Do you enjoy puttering around your garden? Or perhaps you pride yourself on your lush green lawn?
If so, you probably spend a fair amount of time pulling weeds. Not to mention cursing their very existence.
But there’s one common weed you might want to make an exception for. In fact, by the time you finish reading this you might even be thinking about planting some of your own.
Milk thistle is a common weed that grows wild along roads and in unused fields in many parts of the United States. It has green leaves covered in milky white stripes. And when it blooms, you get globe shaped purple flowers, or thistles.
Milk thistles are pretty to look at. (Which is a good thing since they spread like… well… weeds.) But the health benefits are what will make you a fan.
Milk thistle delivers a double shot of protection
The key to milk thistle’s healing power is its active ingredient silymarin. The potent antioxidant helps protect against free-radical damage.
But its benefits don’t end there. Silymarin also blocks the loss of the “master antioxidant” glutathione.
This powerful peptide prevents and reverses the oxidative damage that accelerates aging and triggers disease. In fact, our glutathione levels are so important to our health that experts say they can help predict how long we will live.
In other words, milk thistle delivers a huge double shot of protection against disease and aging.
Milk thistle brings bunches of benefits to the table
Following are eight proven health benefits of this common weed.
1. Slow aging:
Milk thistle’s antioxidant action makes it a natural at slowing and reversing the damage associated with aging. Plus, as a natural anti-inflammatory, the weed can help calm the age-related inflammation that contributes to the development of age linked illnesses from heart disease to diabetes.
2. Prevent bone loss:
The research is still in its early stages, but it looks like milk thistle may be able to help us prevent bone loss.
A study published in the journal BioMed Research International found that extracts from the plant appear to slow the bone loss associated with menopause. And the researchers say it could also help speed the healing of fractures caused by osteoporosis.
3. Protect brain health:
Milk thistle could help protect your brain too. Exciting animal studies have linked it to lower risks of dementia, memory loss and neurological deficiencies.
The plant’s ability to reduce chronic inflammation extends to the brain and nervous system. Which means milk thistle may help protect your memories and your ability to learn for years to come.
4. Reduce cancer risk:
Researchers from the University of Minnesota report that the silymarin in milk thistle slows the growth rate of breast, prostate, skin and cervical cancer cells. The potent antioxidant appears to put the brakes on the cell’s development from growth through metastasis (spreading throughout the body).
And other early research finds that the extract may shorten the lifespan of cancer cells, as well.
5. Improve cholesterol:
If you take statin drugs to improve your cholesterol numbers, we hope you’ve already taken our advice to talk with your doctor about getting off them. According to Healthier Talk contributor Dr. Rothfeld, statins can increase your risk for diabetes, kidney failure and permanent muscle damage.
Plus the jury is still out on the exact role that high cholesterol plays in the development of heart disease. But if you’re looking for a way to bring your numbers down without the dangerous drug side effects, milk thistle could be your answer.
Research has found the plant could help lower total cholesterol, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and triglyceride levels. It may even help protect your heart by shielding the cells that make up the muscle from damage.
6. Balance blood sugar:
If you have type 2 diabetes, or are concerned about blood sugar, you might want to put milk thistle on your shopping list. Research has found that the herb can improve insulin resistance and help lower blood sugar.
In one study, a group of volunteers with diabetes and liver disease took a daily silimarin supplement. There were significant drops in the group’s fasting blood sugars and daily glucose levels. And insulin resistance improved, with insulin requirements plummeting by 20 percent.
In another study, published in the journal Phytotherapy Research, milk thistle improved fasting glucose and insulin levels in a group of diabetic volunteers.
7. Boost immunity:
Experts say milk thistle can stimulate your immune system making you more resistant to getting sick.
In lab studies, the herb increased the number of immune system cells called lymphocytes. These white blood cells are critical for a well-functioning immune system.
Plus the extract stimulated several immune system substances which help fight off the bacteria, viruses and other foreign invaders that can make us sick
8. Detox the liver:
Milk thistle has been used to detox the liver and treat liver problems for hundreds of years. And modern science has given us some clues as to why it works.
Silymarin, the active ingredient in milk thistle, boosts the ability of liver cells to regenerate using a process called protein synthesis. So your liver can recover faster from damage.
The powerful antioxidant also protects your cells from damaging free radicals. And studies show it can counteract the effects of poisons that are toxic to the liver.
In Germany, medical professionals use milk thistle to help treat folks with hepatitis, cirrhosis and other inflammatory liver conditions.
Milk thistle transitions from weed to wildflower
There’s an old saying that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. But in the case of milk thistle it is one man’s weed is another man’s wildflower cure.
Milk thistle supplements and teas are available online and in natural food stores. Or you can try your hand at growing your own. Harvest the dried flowers (using gloves) and separate out the seeds when they’re completely dry. Then crush a tablespoon or so and steep it in hot water to make tea.