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Milk Thistle

milkthistle Milk Thistle

For more than 2,000 years milk thistle has been popular among natural cures and home remedies. It is particularly useful as a folk remedy in the treatment of liver ailments. Scientists attribute its effectiveness to a flavanoid contained in milk thistle known as silymarin, which protects the human liver from harmful toxins such as those contained in acetaminophen (commonly found in Tylenol pain reliever). Such toxins are known to cause damage to the liver when consumed in high doses. Silymarin also possesses anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which may contribute to cell rejuvenation in the liver helpful in the organ being able to repair itself.

Scientific Name of Milk Thistle

Silybum marianum


Although native to Mediterranean climates, milk thistle is currently grown and produced worldwide. The plant thrives in sunny, dry areas, matures rapidly and produces stout thistles. With spine-like stems that branch out at the top, milk thistle grows to about four feet in height, but can reach as high as ten feet if allowed. Milk thistle will rapidly spread and is even considered to be a weed by some. Its wide, white blotchy leaves also contain veins and produce a milky substance when broken or crushed. Milk thistle flowers are purplish-red in color and the plant produces a tiny fruit that is covered with a shiny brown, spotted tough skin.

Typical Preparations

Milk thistle seeds are used in products that contain silymarin, milk thistles most active ingredient. It is produced as a liquid extract, in capsules and in tincture form.

Common Uses of Milk Thistle

Common Uses of milk thistle:

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Natural cures and home remedies, particularly herbal remedies, are very effective in the treatment of a variety of ailments, disorders, conditions and diseases. However, some herbs do not interact well with certain prescription medications and may inhibit the effectiveness of other herbs. Therefore, herbs such as milk thistle should be thoroughly researched before used and anyone under the care of a physician for a preexisting condition is advised to only use milk thistle under their doctor’s supervision.

Those currently using the following prescription medications should not take milk thistle without consulting their health practitioner first:

  • Cancer medications
  • Blood thinners
  • Halothane
  • Phenytoin
  • Anti-anxiety mediations
  • Medications treating high cholesterol
  • Allergy medications
  • Antipsychotic medications

Those with a history of cancer should not take milk thistle.

Pregnant and nursing women should always use extreme caution when using herbs, as some may be too potent for their unborn or nursing children. Using milk thistle under the supervision of a qualified health practitioner is thereby recommended.

Before giving milk thistle to children or before using it to treat a liver ailment, a qualified medical practitioner should be consulted. Because liver ailments are serious disorders, which can also be life threatening, if problems with the liver are suspected a proper medical diagnosis should be obtained before self-treating with milk-thistle.

Side effects associated with milk thistle are rare and very mild when they do occur. Such side effects include:

  • Allergic rash
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach discomfort

Besides the special circumstances and precautions noted above, milk thistle is safe to use. It is an effective alternative to traditional liver treatments and the protection it provides this vital organ makes it a highly regarded herbal remedy.