Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) is an herbal supplement that has been used for centuries to treat liver and gallbladder disorders. Some proponents claim that milk thistle can also help with weight loss.
But what does the research say? Can milk thistle really help you shed unwanted pounds? This article will explore the potential benefits of milk thistle for weight loss.
What Is Milk Thistle?
Milk thistle is a flowering herb that is native to the Mediterranean region. The plant gets its name from the milky-white fluid that runs off its leaves when they are crushed. Milk thistle has been used in traditional medicine for over 2,000 years as a natural treatment for liver disorders.
The active ingredient in milk thistle is silymarin, which is extracted from the seeds of the plant. Silymarin is made up of three compounds – silibinin, silidianin, and silicristin – that act together to provide antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and liver-protective effects. Some proponents believe that these properties can also help promote weight loss.
Evidence To Suggest Milk Thistle Aids Weight Loss
While research on milk thistle for weight loss is fairly limited, there is some early evidence to suggest it may be beneficial:
- Antioxidant effects: Oxidative stress and inflammation are associated with obesity. The antioxidant properties of silymarin may help reduce inflammation and combat some of the underlying causes of obesity.
- Liver protection: By supporting liver health and detoxification, milk thistle may help the body better metabolize fat and regulate blood sugar – both of which impact weight.
- Cholesterol reduction: Some research indicates silymarin may reduce cholesterol levels. High cholesterol is linked to weight gain and makes it harder to lose weight.
- Diabetes support: Milk thistle may help manage insulin resistance and reduce blood sugar levels. Better blood sugar control could make weight management easier.
However, these potential mechanisms are theoretical and not yet proven. More high-quality clinical studies are needed to confirm if milk thistle has meaningful impacts on weight.
Key Benefits Of Milk Thistle
Aside from possible weight loss effects, milk thistle offers several science-backed benefits:
Liver protection – Multiple studies show milk thistle can help protect the liver from toxins, oxidative stress, and inflammation. It’s commonly used to treat alcoholic liver disease, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, and hepatitis.
Improved insulin sensitivity – Research indicates milk thistle can improve insulin resistance in people with type 2 diabetes. This could make managing blood sugar and diabetes easier.
Reduced cholesterol – Milk thistle may lower total and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels, according to some studies. High cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease.
Anti-cancer effects – Test tube and animal studies suggest milk thistle extracts may slow the growth and spread of certain types of cancer cells. More research is needed.
Skin health – Applied topically, milk thistle extracts may help protect skin from sun damage and reduce signs of aging. It’s added to some cosmetic products.
While milk thistle is generally well tolerated, it can cause mild side effects like upset stomach, diarrhea, and bloating. It may also interact with certain medications like cholesterol drugs, chemotherapy, anticonvulsants, and others.
Early research indicates milk thistle may offer some benefits for weight loss through its effects on liver health, inflammation, cholesterol, and blood sugar control. However, the current evidence is weak, and more studies are needed to confirm whether milk thistle helps with weight management.
Beyond possible effects on weight, milk thistle has proven benefits for liver health and shows promise for uses in cancer, diabetes, and skincare. As with any supplement, speak to your healthcare provider before taking milk thistle to discuss the appropriateness and optimal dosage for your individual needs.