Milk thistle is a weed (and we mean that in the nicest way possible) that you’ve probably seen hundreds of times before. Tall, spiky, with purple or white wispy looking flower on top. But did you know it packs some serious health benefits too?

It contains silymarin, which is claimed to be like a Limitless pill for your liver (TBD if that’s true — keep reading). Some herbal medicine experts also recommend its use for breastfeeding.

But is it really all that and a bag of chips, or is it all hype? Come thistle-way and let’s find out!

It’s pretty hard to pin down exactly what’s in your milk thistle tea, because it all depends on how much milk thistle you use, how hot the water is, and how long you let it steep.

But we do know that milk thistle itself contains a group of compounds known collectively as silymarin — and it contains a LOT of these compounds (they’re supposedly where all the milk thistle magic comes from).

Milk thistle seeds (which are used to make the tea, along with the leaves) are also loaded with essential minerals like potassium, calcium, phosphorus, and chloride.

Milk thistle tea is also super rich in antioxidants, with similar antioxidant content as green tea.

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Let’s get sily(marin)! Here’s a quick roundup of the many potential benefits of thippin’ on the thistle:

Liver health

Silymarin’s antioxidant potential seems to be most powerful regarding liver function.

It can reduce the production of free radicals (unstable compounds that can attack your cells, chaotic neutral at best and chaotic evil at high levels), promote effective fat metabolism, and prevent toxins (for example, from medications like ibuprofen) from binding to liver cell receptors.

There have been promising results in the treatment of cirrhosis, alcohol-related liver damage, and non-alcoholic-related liver disease. In human studies, though, the results aren’t quite as awe-inspiring as some animal and test-tube findings.

Also, the vast majority of high quality human studies used isolated silymarin rather than milk thistle or milk thistle tea, so we can’t say across the board that these effects will come from drinking milk thistle tea either.

Blood sugar management

Silybin, the key component of silymarin, may help to reduce blood sugar levels in people with diabetes and regulate insulin (the key hormone that manages blood sugar).

These effects have been noted in humans (yay!) as well as in animal and test-tube studies, but most of the human studies have been tiny — so take these findings with a grain of salt.

Symptom reduction in people with cancer

A handful of studies have shown that milk thistle may be beneficial for people with cancer because it can help reduce some of the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation. In particular, it may protect against chemo-related liver damage and damage to the skin and mucosa caused by radiation.

Milk production

Milk thistle has long been recommended as a galactogogue (a way to increase your milk supply if you’re breastfeeding) — after all, “milk” is right there in the name. Unfortunately, there’s really not a lot of research to support this use AND we don’t know if it presents any safety issues for breastfeeding infants. Proceed with caution.

Bone health

Some animal studies have shown that silymarin may affect the genes that regulate bone growth and bone loss, with an overall positive, strengthening effect for brittle or osteoporotic bones. We’re still waiting on human studies, though.

You should def note, though, that there’s really not a lot of research to support these claims. The research we do have is pretty promising, but don’t go thinking that milk thistle tea is going to cure any of these ailments or make your breastmilk flow like a fountain.

Herbs, including milk thistle, can be powerful.

However, most human studies of milk thistle and silymarin have found that it’s mostly safe with few side effects. Remember: there really hasn’t been a ton of human research.

Additionally, because we don’t know the risks, pregnant women should avoid using milk thistle. If you’re breastfeeding, remember that — although it’s been used for a while — there’s no clear evidence that milk thistle increases milk production.

It may be a better idea to chat with a lactation consultant for some proven ways to bolster the boob juice.

Finally, milk thistle may interfere with certain medications. Some types of milk thistle have been demonstrated to interfere with antiretrovirals, which are commonly prescribed to treat HIV/AIDS.

To be on the safe side, you should definitely talk with a trusted healthcare professional before you start using milk thistle — especially if you have any health probs or are taking any prescription medications.

It’s pretty easy to add milk thistle tea to your diet, but first you should check with your doctor.

Once you get the OK, you can buy ready-to-go milk thistle tea online in tea bags or as loose tea. Steep the tea in hot water for about 5 minutes, and optionally add some cream, sugar, or sweetener for taste.

Although a few human studies have demonstrated its safety, remember there hasn’t been a ton of human research and there have also been no long-term studies — so it’s a good idea to limit your milk thistle tea consumption to 1 to 2 cups per day (if you’re otherwise healthy).

If you have any medical issues or are taking and prescription medications, make sure to talk with your doc first.

Finally, remember that there’s not a lot of evidence that milk thistle will boost your liver health, increase your milk supply, or provide any other benefits that it’s been claimed to. So drink it if you like the taste, or if you want a little boost of antioxidants and minerals — but don’t expect too much.

Milk thistle has a long history of use for promoting liver health and increasing breastmilk supply. But hold up: there’s NOT a great deal of strong research to support its use.

We don’t know much about its long-term safety, and it may interact with certain medications — so you should feel a little prickly about it. Regardless, if you wanna try the tea, you can buy loose milk thistle tea or tea bags online.