Written by Sarah Curran
Milk thistle is a popular supplement among bodybuilders and gym goers alike. It received its popularity due to many people’s belief that it has medicinal properties and an ability to repair the liver. But is this the case and has it any other benefits?
Where Is Milk Thistle From?
Milk thistle’s formal name is Silybum Marianum and is from the family Asteracae. It has long been used in the past and present in traditional medicine. It is known by other names such as our lady’s thistle, Marian thistle, St Mary’s thistle, wild artichoke, Carduus Marianus and also sows thistle.
Legend has it that the white veins that run through the plants leaves were caused by a drop of the virgin Mary’s milk. It has been used in many places worldwide in medicine, from the Middle East and Europe. It was also used in ancient Greek and roman times.
Why Do People Take Milk Thistle?
Milk thistle is most commonly used by those with liver ailments of varying degrees with the belief it may alleviate symptoms and promote liver health. It has been recommended by alternative medicine for illnesses such as hepatitis, cirrhosis and jaundice. Milk thistle has also been promoted by many for use in those with gall bladder disorders and also for protection of the liver against both chemical and environmental toxins. Many people swear by it after a night of over indulgence with alcohol but it has not been proven in any studies yet as being an effective treatment for a hangover. Milk thistle also plays a prominent role in traditional Chinese medicine and even ayurveda. The purpose of its consumption in these practices is also for ailments such as those listed above.
What Does Science Say ?
Unfortunately, milk thistle at present has not been shown to be a miracle cure for any of the ailments listed above and certainly cannot be recommended as an alternative to traditional medicines and treatments. However studies have been carried on on the ailments below:
There was a study carried out on mice that suggested there may potentially be anti obesity benefits to Milk Thistle, but the evidence to support this is extremely limited and so it cannot be recommended for this purpose as of yet. The study illustrated that Silybin and Dehydrosilybin (a metabolite) appear to competitively inhibit glucose for transporter into an adipocyte via GLUT4. This means that milk thistle may possibly reduce glucose uptake into cells via GLUT4 , perhaps due to the glucose being uptaken by the cells from the GLUT4 vesticles and competively inhibiting the movement of glucose. Human studies need to be carried out in order to verify if this would be the case with people before any assumptions can be made regarding this supplement and its ability to aid in fat loss.
Interestingly, a very positive outcome that resulted from the study of milk thistle in research is that it appears to reduce the severity of acne. After eight weeks of supplementation, the groups that supplemented with Milk thistle actually had a significant reduction in acne lesions on their skin. The Silymarin group supplemented 210 mg/day orally, for at least 8 weeks and saw a 53% reduction in total lesion counts.
Unfortunately, the majority of studies showing a positive effect are not human trials. Studies using mice and rats have however, shown potential for Milk Thistle to have a positive effect on liver health. Improvements in DNA synthesis in rats with some of their liver missing has been highlighted in studies, but the same effect was not observed in healthy subjects.
Mice studies have also illustrated a positive effect on the health of a liver that was a mouse model of non alcoholic fatty liver disease. The mice were provided with injections of 20mg/kg Silybinin and this resulted in normalisation of cell activity that had previously been abnormal.
Take Home Message
Milk Thistle has been shown to have potential in many mice and rat studies to have benefits ranging from liver health to anti obesity benefits. These however do need to be studied further with more human experiment designs to confirm if Milk Thistle will have the same result in people. A human study in which the participants took milk thistle that suffered from acne noticed a significant difference in the severity of their lesions.