Herbs with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties contain a lot of benefits in them. One such benefits-rich herb is milk thistle. Its botanical name is Silybum marianum. It is known to have originated from the Mediterranean region. Plants such as ragweed and daisies belong to the same category of herbs; widely categorized as belonging to the asteraceae-family. Milk thistle owes its name to the milk-like fluid which comes out of its leaves; also, its offshoots and leaves have a white-colored tone as if they have been immersed in milk. This herb is in use over several centuries. It is believed to have a wide range of clinical benefits, especially enhancement of your liver or hepatic health. However, milk thistle can also lead to a few side effects. It is highly recommended to note its likely side effects before consuming it.

Milk thistle is commonly known for its ability to detox your system. It is also believed to boost the efficiency of your gallbladder as well as liver. Gallbladder is a small bag located underneath your liver; it mainly stores bile made in the liver. The gallbladder – based on stimuli – supplies bile to the intestines. The bile this bladder helps squeezing-out plays a vital role in digesting lipids or fats.

On the other hand, liver is a filter your body is naturally endowed with. It primary role is to clean your blood as it emerges from the digestive system. It is only after filtering does your blood gets supplied to all other parts of the body. Owing to milk thistle’s antioxidant capabilities, it is widely known as a detoxing agent. This herb is also used in the treatment of a few hepatic conditions like inflammation of liver (i.e., hepatitis), jaundice and cirrhosis of the liver. Apart from benefits associated with the health of your liver and gallbladder, it is also known for boosting the wellbeing of your skin, promoting loss of bodyweight as well as enhancing the secretion of breastmilk.

A flavonoid known as silymarin boosts the antioxidant properties of this herb; this substance helps reduce the risks associated with cancers. It erects a firm defense against carcinogens that can enable the relapse of a few types of tumors, it also arrests the likely impairment of DNA and thus makes your immunity levels to become more robust. This herb is also believed to reduce blood cholesterol level as well as enable better management of type 2 variant of diabetes. People who took products based on milk thistle have reported a marked improvement in insulin-resistance levels. The herb is also thought to have therapeutic properties that can reduce bad cholesterol (clinically referred as low density lipoprotein – LDL). By reducing these lipids, it contributes to minimising the risks of likely cardiac ailments and other heart-based disorders. For these reasons, it can be co-administered with statins or other similar cholesterol-reducing drugs. Of all the other benefits, milk thistle can avoid a possible build-up of liver-enzymes, which is a common side effect of taking statins regularly.

Side effects of milk thistle

Extracts sourced from milk thistle are widely considered as safe. Most people who have taken milk thistle have not reported any major side effects. However, a few mild reactions and side effects may show up. The most common among such adverse side effects are abdominal discomforts such as stomach upset, indigestion or loosening of stool. In some people, milk thistle has triggered side effects like itchiness. In such instances, you are advised to reduce its dosage levels. Most people have seen these discomforts to cease soon after reducing the dosage strength of milk thistle.

Some people may develop allergic reactions if they take extracts of plants belonging to the asteraceae family – i.e., herbs such as ragweed, marigold, kiwi or daisies. People with such conditions need to talk to their treating doctor before starting to consume milk thistle. Those who live with high levels of blood sugar or with diabetes also need to talk to a qualified medical practitioner about the intake of milk thistle.

Likely side effects of milk thistle if taken with other drugs

You need to be aware of the drugs milk thistle can interact with and produce adverse side effects. You are advised to make a list of the drugs that you are currently taking. In this list, take proper care to include over the counter (OTC) medications, dietary or herbal aids as well as prescription drugs. Stay aware that milk thistle is likely to interact with drugs used for the treatment of sleeplessness, hypertension (high level of blood pressure) as well as drugs consumed to decrease your blood cholesterol level. Those living with high blood sugar or diabetes need to exert added levels of caution; this is because of this herb’s ability to reduce your blood sugar levels. Those who are taking diabetic medications are advised to talk to their treating physician to alter their medication plan accordingly. In case you decide not to inform your treating physician, your blood sugar levels are likely to drop low, leading to related side effects.

Drugs that can adversely work with milk thistle include sirolimus; milk thistle may inhibit the complete flushing of this drug from your system. When taken along with drugs like ariprazole, milk thistle is known to have led to toxicity, especially conditions that may injure your liver. If administered with risperidone or haloperidol, this herb may trigger inflammation of pancreas. This condition is clinically referred as pancreatitis. Your pharmacist and treating physician may advise you not to take milk thistle with medications such as substrate drugs like UGT-substrate or cytochrome-substrates.

Milk thistle is also likely to work adversely with evista (raloxifene) – a drug used in the treatment of bone-related conditions such as osteoporosis. These two drugs may result in a marked presence of milk thistle in your blood. A similar side effect is triggered if you take a few types of hepatitis C drugs. These antiviral medications – such as simeprevir, etc. – can also result in sizeable traces of this medication in your blood. Your pharmacist may advise not to take such drugs together with milk thistle.

Milk thistle may act adversely if taken with estrogen or other hormone enhancing medications. Also, drugs which need to be broken up by your liver may find it difficult to get absorbed into the system. This is mainly because of milk thistle’s ability to slow down the functioning of liver. Most common among such drugs are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen, blood thinners like warfarin, muscle relaxants such as phenytoin, a few types of statins (especially, fluvastatin), etc. So, taking such medications can make the residue of milk thistle to stay back in your body for a longer span of time.

Your doctor may tell you not to take milk thistle if you are consuming drugs to treat respiratory conditions like bronchitis or asthma, male impotence (erectile dysfunction), chronic or severe headaches, epileptic fits, autoimmune conditions such as arthritis, cancers, gastrointestinal conditions such as acid reflux or heartburn, etc. Apart from these drugs, your pharmacist may also tell you to avoid taking this herb if you are pursuing treatment plans to cure psoriasis, hypertension, psychiatric or mental conditions, anxiety, mood shifts including depression, or infectious conditions such as malaria, HIV AIDS and tuberculosis.

Acute side effects of milk thistle

In very rare cases, milk thistle while used with aspirin and / or garlic have led to an acute spell of epistaxis or bleeding profusely from the nose. In equally remote instances, a few people have reported severe abdominal discomforts such as pain and nausea; these side effects showed up along with excessive sweating and persistent spells of weakness or tiredness. Upon noticing all or any of these side effects, it is strongly recommended to discontinue the use of milk thistle as quickly as possible. In some rare instances, it has triggered a persistent spell of itchiness as well as chronic headaches. If you develop such side effects, you are advised to call 911 or contact a local poison control center without any delay. If you are living in Canada, talk to Health Canada or reach out to a poison control center located in your province immediately.

Last but not the least, it is not recommended to take milk thistle if you had prior incidence of cancers – especially, cancers of ovaries, uterine or breasts. Also, women who have had fibroids (cysts) in their uterus are not advised to take milk thistle. If you develop allergies such as hives or inflammation of body parts or facial organs you are advised to stop the doses. It is strongly recommended to seek medical help on an emergency basis. You need to note that the aforesaid side effects and discomforts do not represent a complete list of all the side effects of milk thistle. So, if you notice new symptoms or signs, you are advised to tell your pharmacist and treating physician as quickly as possible.

Above all, you need to remember that milk thistle is a supplement and hence its manufacturing or processing does not come under the purview of the food and drug administration (FDA). So, the quantum of active and therapeutic substances present in each brand may not be the same. In the absence of scientific parameters to regulate its intake, a safe dosage level ranges between 30 to 250 milligrams per day. For the purpose of boosting liver health, a dose of 140 milligrams is considered as adequate. These dosage forms are typically taken as a single dose or in two doses each day. However, for a fairly consistent or regular use of milk thistle, a dose of 75 grams per day is considered as safe. It is sold through pharmacies in multiple forms; the most commonly available forms include a liquid variant, capsule and also as an oral pill.


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