While many people consider milk thistle to be a noxious weed, this humble herb can be used for a number of medicinal purposes. People have used milk thistle to treat liver problems and other illnesses for centuries.
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Identifying Milk Thistle
Like most thistles, milk thistle flowers have purple petals extending from a bulb-shaped base. Milk thistles, however, have distinctive white veins on shiny deep green leaves and produce a milky liquid when damaged.
Over-consumption of alcohol can raise liver enzymes, causing liver damage. Studies have shown that a compound called silymarin found in milk thistle can help lower these enzymes, sometimes within days. As a result, patients whose livers have alcohol-related liver damage can often regenerate their livers by taking milk thistle supplements.
Other Liver Problems
In addition to lowering liver enzymes, the silymarin in milk thistle is also used to treat viral hepatitis, and it is used as an antidote for animals and humans poisoned by the "death cap" mushroom.
In addition to treating liver disease, recent studies by the Columbia University Medical Center indicate that silymarin may also limit liver inflammation and damage caused by chemotherapy treatment for cancer.