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Heart Disease Health Center

Milk Thistle: Benefits and Side Effects

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Milk thistle (silymarin) is a flowering herb related to the daisy and ragweed family. It is native to Mediterranean countries. Some people also call it Mary thistle and holy thistle.

What Is Milk Thistle Used For?

Milk thistle is sometimes used as a natural treatment for liver problems. These liver problems include cirrhosis, jaundice, hepatitis, and gallbladder disorders.

Some claim milk thistle may also:

  • Provide heart benefits by lowering cholesterol levels
  • Help diabetes in people who have type 2 diabetes and cirrhosis
  • Reduce growth of cancer cells in breast, cervical, and prostate cancers

Does Milk Thistle Work?

Silymarin is the main active ingredient in milk thistle. Silymarin is both an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. It’s unclear what benefits, if any, this may have in the body.

Is Milk Thistle Good for the Liver?

At this point, there is not enough scientific data to say whether or not milk thistle can help liver problems. Some early research suggests milk thistle may aid people with alcohol-related liver disease. Other studies show no improvement in liver function in this group of people.

Some studies also show milk thistle may offer a possible benefit for people whose liver is damaged by industrial toxins, such as toluene and xylene.

More information is needed before doctors can say milk thistle actually benefits the liver.

Can Milk Thistle Help People With Diabetes?

Medical research does suggest that milk thistle, combined with traditional treatment, can improve diabetes. Studies have shown a decrease in blood sugar levels and an improvement in cholesterol in people with type 2 diabetes.

Researchers also have found that milk thistle improved insulin resistance, a key characteristic of type 2 diabetes.

Diabetes is a serious condition. Talk to your doctor before taking any supplements as they may interfere with your medication.

Is Milk Thistle Good for the Heart?

By lowering LDL "bad" cholesterol levels, milk thistle may help decrease the chance of developing heart disease. However, studies on possible heart benefits only have been done in people with diabetes. People with diabetes often have high cholesterol. It’s unclear if milk thistle may have the same effects in other people.

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