Used medicinally for more than 2000 years, milk thistle (Silybum marianum) is native to the Mediterranean, but is now found across the world, including Australia.
The plant has white veins on its spiked greens leaves, which are fabled to carry the milk of the Virgin Mary.
This popular herb is known as a must-have for those in need of some serious liver antioxidant protection. Milk thistle has been historically applied as a treatment for a broad range of liver disorders, and this valuable remedy has also been the subject of scientific research in recent times.
A compound or flavonoid, called silymarin, is thought to be the main active ingredient in milk thistle. Silymarin is extracted from the seeds of the milk thistle plant.
Milk thistle at a glance
Name: Silybum marianum (Milk thistle or St Mary's thistle)
Part used: seeds
Actions: protective and restorative to liver cells, antioxidant
Conditions used for: liver protection.
How to take it: best taken in tincture or tablet form
Where do I find it: Commonly available in pharmacies, health food stores and supermarkets. A naturopath or herbalist is also likely to have it in their dispensary.
What does milk thistle do?
Although the exact actions of milk thistle in the body are not fully understood, lab tests have provided some important clues. It seems likely that the main antioxidant activity is related to increased levels of an important liver antioxidant called glutathione.
Milk thistle is also proposed to support liver detoxification by increasing cytochrome P-450, which is an important enzyme system for removing toxins from the body.
When should I take it?
Milk thistle is a great herb to reach for during times of overindulgence, poor digestive function or if doing a detox. Our liver is one of our major detoxification organs, and in this day and age of high levels of environmental and lifestyle related toxins, it makes sense to promote wellness by supporting liver function with the benefits of this valuable herb.