Sure, you’re familiar with the myriad benefits of turmeric, lavender, and cannabis. But what about milk thistle (Silybum marianum)? While lesser known than some other herbal remedies, it's certainly not a newcomer. In fact, quite the opposite is true. It's been used for over 2,000 years—most commonly to remedy liver disorders. One of the most researched medical herbs, its healing properties were first documented by Greek physician and botanist Dioscorides in A.D. 40.
Milk thistle is indigenous to the Mediterranean and is a member of the Asteraceae plant family (along with sunflowers and daisies). It's known for its violet thistle-like flowers and glossy green, white-veined leaves. The seeds and leaves are used to create a variety of forms, including extracts, pills, powders, tinctures, and teas. Its active ingredient, silymarin, is a flavonoid with powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. This nutrient-rich herb possesses many magical powers when it comes to health and wellness.
1. Supports liver function
Unhealthy diet, alcohol, pollution, toxins, and stress can take a toll on our liver function. Studies show that milk thistle not only protects but actually helps repair toxin-induced liver damage. Not surprisingly, it's commonly used to prevent and treat the symptoms of hangovers. Hum Wing Man contains a cocktail of high-potency milk thistle extract, dandelion root extract, and artichoke leaf flushes toxins and promotes liver detoxification (added bonus: It also helps get rid of dark under-eye circles).
2. Boosts skin health
Milk thistle is a mega-multitasker when it comes to your complexion (no matter your age or skin type). Its antioxidant abilities protect against free-radical damage, which can cause premature skin aging. Both its detoxifying and inflammatory properties make it particularly beneficial for those with acne, rosacea, psoriasis, and eczema. This milk thistle extract lends its skin-purifying, pore-purging properties to Sunday Riley U.F.O. Ultra-Clarifying Face Oil ($80).
3. Slows the aging process
When applied topically or ingested, its antioxidant benefits (comparable to vitamin C and E) protect against free-radical damage. Compounded with its abilities to flush the body of toxins, it can actually help slow the aging process and maintain healthy, youthful skin (think fewer dark spots, fine lines, and wrinkles), eyes, joints, and muscles.
4. Endocrine and gastrointestinal support
Milk thistle's detoxifying abilities extend beyond the liver. It helps support the endocrine and gastrointestinal systems by flushing the body of waste. It's also shown to help prevent gallstones and kidney stones and has been touted for centuries for its ability to soothe digestive issues. Stomachache? Brew a cup of Alvita Milk Thistle Herbal Tea ($5.43).
5. Protects against cancer and disease
Research from the University of Minnesota found "strong preclinical evidence for silymarin's hepatoprotective and anticarcinogenic effects." Here's how it works: Silymarin protects against depletion of glutathione, a powerful antioxidant that helps fight oxidative stress, which can lead to skin, breast, prostate and cervical cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.
6. Promotes heart health
Milk thistle extract offers cardioprotective properties. For starters, it reduces inflammation, which is one of the leading causes of heart disease, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. And a 2008 study found that silymarin is capable of reducing LDL ("bad" cholesterol) levels associated with high-fat diets.