Did you know milk thistle contains a flavonoid which is scientifically proven to combat against Alzheimer's disease? These small but mighty flowers have a long list of benefits, some of which are nothing short of magical. From fighting oxidative stress to lowering cholesterol levels, it is truly the little plant that can do it all!

But don’t head outside in search of this little thorny flower just yet. There are plenty of ways to collect this flower’s health benefits without coating your hands in its sticky milk. We’ll go through its top advantages, how to use milk thistle properly, and where to buy it wherever you live.

What Is Milk Thistle?

Milk thistle is an annual plant related to the daisy family. This plant grows well in countries such as India, Holland, Germany, and Israel.  Some call this thorny flower by other names such holy thistle, Mary thistle, or its scientific name silymarin marianum. You may recognize this plant by its tall green stem littered with thorns. A beautiful pink/purple tube-like flower sits atop the stem, surrounded by another layer of green spines. Like a daisy, this plant's milk is in the stem.

History of Milk Thistle

The plant contains an active ingredient called silymarin. Silymarin is a flavonoid used in a variety of different ways. It is an ancient plant with an extensive history dating back to the IV century BC. Many figures in history such as Theophrastus and Nicholas Culpeper used this weedy plant for its healing properties. However, most people know milk thistle for supporting liver health.

How to Use Milk Thistle Essential Oil Properly

Milk Thistle

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Today, you don't have to go outdoors in search of a milk thistle plant to reap its health benefits. There are plenty of products available on the market containing it. However, it is crucial always to read the product's label and consult your family physician before using a milk thistle product.

To take advantage of this plant's healing properties, there are a few ways you could introduce it into your life. Milk thistle is available for purchase in capsule form, powder form, and even as a tea. However, one of its most popular forms is oil. People use the oil in a variety of different ways. Most buyers take half a teaspoon a day with or without food. If you can’t stomach pure milk thistle oil, consider mixing it with your food or drink. Mixing it in with your smoothie, yogurt, porridge, or even your tea is an easy way to introduce milk thistle oil into your diet.

If you’d rather use it topically, always conduct a patch test first. Dab a small amount of oil to an inconspicuous place, such as the inside of your wrist. Allow your skin to soak up the oil and watch for any adverse reactions. If none occur after 24 hours, proceed to use the oil on your skin. It is known to counteract inflammation, which makes milk thistle particularly useful for skin conditions including acne.

Milk Thistle Uses

Milk Thistle

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People use milk thistle products in a variety of ways to counteract many different ailments. From counter-acting inflammation to fighting Alzheimer symptoms, here are just a few ways this powerful plant can improve your life.

Improves liver function


One of the first uses for milk thistle is to improve liver function after damaged caused by liver and gallbladder diseases.  Most significantly, it is proven to play a large role in assisting those impacted by alcoholic liver disease (ALD). A 2006 study concluded that silymarin (the active ingredient) had a beneficial effect on a group of rats with ethanol-induced liver damage.

That is because silymarin combats oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is an imbalance of antioxidants (such as vitamins and enzymes) and oxidants. When these two are unbalanced, oxidative stress occurs which causes cell damage. That, in turn, promotes inflammation. Alcohol disrupts your body’s natural balance between oxidants and antioxidants, consequently increasing your chance of liver inflammation and alcoholic liver disease. While a teaspoon of milk thistle oil won’t necessarily cure your liver ailment overnight, it could play an active role in recovery.

Promotes skin health


Now that we understand how silymarin reduces oxidative stress resulting in inflammation, the same principle can be applied practically anywhere on the body. A recent study found that applying silymarin topically minimizes the number of inflammatory lesions. That would also help with people suffering from acne flare-ups. There are plenty of products online containing silymarin aimed towards treating acne-ridden skin.

Another study focuses on a purified fraction found in milk thistle’s silymarin: silibinin. Studies show that, when applied to a wound, silibinin gel dramatically reduces inflammation and wound size. The study concluded that using the 0.2 percent silibinin gel for eight days resulted in 56.3 percent wound contraction compared to 64.6 percent contraction using a standard healing gel.

Lowers cholesterol levels and treats diabetes


This almost magical little plant packs quite a punch. Besides reducing a body’s inflammation and oxidative stress, it also has other health benefits. Scientists conducted a 4-month study with 51 patients with type II diabetes and divided them into two groups. One group received a 200 mg silymarin tablet along with conventional therapy.

Meanwhile, the second group received the same treatment but had a placebo tablet. Results showed that the first group who took the silymarin tablet showed a significant decrease in many levels compared to group two. Total cholesterol, LDL, HbA(1)c, FBS, SGPT, and triglyceride SGOT levels lowered as a result of silymarin tablets.

Good for your bones


Osteoporosis is a bone disease found in humans due to age, hormonal changes, or some sort of vitamin or calcium deficiency. The result is brittle, fragile bones due to a lack of bone tissue. While there are things you can do to prevent osteoporosis (exercise, increased vitamin intake, etc.), there is no bulletproof cure for this medical condition.  Another bone disease is osteopetrosis. Although they sound similar, osteopetrosis is a rare disease characterized by hardened, stone-like bones.

While milk thistle does not prevent nor completely cure osteoporosis, studies suggest silymarin may be beneficial. A study examined the effects of silymarin on female mice with tibia fractures. The study lasted eight weeks and concluded that the silymarin promotes osteoblast formation which leads to bone deposition.  Another 2013 study focused on ovariectomized female rats. These are rats that have had their ovaries removed to replicate a human’s stages of osteoporosis better. This study found silymarin and silibinin may work in conjunction with traditional therapies to slow the progression of postmenopausal osteoporosis and osteopetrosis.

Fights Alzheimer’s disease symptoms


Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a heartbreaking medical condition which robs families of their loved ones piece by piece. This neurodegenerative disease is most often associated with older generations and is one of the most common causes of dementia.

Scientists link the progression of Alzheimer’s disease with oxidative stress and inflammation. Studies explore milk thistle’s silibinin and its effect on mice. As previously mentioned, silymarin and silibinin improve the body's resistance to oxidative stress. This test concludes that milk thistle’s silibinin improves behavioral abnormalities in mice during testing. More importantly, it also proves that silibinin is an inhibitor or amyloid peptides. That is especially crucial because amyloid peptides are components found in AD-affected brains. In conclusion, both silymarin and silibinin fight against inflammation, lower oxidative stress, and inhibits amyloid peptides.

Health Risks and Warnings

Blooming Milk Thistle

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While milk thistle products are generally considered safe, it is essential to do your research before you try it. It is especially crucial to speak to your family physician about the pros and cons of taking it. A trained professional who knows your medical history can accurately direct you on how much and in what form you should take it, if at all. More importantly, a doctor will tell you if you can or cannot take the products with any medication you currently take.

As mentioned before, remember to conduct a patch test if taking milk thistle oil topically. That will limit your exposure if you find out you are allergic to it. Allergic reactions can be from mild skin irritation to full-on anaphylactic shock. If you are allergic to plants within the Asteraceae family (such as ragweed, daisies, or marigold), you may also be allergic to milk thistle.

Further to allergic reactions, any form of milk thistle can cause headaches, itchiness, or gastrointestinal issues. There is a risk that it could lower blood sugar. Those with cancer of the breast, uterine or ovarian should also avoid the use of this thorny flower.

Where Can You Buy Milk Thistle Products?

Milk Thistle

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Finding milk thistle products is not as hard as you may think. Many big-box stores such as Target and Walmart have milk-thistle products in their pharmacy or health supplement section. Most of these products are capsules or softgels. Health food stores have a wider variety of milk thistle forms including powder, tea, and even oils. Visit your local health store to find out what milk thistle products your area sells.

If you’re looking to buy online, vendors such as Amazon have plenty of milk thistle products. Make sure to look at the ingredients and the reviews to decipher between high- and low-quality products.

Should You Buy Milk Thistle Products?

Milk Thistle

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If you’re buying milk thistle product with a goal in mind (improving acne, lowering cholesterol, etc.), always manage your expectations. Reaping the benefits of any herb or flower extract may take weeks to months. You may not see or feel results immediately, but it may be working without your knowledge. Always talk to a doctor who knows your family history and medical background before picking up a milk thistle product. Finally, always conduct a test patch before use and proceed with caution.

Featured Image: Image by Anna Armbrust from Pixabay

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