Milk thistle is a common name for Silybum marianum, a flowering plant in the Asteraceae family. It also has many other common names, including Marian thistle, Mary thistle, Saint Mary's thistle and Scotch thistle. Milk thistle originates from Southern Europe, although it is now found in temperate regions throughout the world.
Milk thistle typically grows as a shrub with a conical shape, exceeding six feet in height and five feet in diameter under ideal conditions. The stems are grooved and become hollow as the plant matures. The leaves are shiny green with milky-white veins, which is how milk thistle gets its name. The flowers are reddish-purple and bloom during the summer.
The primary active constituent in milk thistle is silymarin. This complex is a mixture of closely related polyphenols, including silybin A, silybin B, silychristin, silydianin, isosilybin A, isosilybin B, isosilychristin and taxifolin. The milk thistle extract used in traditional herbal medicine comes from the seeds and typically contains four to six percent silymarin. Modern milk thistle extract is more highly refined and is usually standardized to about 80 percent silymarin, with various fatty acids comprising the remaining portion.
Milk thistle is commonly used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), primarily for the purpose of relieving toxic materials and clearing heat. It’s also used in TCM to support liver function, especially bile flow. Modern herbal medicine uses milk thistle to support liver health, especially in the presence of chronic liver conditions. Multiple studies also indicate that milk thistle protects the liver from toxins.
Milk thistle extract is commonly taken to maintain liver functions. Additional uses of milk thistle extract include support for the digestive system, maintenance of healthy cholesterol levels and management of menopausal symptoms.
Silymarin may help to maintain a healthy cholesterol profile, especially in people who have difficulty controlling their blood sugar.
Some research shows that silymarin can provide short-term support for liver functions. Other studies also indicate that silybin may support long-term liver functions.
Milk thistle may help manage digestive conditions such as cramping, discomfort, nausea and vomiting.
A combination of milk thistle and other ingredients such as dong quai, black cohosh, red clover and chasteberry may help manage the symptoms of menopause such as night sweats and hot flashes.
Liver dysfunction is one of the most significant signs that you may need milk thistle. Chronic liver problems often cause slight cognitive difficulties and fatigue. Additional signs of liver dysfunction include easy bleeding and bruising, an accumulation of abdominal fluid and jaundice. Discomfort of the bladder and kidneys can also indicate that you may benefit from milk thistle.
Silybum marianum, Silymarin, Marian thistle, Mary thistle, Saint Mary's thistle, Scotch thistle
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