Milk thistle, scientifically known as silybum marianum, is a curious species of plant often recognized by its purple flower. From the Asteraceae family, milk thistle is originally native to southern Europe and Asia. Now the plant is seen all over the world, including the United States, which is a good thing! Milk thistle has many wonderful health benefits! Silybum marianum is used to help treat a wide variety of illnesses and health concerns, including OCD, cancer, rosacea, inflammation, possibly hepatitis C, and more. (1, 2, 3)
What is Milk Thistle?
You might only know this strange little flower as a prickly herb growing amongst the weeds. It’s commonly seen alongside highways, peppered about open pastures or crop fields, or growing happily in undisturbed hillsides. While it’s certainly colorful and pretty to look at, milk thistle is commonly deemed a weed, despite its many herbal benefits. Some might even consider it a Dr. Suess flower!
History shows that people have used milk thistle as a natural form of herbal medicine for many, many centuries. Usually, it is used for liver cleansing and support, but it is capable of helping with so much more. Silymarin is the main active compound in milk thistle. Experts believe silymarin is to thank for many of the plant’s beneficial attributes, such as it’s antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant effects. It’s able to be ingested in supplement form or when added to food.
How Can Milk Thistle Benefit Health?
Let’s take a closer look at some of the ways milk thistle may be beneficial to our health:
While there is no known cure for cancer, milk thistle has proven beneficial in a number of cases. For example, back in 2010, researchers examined the effect that silibinin, another compound found within milk thistle, had on cancer growth. Their studies discovered that milk thistle has strong anti-cancer properties preventing growth, invasion, and metastasis of prostate cancer cells. Not only that, but milk thistle has been shown to prevent colon, colorectal, oral, and many different skin cancers. (2, 3)
Milk thistle has anti-inflammatory properties. Since chronic inflammation is the main culprit of many modern diseases, illnesses, and deaths, this is quite valuable! Doctors examined patients with knee osteoarthritis to determine effectiveness. Research shows that silymarin outperforms piroxicam (Feldene) and meloxicam (Mobic) in the race to reduce inflammation. (4)
Due to its anti-inflammatory properties, milk thistle has also been shown to help with rosacea. As an inflammatory skin condition, rosacea is a difficult health condition to treat. However, a combined dosage of methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) and milk thistle have resulted in miraculous outcomes! (6)
While researchers are still working on identifying the real benefits of milk thistle, there is a lot of research showing that milk thistle treatments can help with diabetes. Under a doctor’s supervision and when combined with more traditional treatment methods, milk thistle has shown to decrease blood sugar levels and improve cholesterol in patients suffering from type 2 diabetes. Additionally, milk thistle has improved insulin resistance, which is one of the key characteristics of type 2 diabetes. (9)
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
A study on milk thistle discovered that it can help treat Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). In fact, the study suggested it was equally as effective as Fluoxetine, the drug usually used to help treat patients suffering from OCD. (6)
Milk thistle, the crazy-looking purple bristle flower, has much more to it than just looks! Not only can it help with cancer, inflammation, diabetes, and OCD, studies also show it can help lower ‘bad cholesterol,’ which may help decrease the chance of developing heart disease. (9) So, next time you see one hanging out among the weeds, think twice before mowing it down. That little flower could help treat some illnesses! As with any supplement or treatment, be sure to speak with your doctor before consuming milk thistle to treat any illness.