It’s best known for its role in supporting our liver health, but the benefits of milk thistle tea also include balancing our blood sugar and fighting inflammation.
If you’ve ever googled ‘natural hangover cures’, you’re bound to have heard of milk thistle tea. This spiky herb is well-known for its ability to help our livers detox after a heavy night of eating and drinking.
There’s more to milk thistle than just protecting our livers, however. Other possible benefits of milk thistle tea include lowering blood sugar levels, keeping our bones strong, and reducing the risk of memory loss and dementia in old age.
Read on to find out more about this powerful herb and the benefits it has for our bodies.
What is Milk Thistle?
Native to Europe, milk thistle is a spiky plant with distinctive purple flowers. Because it was traditionally used to treat liver disease and support healthy digestion, milk thistle soon found its way around the world. It now grows on many continents, including North America, Australia, Africa, and Asia.
Folklore tells that the plant’s distinctive white veins were caused by a drop of milk from the Virgin Mary as she fled to Egypt, giving the herb its name. It is also known as Mary thistle or holy thistle because of this story.
Evidence for the use of milk thistle stretches back to the time of the Ancient Greeks and it remained a popular herbal remedy throughout the medieval period.
Nowadays, we know that many of the benefits of milk thistle tea come from silymarin, a complex of active compounds that act as a powerful antioxidant and have liver-protecting properties.
What Effect Does Milk Thistle Have on the Body?
Milk thistle has many benefits for our health. Traditionally used to protect the liver, there are several other reasons to make this herb part of your daily routine.
- Liver Protection
Milk thistle has been used to treat liver issues for centuries. It is often taken by people suffering from liver diseases, such as hepatitis, liver cancer, and cirrhosis.
Milk thistle’s ability to protect and support our liver likely comes from its anti-inflammatory properties. It is a great choice when you’ve had too much to eat or drink and want to help protect your liver as it works to rid your body of toxins.
- Blood Sugar Balance
As well as protecting your liver, milk thistle tea might help keep your blood sugar levels down. In people with type 2 diabetes, milk thistle’s active ingredient, silymarin, can be effective in controlling blood sugar levels and may prevent other complications, such as kidney issues.
If you have diabetes, talk to your doctor before introducing any new treatments, including milk thistle, as they may interact with other medications.
- Strong Bones
As we get older, our bones begin to lose mass, making them weak and brittle. This is a particular issue for women after menopause and can ultimately develop into osteoporosis.
However, there’s evidence to suggest that taking milk thistle might help to protect our bones and keep them strong. Silymarin encourages our bodies to build new bone and encourages bone healing, helping to lower the risk of osteoporosis.
- Prevent Brain Degeneration
Another traditional use of milk thistle is in protecting our brains from the degeneration that comes with ageing.
We now know that inflammation plays a vital role in diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. As an anti-inflammatory, milk thistle helps to combat oxidative stress and protects against damage from free radicals, reducing the risk of developing these diseases in later life.
Milk thistle also boosts our memory, keeping our brains sharper for longer.
- Breastfeeding Support
Many new parents worry about their milk supply and whether they’ll produce enough to meet their baby’s needs. While low milk supply is fairly rare, some herbal teas can help with the production of breastmilk.
Known as galactagogues, these herbs include milk thistle. Studies looking at mothers of preterm babies have found that milk thistle significantly increases milk production when compared to a placebo.
How and When to Take Milk Thistle
Milk thistle is a safe herb that rarely causes side effects, although some people report mild stomach issues after taking it. As long as you don’t notice any reactions and don’t exceed the recommended dose, you should be safe taking milk thistle long-term.
You can drink milk thistle tea at any time of day, and it is fine to drink it on an empty stomach too. If you are expecting a heavy night, you might want to drink milk thistle tea before you indulge to protect your liver and help it rid your body of toxins.
Tea is the most traditional way to take milk thistle (and the most enjoyable too!) You can now also find it as pills and powders.
To make milk thistle tea, grab your tea bag and place it in your favourite mug. Pour over freshly boiled water and let it steep for 4-5 minutes. Squeeze the bag to get all the goodness out and then let it cool enough to enjoy.
You can drink 2-3 cups of milk thistle tea a day to support your liver health and get the other benefits of this powerful herbal ally.
When Should You Not Take Milk Thistle?
Although most people won’t have any issues taking milk thistle, you should avoid it if you are allergic to it or any of the plants in the same family, which include artichoke, ragweed, marigold, daisy, and chrysanthemum.
If you are taking any medications, consult your doctor before introducing any new herbal remedies. People with diabetes should also speak to a doctor before using milk thistle to lower blood sugar.
There isn’t much research about drinking milk thistle tea during pregnancy, so it’s best to avoid it just in case. If you want to use milk thistle to support breastfeeding, it is a good idea to consult a lactation consultant first.
Otherwise, milk thistle is generally safe and well-tolerated.
Combining Milk Thistle with Other Herbs
Although you can take milk thistle on its own, we like to use it in combination with other herbs that support your liver and digestive health. That’s why we use it in our NutraLiver blend to create a delicious tea that naturally boosts the health of your liver.