing results.
If you wish to learn more about the dosages that I use with my clients for different purposes (better health, hormonal balance, stress management, testosterone boost and more) or how I combine this herb/supp with others, leave a comment below or reach out to me for a consultation through the “Hire me” link.
Milk Thistle has been used for ages to protect the liver and cleanse the body. It is an absolute treasure that everyone should include in their nutrition, especially people who drink and/or take supplements or herbs of any kind.
Have you ever had any experience with Milk Thistle? What did you use it for and for how long? Let me know by leaving a comment below.
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by Nick Sigma
CWC, EH, E-YRT200
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