Milk thistle: medicinal plant with side effects?
The milk thistle (Latin name: Silybum marianum) is a plant with purple flowers and small, thin spines . Colloquially it is also known as thunder thistle, female thistle and fever thistle. It grows in many parts of the world, including Germany, and has long been considered a medicinal plant in traditional medicine.
The Committee on Herbal Medicines (HMPC) has classified milk thistle fruits as a traditional herbal medicine .
The fruits of the milk thistle contain a substance called silymarin , which is responsible for many positive effects. Bitter substances, flavonoids and other secondary plant substances can also affect functions of the body such as digestion.
According to the WHO , preparations made from milk thistle fruits are antioxidant, preserve the function of liver cells, protect the liver from toxins, are cholagogue and anti-inflammatory.
The plant is used by millions of people today, especially to support the liver and gall bladder functions .
However, there is largely no scientific evidence on the mode of action. Individual studies could observe various effects that at least provide indications about it.
Protects the liver
One hears again and again about the positive effects of milk thistle on liver health . In fact, various studies show that taking silymarin can repair liver damage caused by various liver diseases while protecting the liver from toxins such as amatoxin, the poison of the death cap mushroom.
Improvement of blood sugar and blood fat levels in diabetes
In one study , 25 diabetic patients took 200 mg silymarin three times a day before meals for four months. There was a significant reduction in blood glucose levels after treatment was completed. Three important fat values also improved significantly: the cholesterol level, the triglycerides and the LDL values. With this, the researchers concluded that silymarin is a powerful drug for treating diabetes .
Improving insulin levels in people with alcoholic fatty liver
People with fatty liver often also have high levels of insulin in their blood. These can precede metabolic diseases like diabetes and are therefore risky. In one study , 30 people with alcoholic fatty liver disease consumed 600 mg of silymarin per day for a period of 12 months. They saw significant improvements in insulin levels after the treatment period .
Reduction of abnormal liver values
The so-called transaminases are important enzymes for the metabolism of amino acids. Two classes of transaminases (AST and ALT) are mainly found in the liver cells, where they are involved in various reactions. If these liver cells die, the transaminases are released into the bloodstream and can be measured in a blood test. Above a certain concentration, the values are referred to as abnormal – colloquially we speak of elevated liver values. These indicate a disease of the liver.
In a study in which 22 patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and elevated liver values consumed 140 mg silymarin per day for two months, the AST and ALT values fell significantly. The scientists concluded that milk thistle fruit extract is good for treating non-alcoholic fatty liver disease .
Said to stimulate the production of breast milk
In traditional medicine, milk thistle is also said to stimulate the production of breast milk. A study even confirmed this. Here, 25 women took 420 mg of silymarin daily over a period of 63 days and ultimately actually produced 86% more milk than the women in the placebo group.
There were there no side effects observed. However, this field has not yet been researched well enough to make reliable statements about whether silymarin can actually stimulate breast milk production.
Milk thistle for weight loss: a myth that has been around for a long time
In addition, there have been hypotheses for a long time that the milk thistle should help with weight loss . However, no such effects have been scientifically proven to date . The assumption is, however, that the bile acid-stimulating properties can contribute to improved digestion and thus to better well-being.
Are there any side effects?
Adverse effects occur relatively rarely after taking milk thistle preparations. It is relatively well tolerated. In particular, people with an allergy to composites should refrain from consuming it, as milk thistle belongs to this family of plants. If typical allergy symptoms such as skin rashes occur after ingestion, use should be stopped.
Various symptoms that affect the digestive tract can also be side effects. The bitter substances in milk thistle in particular can cause slight diarrhea, soft stools, nausea or general restlessness in the gastrointestinal tract . Depending on the extent of the symptoms, either the dose should be reduced, the intake reduced or stopped completely and a doctor should be consulted if necessary.
One should also note that capsules with silymarin are much higher dosed than usual powders or oils of the plant. Therefore, the side effects can vary depending on the dosage form.
Milk thistle side effects: why it comes to diarrhea & Co.
The milk thistle is a versatile plant that is mainly used to support the liver and gall bladder function . It is usually taken in capsules that contain milk thistle extracts with the active ingredient silymarin. Milk thistle seeds or oil can also be used for minor complaints or for prophylactic purposes.
Smaller studies have shown that regular use in diabetics or people with fatty liver disease can improve various metabolic parameters. In most cases, however, there is no scientific evidence to date about the mode of action of this plant—-