Milk Thistle Benefits
Mike Jackson is a nutritional consultant as well as freelance writer in the field of health and fitness. He specializes in physique transformation and contest preparation for all levels of competition. Mike is currently based out of Salt Lake City, Utah.
You’re probably familiar with common milk thistle. It’s found throughout the world and is characterized by its spiny head. While you might recognize it as a nuisance that sticks to your clothes, there are several benefits of milk thistle you might not be aware of.
For more than 2 millennia, milk thistle has been used as a food and to improve organ function. The active compound, silymarin, has recently gained popularity because of scientific studies on its effectiveness. Some of the benefits of milk thistle include: detoxification, improved liver health, prohormone cycle support, reduced inflammation, and healthy vital organ function.
Milk Thistle and Detoxification
Toxins are waste left in the body, particularly the liver. They come from chemicals in food, pollutants in air, and impurities in water. Everyone has some level of toxic buildup, and this buildup slows organ function making you feel bloated, slow, or less than optimal.
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Milk thistle extract detoxifies organs in a simple way. The active ingredient, silymarin, prevents additional toxin buildup by blocking toxins before they are absorbed. This gives your body a rest and time to flush out existing toxins. It also accelerates natural toxin purging, especially in the liver. This is important because it strengthens already-existing detoxifying functions.
The liver is a unique organ because of its role in the body’s processes of digestion, metabolism, toxin filtration, and blood clotting. Because it has so many responsibilities, the liver is a robust organ and able to heal and regenerate if injured (which is especially important if it is damaged by the very toxins it helps filter out).
After 30 days of regular milk thistle supplementation, researchers found the workers showed significantly increased liver function and greatly improved platelet counts, without negative side effects.
One study examined the effects of milk thistle on workers suffering from severe toxin buildup due to exposure to organic solvents for years. They had significantly reduced liver function because of the buildup and issues with blood platelet count.
After 30 days of regular milk thistle supplementation, researchers found the workers showed significantly increased liver function and greatly improved platelet counts, without negative side effects. The milk thistle enabled their livers to heal and function healthily again.
Milk Thistle and Liver Health
While research is still being done on many liver disorders, a few studies show milk thistle’s effectiveness on specific diseases.
The most comprehensive research to date was a report on milk thistle supplementation in patients suffering from cirrhosis, a common liver disease. Researchers found milk thistle reduced cirrhosis symptoms brought on by alcohol and hepatitis. Patients reported less fatigue and lower pain levels. In addition, liver function was restored, and inflammation was reduced without any noticeable negative side effects.
Milk Thistle and Prohormones
Prohormones are a unique type of supplement, and they generally aren’t used by regular gym-goers. What they are and how they work is a topic for another article, so we’ll simply say prohormones are similar to steroids, increasing hormone levels and muscle gains.
Milk thistle plays into prohormone use because it is a cycle support supplement. Prohormones are taken in cycles, and since they are processed by the liver, they can cause damage. Because milk thistle protects liver function and detoxifies, it defends the liver against the onslaught of prohormone-related side effects.
Inflammation can be a real setback when working out.
What Else Can Milk Thistle Do For You?
Fighting inflammation has been identified as a key milk thistle benefit. One study found silymarin, the active ingredient in milk thistle, also reduces inflammation. This study conclusively stated milk thistle is effective at reducing inflammation responsible for pain, swelling, and inhibiting tissue regeneration.
We have yet to understand all milk thistle can do to boost our health. Many people use it for diabetes, depression, allergy symptoms, and increasing general organ health and report moderate success. To keep up with anecdotal evidence, research is ongoing, discovering more of milk thistle’s benefits.
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-  Vogin GD. “Detox Diets: Cleansing the Body.” WebMD.
-  Szilard S, et al. “Protective effect of Legalon in workers exposed to organic solvents.” Acta Medica Hungarica. 1988;45(2):249-56.
-  Mulrow C, et al. “Milk thistle: effects on liver disease and cirrhosis and clinical adverse effects.” Evidence Report/Technology Assessment. 2000;(21):1-3.
-  “Prohormones – Don’t Start Down the Road.” Muscle and Strength.
-  Pferschy-Wenziq EM, et al. “Identification of isosilybin a from milk thistle seeds as an agonist of peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma.” Journal of Natural Products. 2014 Apr 25;77(4):842-7.
-  Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database: “Milk Thistle Monograph.”