Milk thistle is a plant used in herbal remedies to treat liver and gallbladder diseases. Its main active ingredient is silymarin, which has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antiviral properties. While there are studies that support some uses of milk thistle, it is not considered a cure-all. Frankly, there is not enough research to confirm a link with using milk thistle and weight loss. After all, weight loss still depends on how much energy is consumed and used by the body. However, milk thistle can help your weight loss progress if its usage is combined with other methods of losing weight.
What is Milk Thistle?
Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) is a plant with reddish purple flowers that comes from Europe, Asia, north Africa, North and South America, and South Australia. It is also known as Mary thistle or holy thistle. Milk thistle is a weed that grows in dry and rocky soil. Its seeds have been used in herbal remedies to treat liver and gallbladder diseases, such as cirrhosis, hepatitis, and jaundice. There are claims of milk thistle being used to treat diabetes and to lower lower cholesterol levels.
The main active ingredient in milk thistle is silymarin, a group of plant compounds which have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antiviral properties. Silymarin and milk thistle are sometimes used interchangeably.
Uses of Milk Thistle
Milk thistle is most commonly used in liver and gallbladder diseases. There are some studies which state that milk thistle can be used successfully in treating diabetes as well. However, people have also been using milk thistle for other diseases.
Among many other conditions, milk thistle has been used for some conditions and diseases such as:
- Hepatitis C
- High Cholesterol
- Insulin Resistance
- Liver Disease
- Menstrual Problems
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Seasonal Allergies
How Can I Use Milk Thistle for Weight Loss?
How Weight Loss Works
Why is diet and exercise always recommended for weight loss? It’s because these two factors are what determine your weight.
The metabolism is the process where the things you consume are broken down into energy. Energy is needed to survive, even when you are not doing much. Processes like sleeping, breathing, and maintaining vital organ systems still require energy, and take the energy needed from food. Different bodies have different “resting” or basal metabolism because they have different energy needs. A bigger body will need more energy to run the same processes a smaller body does. Metabolism relies on factors like age, body size, and sex.
While there is not a lot we can do to change our metabolism, we still do have control over how much energy our body gets to burn. In this way, people can choose to change their weight if they wanted to. There are only a handful of medical conditions where the metabolism can dictate a person’s weight.
Increasing the energy we burn can be done through increasing our physical activity. Walking longer distances, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, and exercising for as little as 30 minutes a day can make significant differences in the calories we burn. Sometimes increasing the amount of physical activity is not possible for some people. However, they may still choose to control their caloric intake.
If we consume as many calories as our body needs to maintain its basal metabolic rate, then weight can be maintained. However if too many calories are consumed, then there is more energy than the body requires, which the body stores and weight gain ensues. If less calories are consumed, then the body looks for other sources of energy to maintain itself. The body burns its stored energy, and weight loss ensues.
Milk Thistle for Weight Loss
Your attempt to lose weight can be successful even without taking milk thistle as a supplement. However since taking milk thistle is generally considered safe for most people, you may still take milk thistle for its benefits.
Milk thistle can help improve glycemic control for those with type 2 diabetes. Losing weight is one way to reverse diabetes, put it in remission or even put off its development in the first place. There are some studies that show that milk thistle can lower cholesterol levels as well, but the studies are not generalizable to those without diabetes.
If you would like to lose weight to reverse diabetes, put it in remission or put off its development, then you cannot rely on milk thistle alone. You may however, combine milk thistle with other efforts at achieving and maintaining a healthy weight for your height. This is because milk thistle is not a cure-all and will not reverse diabetes without other efforts to improve your diet and activity level.
Taking Milk Thistle
Milk thistle can be found in stores that sell herbal products and some drugstores. Milk thistle can be taken orally in the form of supplements. It may also be taken like tea. Milk thistle comes in the form of tablets or capsules, powders, and liquid extracts. Milk thistle can be combined with other herbs.
Taking milk thistle as a supplement is generally safe. However for your safety it is recommended to discuss milk thistle usage with your doctor or healthcare provider. While taking milk thistle, you may experience some rare effects.
Some effects of taking milk thistle include the following:
- allergic reactions, such as hives and difficulty breathing
- joint pain
- sexual dysfunction
- upset stomach or gastrointestinal issues
Milk thistle is generally safe for most people. However, certain people may find that taking milk thistle is harmful to them instead of helpful. To be on the safe side, do not take milk thistle if you belong in any category of people who should not take milk thistle.
Do not take milk thistle if:
- you’re a woman with breast, ovarian, or uterine cancer
- you’re a women with endometriosis or fibroid tumors
- you are breastfeeding
- you’re pregnant
- you have a ragweed allergy