Milk thistle (scientific name: Silybum marianum) is an herb in the sunflower family of herbs that many people ingest for its health benefits, and primarily for the ways it acts upon the liver. The active ingredient in milk thistle is a specific flavonoid called silymarin. Generally speaking, milk thistle is consumed in capsule form. Read this article to learn a variety of different ways that you can benefit from consuming milk thistle on a consistent basis. You will also learn about some potential side effects associated with ingesting milk thistle. It's extremely important to talk to your doctor before trying any herbal supplements, including milk thistle.

Over time, certain substances, such as alcohol and the over the counter pain reliever acetaminophen (which is found in medications like Tylenol), can overload the liver with too many toxins. Milk thistle is widely believed to improve liver functioning, in large part by helping to remove such toxins from the liver. When people go on a "liver cleanse," for instance, milk thistle is typically a key component of their liver cleansing regimen.

Milk thistle also contains powerful antioxidants, which are known to attack the free radicals that can cause cellular damage throughout the body. The antioxidant properties of milk thistle appear to be more powerful than those found in vitamins and several other health supplements.

Milk thistle also appears to have anti-inflammatory properties. For this reason, it may be helpful in the treatment of illnesses that cause inflammation in various parts of the body, such as arthritis and endometriosis.

To understand just how powerful milk thistle can be, know that it has been successfully used in the emergency medical field to completely counteract the toxic effects of potentially lethal deathcap mushrooms. More specifically, if milk thistle is administered within a twenty-four hour period following ingestion of such deadly mushrooms, the patient has a strong chance of not only surviving the experience, but also avoiding long term liver damage.

Regarding milk thistle side effects, be aware that if you have any kind of liver disease, you are not advised to take milk thistle, because it is known to act directly on the liver, which means that it could have an adverse affect on a compromised liver. Also, as is true of so many herbal supplements, you are not advised to ingest milk thistle when you are pregnant and/or lactating. And no matter what your current health status may be, never exceed the recommended dosage indicated on the label. After all, milk thistle is quite a powerful health supplement, and there is never any need to take more than the recommended amount.

Milk thistle is one of the more heavily studied herbal supplements. Indeed, its effects have been carefully examined and analyzed in a number of clinical trials. Some of these studies have focused on how milk thistle acts upon a liver that has been compromised by excessive alcohol use or hepatitis. Some of these studies have indicated that a compromised liver's functioning level can be improved by the addition of a milk thistle regimen. However, most of the studies that have been conducted thus far are considered to be flawed in one way or another. (For instance, some of the studies have not used enough participants.) What this means is that many more clinical trials need to be conducted for scientists and researchers to reach any definitive conclusions about potential milk thistle benefits.

Experts in herbal supplements caution that when purchasing milk thistle supplements, you should be on the lookout for certain phrases on the label which indicate that it is a quality product which meets or exceeds certain standards of excellence. For instance, the label should state that the product contains "standardized herbal extract." This phrase means that a particular milk thistle product is manufactured using only the purest form of milk thistle. The bottle's box or label should also state that the company which manufactures the company adheres to "strict GMP compliance" (or similar phrasing to that effect).