Ancient Herbs, Modern Uses: Milk Thistle

Find out why milk thistle has been used for 2,000 years.

| December/January 2009

  • Studies show that milk thistle can regenerate damaged liver cells.
    Peggy Kessler Duke

Silybum marianum
—Genesis 3:18
Used for: The effects of alcoholism, asthma, cirrhosis, hepatitis, jaundice, kidney and urinary tract stones, psoriasis

We aren’t certain milk thistle is one of the thistles and briers referred to in the Bible, but it could be. We know that milk thistle grows among shrubs common in Samaria and parts of Israel today.

Milk thistle has been used as a liver remedy for 2,000 years. Liver disease (often a deadly side effect of alcoholism) attacks the blood’s filtration system, allowing dangerous toxins to accumulate in the body. Milk thistle, which contains silymarin, seems to be the most promising natural compound for preventing and repairing existing damage to the liver.

Studies show that milk thistle can regenerate damaged liver cells. Research studies have led Commission E, the German expert panel that judges the safety and effectiveness of medicinal herbs for the German government, to approve milk thistle seeds and seed extracts as supportive treatment for cirrhosis and chronic inflammatory liver conditions. Silymarin also helps protect the liver from many industrial toxins, such as carbon tetrachloride. Even if you don’t have liver damage or disease, milk thistle helps improve liver function by aiding removal of toxins from the body.

Silymarin also has shown great promise fighting diabetes. In 1998, an Italian scientist suggested that taking 600 mg of silymarin substantially reduced diabetic symptoms and complications. An article in the Journal of Hepatology said taking silymarin lowered blood sugar and insulin levels.

Click here for the original article, Ancient Herbs, Modern Uses.  

James A. Duke, Ph.D. , is one of the world’s foremost authorities on botanical medicine. He is author of  The Green Pharmacy (Rodale, 1997) and Amazonian Ethnobotanical Dictionary (CRC, 1994). 

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