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The Origin of the Milk Thistle
Milk Thistle, also known as Silybum marianum is native to southern Europe, Asia Minor and North Africa and can grow up to five feet in height. It is part of the sunflower family, consists of thorny leaves along with light-green and white markings and pinkish/purple colored flowers.
Milk Thistle has been a known herbal remedy for over 2,000 years for a wide range of ailments from simple to complex. It has also been a known source of therapy for conditions that we now, presently, know as ascites, congestive heart failure, several different kidney diseases, and hepatitis. Milk Thistle is named for the milky white fluid that comes from the leaves when crushed. Milk Thistle commonly grows in warm, dry regions and is prevalent in California.
Historical uses of Milk Thistle
Milk Thistle was used in Medieval Europe as a remedy for rabies and snake bites, in addition, an ancient legend claims that the leaf veins turned white after it had been touched by a drop of the Virgin Mary's breast milk, while she was nursing Jesus. There are many noted theories and uses pertaining to Milk Thistle, including Pliny the Elder (A.D. 23-79), who was a first century Roman physician and naturalist, who claimed that mixing honey with the juice from the milk thistle, would carry away bile that caused liver distress. Additionally, in the18th century Culpepper (1787 ed.), made note that Milk Thistle was effective against jaundice by opening the obstructions of the liver and spleen.
What are common uses for Milk Thistle?
Milk Thistle is commonly used in the present day and age for treatment regimens for hepatitis, cirrhosis, to help repair liver damage, to aid in relieving gallbladder ailments and problems, as an emergency antidote for mushroom poisoning, and as well as helping to lower high cholesterol and for cancer prevention.
Milk Thistle is available in a variety of forms including liquid extract, capsules (which is made up of standardized dried milk thistle), silymarin phosphatidylcholine complex and tincture. Silymarin is the active ingredient in Milk Thistle and all forms of supplements are standardized to contain 70 - 80% of this ingredient.
Cautions when using Milk Thistle
While commonly known to be safe and with little to no side effects, it should be noted that a few common side effects to be on the lookout for when using Milk Thistle are: headaches, itching, indigestion and in rare cases, gas, joint pain, diarrhea, sexual dysfunction and heartburn. People with allergies to daisies, artichokes, kiwi, common thistles or plants in the aster family, should use extra caution - there are numerous reports of anaphylactic shock in people who have used milk thistle products. Other risks include the possible lowering of blood sugar levels, possible estrogen-like effects, and using Milk Thistle may reduce the effectiveness of oral contraceptives because of the inhibition of an enzyme called beta-glucuronidase. Milk Thistle is generally considered safe but should not be taken by pregnant or nursing women. It is also recommend that when using milk thistle, as with any herbal supplement and/or medicines, to use them under the supervision of a health care practitioner to prevent any undesired side effects and drug interactions that may be caused with using this along with other medications.