Silymarin is an extract from the milk thistle plant. Milk thistle is native to Europe and is also sometimes called Mediterranean thistle or Holy thistle. It is often used as an herbal remedy for a variety of ailments. The seeds are most often used for medicinal purposes, however, other parts of the plant may also be used.
This plant has anti-inflammatory properties. Additionally, silymarin is a type of flavonoid, which is an antioxidant that helps protect the body’s cells from damage. Milk thistle’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties may be responsible for its potential health benefits.
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Silymarin is often taken to combat chronic liver disease caused by either alcohol or viral hepatitis, a type of disease. It may also help protect the liver from cirrhosis, which is the scarring of the liver. This plant may help prevent cirrhosis-related death, as well as improve general liver function.
While this plant is often used for other medicinal benefits, more research is needed in these areas. Some people may use the plant to treat poisoning by the Amanita phalloides mushroom. It may also be taken to improve blood sugar control in diabetics.
Some patients may use silymarin to help reduce the growth of certain cancer cells, such as prostate, liver, and cervical cancer. Some women may also take milk thistle supplements to alleviate symptoms of menopause. It has been posited that milk thistle may relieve indigestion and lower high cholesterol levels. Patients who suffer from any of these ailments should not neglect traditional treatment in favor of this herbal remedy, as more scientific studies are needed.
While these supplements are generally well-tolerated, patients should be aware of the possible side effects. These may include headache, stomach upset, and itching. Rarely, silymarin has resulted in joint pain, heartburn, and appetite loss. Other rare side effects may be diarrhea, gas, and impotence.
Not all patients may be able to take milk thistle supplements. The possible risks of using silymarin while pregnant or breastfeeding are unknown. Patients with hypoglycemia or diabetes may need to avoid this herb. Additionally, women who have medical conditions associated with their hormones should avoid any milk thistle preparations made from the part of the plant that is above the ground. Hormone-related conditions may include uterine fibroids, as well as ovarian, breast, or uterine cancers.
People with allergies should exercise caution before using silymarin. Milk thistle may cause allergic reactions in patients who also have allergies to kiwi, artichokes, and common thistle. Those with allergies to daisies or any plant in the aster family may also have a reaction. Patients with allergies, any other medical condition, and those who are taking medications should discuss herbal supplements with a doctor to avoid a possible reaction.
Children should not take silymarin supplements. There are no standard dosing recommendations for adults. Some studies have used dosages of 200 milligrams (mg), taken three times daily. Other studies have used 280 to 450 mg daily, in divided doses. Patients may also ask their doctor for a recommended dose.