What is Milk Thistle Good for? Top 5 Benefits

What is Milk Thistle Good for? Top 5 Benefits

Milk Thistle is a highly acclaimed botanical herb and one of our favourite ingredients because it's so effective, and it is an essential ingredient in the best-selling Debloat & Detox to relieve bloating, combat toxins and naturally detoxify the liver. One of the main reasons Milk Thistle and Debloat & Detox have become so popular on social media is because, when taken before going out in the evening, it's known to be effective for combatting feeling groggy the morning after. 

Here we explain why Milk Thistle is talked about so much, how it works, and how our body can benefit from this wonder-herb. 

What is Milk Thistle?

Milk Thistle is a herb native to Europe, with purple flowers which are used in natural medicines. Milk Thistle's active compound is a 'flavonoid' called 'silymarin' which influences a number of biological pathways within the body. 

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What is Milk Thistle used for?

Milk Thistle is used for a variety of reasons in the human body, and one of its great benefits is its versatility, from supporting the body's natural detoxification to the body's immunity. 

1. Detoxification

Milk Thistle supports the detoxification abilities of the liver and protects the liver from dangerous toxins that may cause damage to liver cells. Silymarin, the active ingredient in Milk Thistle, supports the production of 'glutathione' which is the body's major detoxification enzyme.

Research has shown silymarin helps to control the permeability of liver cells, helping to prevent toxins from entering the liver cells and causing damage.  

2. Liver disease 

There is extensive research on the use of Milk Thistle for liver diseases such as 'cirrhosis of the liver' and 'non-alcoholic fatty liver disease'. Research has shown silymarin helps stimulate liver regeneration, inhibiting the formation of fibroblasts (which cause cirrhosis), and can have an anti-inflammatory affect. 

3. Digestion

There are a number of benefits for digestion from Milk Thistle. Firstly, Milk Thistle stimulates the production of digestive juices including stomach acid and bile, which are vital for the effective breakdown of foods. This is why Milk Thistle is a particularly popular ingredient to relieve bloating that occurs after meals

Milk Thistle supports effective gastrointestinal movement, helping your body move food along at an appropriate pace which keeps the gut flora in check and bloating at bay. Silymarin is extensively metabolised in the intestines by gut bacteria and may promote wider gastrointestinal health.

If you suffer IBS, or believe your bloating may be related to IBS or your gut microbiome, then a probiotic such as the award-winning Gut Works is recommended instead of a Milk Thistle supplement. Probiotics repopulate the gut microbiome with healthy, active bacteria, fighting off bad bacteria, organisms and pathogens that can otherwise cause IBS. Read the latest research into the causes and symptoms of IBS.

Our overall health is only as good as our gut health and the nutrients our body absorbs from foods we eat. Our body relies on these nutrients for all the essential biological processes, so good digestion is much more important than most people think, and a helping hand from Milk Thistle can go a long way to improving digestion. Learn more about 'How to improve digestion naturally'.

4. Mental health

As Milk Thistle influences digestion, it also has an indirect effect on the gut-brain axis. The gut-brain axis is the intricate interconnection between gut health and mental health. Neurotransmitters and hormones such as serotonin originate from the gut, travelling to the brain where it influences our mood, motivation and appetite. A healthy mind starts with a healthy gut. You may also enjoy 'How to look after your gut through your diet'. 

5. Immunity

Research has shown Silymarin from Milk Thistle to be 'immuno-modulatory' and anti-inflammatory, and may be of use to those who have autoimmune conditions and inflammatory diseases. 

There is also a strong link between our gut health and immunity - 70% of the body's immune system originates in the gut. When food is digested properly, this in turn keeps the bacteria in the gut healthy. This optimisation of gut bacteria has a direct impact on our immunity and the body’s ability to fight diseases. The proper function of the immune system is also reliant on the body's ability to detoxify itself - toxic build-up can decrease the function of the immune system. Learn more about how your diet can support your immunity in our blog '8 immunity boosting foods'.

How to choose a Milk Thistle supplement

It's very important to remember that when choosing a Milk Thistle supplement, check the supplement contains silymarin, as is the case of the best-selling Milk Thistle supplement, Debloat & Detox, which contains 1440mg of Milk Thistle and 80mg of Silymarin. If Silymarin is not listed separately in the ingredients and nutritional table of your supplement, it means it does not contain silymarin. 80mg is the upper level of silymarin allowed in food supplements. Again, always check the label of your supplements

Milk Thistle is a highly effective natural botanical herb for digestive health, liver health, mental wellbeing, and combatting feeling groggy in the morning after an evening of excess. However it can also be even more effective when taken in combination with other botanical herbs that support the body's natural elimination of toxins, including Fennel, Dandelion, Artichoke and Burdock. 

Milk Thistle side effects

There are few side effects to taking milk thistle, however some people have reported experiencing nausea and bloating.

WebMD reports that people who are allergic to certain plants such as artichokes, ragweed, daisies and chrysanthemums are more likely to also be allergic to milk thistle. There is little research around the safety of milk thistle for pregnant or breastfeeding women so it’s best to avoid it under these circumstances. If you are taking medication, particularly those that are metabolised by the liver, you should consult your GP before taking the herb as it could interact with these drugs and cause side effects.

How can Milk Thistle be taken?

Milk Thistle can be taken in a supplement or as a tea, however it is incredibly bitter in tea and the levels of silymarin can't be guaranteed.

When is the best time to take Milk Thistle?

Milk thistle can be taken either in the morning or at night and can even be consumed on an empty stomach. However, taking milk thistle after a meal can help your stomach to digest it and is especially beneficial if you have a sensitive liver.

How much Milk Thistle should you take per day?

Whilst there is no standardised recommended intake for milk thistle, it’s safe to take in moderation. Taking Milk Thistle in supplemental form can guarantee you gain the right level of the active component silymarin, however if you are taking a Milk Thistle supplement, ensure it has the optimal level of silymarin of around 80mg which is the important component - lots of Milk Thistle supplements contain little or no silymarin. Unless silymarin is shown separately on the nutritional table of your Milk Thistle supplement, it means it doesn't contain it. Taking Milk Thistle in combination with other botanicals can also enhance its benefits within the body.

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