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Milk Thistle Explained

By Jacqueline Harris

For more than 2000 years, Milk Thistle has been used as an herbal remedy for treating gallbladder and liver disorders. The herbal name for Milk Thistle is Silybum marianum, and in many parts of the world, it is also known as bull thistle, holy thistle, lady’s thistle, Marian thistle and Mary thistle. The Milk Thistle plant has a long stem, green leaves, and pinkish flowers that resemble a Scottish thistle. Milk Thistle is a native European plant and generally speaking grows wild in South America and the United States. Extracted from the Milk Thistle seed, silymarin is a flavenoid complex that is believed to be the biologically active component.

Products containing Milk Thistle are highly popular in Europe as well as North America. It should be noted that although it is popular for many ailments, there are not many documented reports about long term use or side effects.

Milk Thistle is one of the most commonly used herbs to increase milk flow and production in nursing mothers. Many women report an increase in milk production within 3-4 days of taking Milk Thistle. There are no reported side effects to either mother or child although there is not sufficient scientific evidence to conclusively support the safe use of this herb during breastfeeding. Furthermore, since the FDA does not strictly regulate herbal supplements, you should always discuss your intentions with your doctor, herbalist or holistic practitioner before starting a regime with Milk Thistle.

In North America, Milk Thistle is available quite readily at health food stores and drug stores; in seed form, capsules, tinctures and extracts. It should be noted that Milk Thistle has a low dilution level and therefore teas made from the herb are much weaker in dosage than extracts or tinctures. If using the herb in seed form, it is important to keep seeds stored in an airtight container away from bright light.

If you are allergic to plants in the aster family, daisies, artichokes, kiwi or common thistle, you should carefully consider Milk Thistle as a milk production herbal remedy. You may experience allergic reaction or in rare cases, anaphylactic shock.

In most women, Milk Thistle is very well tolerated, when taken in recommended doses up to a period of 6 years in length. Mild side effects reported include upset stomach, headache and itching.

It is true that Milk Thistle may reduce blood sugar levels and therefore, should be avoided by anyone with diabetes or hypoglycemia as well as women taking drugs that affect blood sugar levels. In certain cases, or if you are unsure, you may want to monitor glucose levels when beginning an herbal regime that includes Milk Thistle.

Overall, Milk Thistle is a very popular herbal alternative for women who need to increase breast milk production but who choose not to take chemical therapy medications. As there have never been reports of serious side effects to mother or child, it continues to grow in popularity. It is easy and inexpensive to acquire, easy to take and produces the desired results in a matter of days.