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Milk Thistle And Dandelion: One, the Other, or Both?

Image courtesy of Free Stock

Antioxidants come in many different forms, and particularly natural forms. You can find many plants with antioxidant properties, and two important ones are milk thistle and dandelion. These plants have some similar qualities, but they also diverge in some important ways. If you want to figure out which one of these plants will work best for you, read on to get an answer. The plant you take will depend on a few important factors, so you need to make sure you choose right. 

What is Milk Thistle?

a bowl of seeds next to a pile of flowers
These seeds can really improve your health. Image courtesy of Cedar Bear

Milk thistle is a plant that is named for its appearance. It is a long green plant with a pink flower, with prickly leaves and white veins on top. Traditional stories passed down about the plant say it has the white veins because the Virgin Mary’s milk fell onto its leaves. This plant is native to the Mediterranean and is also known as silybum marianum, holy thistle, and Mary thistle. It has been used for different medicinal purposes over the years, primarily for liver and gallbladder issues. It is even claimed that milk thistle can be used for other purposes, but those uses are still in the process of being researched. 

Milk thistle is used by millions of people for its health benefits, and you can find it in stores online and in person. There are many studies that show the way milk thistle prevents and even reverses certain types of damage in the body. This herbal remedy has a big impact and doesn’t come with many downsides. With proper usage, milk thistle can wind up earning you some positive benefits. 

How Does Milk Thistle Work?

The active ingredient in milk thistle is silymarin. Silymarin is a flavonoid with antioxidant and antiinflammatory properties. Silymarin behaves as a free radical scavenger. It modulates the enzymes that are associated with cellular damage development as well as cirrhosis and fibrosis. This flavonoid protects the liver from the damage that arises from free radicals and the damage that can arise from medications like Tylenol in too high doses. 

Benefits of Milk Thistle

a hand holding a pile of herbs
Herbs come with many health benefits. Image courtesy of WTHN

Milk thistle offers several different benefits, which is one reason it is used for various remedies. Milk thistle is known to lower LDL levels. LDL is bad cholesterol, and the less of that, the better for your overall health. Studies done with people who have diabetes have shown that milk thistle lowers cholesterol. It can produce results when taken with or without prescription cholesterol medication. 

Milk thistle protects the liver. It is often used to help people who suffer from liver conditions like fatty liver disease, hepatitis, liver cancer, and more diseases that impact the liver. It also protects the liver from toxins like amatoxin. Amatoxin is a toxin found in a poisonous mushroom called the death cap mushroom. It affects the liver in serious ways and can be stopped by milk thistle. Milk thistle is often used to heal these illnesses, but haven’t been proven to keep them from taking effect in the first place. 

Milk thistle also positively impacts the brain. For more than two thousand years, milk thistle has been used traditionally as a fix for neurological disorders like Alzeheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. It does so well at helping the brain heal because of its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Studies done on animals found that milk thistle reduces the number of amyloid plaques in the brain, plaques that contribute to the degenerative disease. Milk thistle also helps to prevent oxidative damage to brain cells, and oxidative damage leads to diseases of the brain. 

Milk thistle can potentially provide protection against bone loss. It has been shown to stimulate the bone’s mineralization process and to delay bone loss in postmenopausal women. It can prevent the onset of diseases like osteoporosis, which develop from gradual bone loss. It can help to strengthen bones in general, keeping them strong and sturdy on a regular basis.

This plant’s antioxidant and antiinflammatory properties provide lots of impactful benefits, and one of the biggest ones is cancer prevention. Antioxidants are substances in the body that protect your cells from free radicals that can damage them. When combined with cancer treatment, it has even been found to increase the treatment’s effectiveness. It can even destroy some cancer cells on its own. 

Side Effects of Milk Thistle

One risk that comes with milk thistle is that it can cause allergic reactions. People who have allergies to any parts of the plant are the ones that will suffer this reaction. Most people without allergies won’t easily experience symptoms from using milk thistle. The people at the highest risk of experiencing allergic reactions through using milk thistle are people who are allergic to ragweed, daisies, marigolds, and artichokes. Reactions to these plants means that it is more likely you will also be allergic to milk thistle. 

For people who have certain illnesses, milk thistle can be risky to use. For anyone who suffers from endometriosis, diabetes, it is not a good idea to take milk thistle. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should consult with their doctors before taking milk thistle. And that is because its safety when it comes to pregnant women has not been tested, so it is a good idea to get a professional opinion in these cases. 

Milk thistle can have some side effects that don’t come from allergic reactions, but it tends to take years and years of prolonged use for them to manifest. These side effects can include nausea, itching, diarrhea, and bloating. These side effects aren’t very common and will usually only occur after long periods of excessive use. But most people, even after years of taking milk thistle, will not experience these side effects. 

The next thing a milk thistle user needs to be worried about is interactions with medication. Milk thistle can interact with drugs that are used for insomnia, high cholesterol, blood pressure, and certain infections. Milk thistle can also lower blood sugar, so it can be harmful for people with diabetes. It is a good idea to speak to your doctor before taking milk thistle regularly just so you can make sure that you won’t suffer from any negative interactions. If you are not sure if something you are taking can lead to a reaction with milk thistle, just reach out to your doctor. 

What is Dandelion?

a yellow flower next to a white dandelion
Different forms of the same plant. Image courtesy of Blue Grass Lawn Service

A dandelion is a plant that you can find growing randomly throughout the spring, and one that you can find pretty much anywhere. A dandelion has yellow flowers, and once it matures turns into a white puff ball. This is something that many people remember from their childhoods. As kids, it is fun to pick up a white dandelion, blow on it, and watch it disperse. But a dandelion is more than just fun to play around with, it is a plant that has amazing medicinal qualities. 

T. araxacum officinale is the most common type of dandelion. Dandelions are herbs, and their leaves, stems, roots, and flowers can be used to make medicine. One of the main benefits of dandelion is that it works as a digestive aid. There are several other benefits that come from dandelion use as well. 

How Does Dandelion Work?

The dandelion plant has antioxidant properties. Its antioxidant properties help it fight the free radicals that can harm your cells and cause various illnesses. Stopping free radicals from wreaking havoc on the body can also help prevent cancer down the line. The types of antioxidants you will find in a dandelion include flavonoids, beta carotene, and polyphenols. Flavonoids are antioxidant, anti cancer, and antiinflammatory. Polyphenols protect the body’s cells from oxidative stress. Beta carotene is what gives plants their color and protects cells from damage. 

Benefits of Dandelion

a cat running in a grass field
Dandelions can be a lot of fun to play with. Image courtesy of iStock

Some of dandelion’s main benefits are the antioxidants. The antioxidants inside of dandelions will keep your cells healthy by keeping them from being damaged by free radicals. They will help keep the cells functioning properly, and keep damage from amassing to the point of cancer developing. Dandelion contains different antioxidants that do different jobs to protect cells from disease. 

Another thing that dandelions do is reduce cholesterol. Past research has shown that dandelion may be able to reduce blood lipids. Blood lipids are the amount of fat in the blood, and the more fat there is in the blood, the more at risk a person is for a number of ailments caused by excess fat buildup. Dandelions are also found to regulate blood sugar and reduce inflammation. Studies done on cells showed these results. 

One reason that dandelions can help lower blood pressure is because it is filled with potassium, and potassium is known to lower blood pressure. Studies have found that people taking a potassium supplement daily saw lower blood pressure levels than those who did not. Potassium works opposite to sodium, so the more potassium you eat, the more sodium will be secreted through your urine. 

Another benefit of taking dandelion is that it can boost the immune system. Studies have shown that dandelions have antibacterial and antiviral properties. It can especially help limit the growth of hepatitis B. Hepatitis B is a preventable liver infection that can wreak havoc, and taking dandelion can have a significant effect on its ability to develop. Dandelion can also be used as a digestive remedy, especially for issues like constipation. 

Side Effects of Dandelion

Dandelion can cause some allergic reactions in people who have pollen allergies. If you are allergic to ragweed, marigold, chamomile, daisies, or iodine, it is best to avoid dandelion. If none of these things are a problem for you, you should proceed and look out for other potential side effects. 

Dandelions are generally safe to consume, but potential side effects include increased stomach acid production and heartburn. If you are taking antacids for an existing heartburn problem, taking dandelion alongside it can render it less useful. The dandelion will work to undo the effects of the antacid. Dandelion can also act as a laxative or a mild diuretic. 

Now if somebody has kidney problems or gallbladder problems like gallstones, they will need to speak with their doctor before adding dandelion to their daily routine. Dandelion can stimulate the flow of bile in the gallbladder and that is something you need to confirm is okay for your body before taking it. It can potentially interact with medications or the basic environment. 

So One, The Other, or Both?

Milk thistle and dandelions have some similar effects, and some that are different. The one that you choose to use should depend on your personal needs and what you need the most help with. If you want antioxidant properties, lowered blood pressure, and antibacterial properties, either fulfill those requirements, but do you have gallbladder problems? Or do you have diabetes? 

If you have gallbladder problems like gallstones, it is best for you to avoid dandelions and take milk thistle. On the other hand, if you have diabetes, you should avoid milk thistle and take dandelion. All you need to do to figure out which one of these antioxidant plants you should be using is to know the benefits and side effects. Once you recognize what those are, you will know exactly which one of these plants is best for you. 

There isn’t a need to take both these plants together, but if you happen to have no illnesses that can be affected by either one of them, you can definitely switch it up if you feel like it. 

Milk thistle and dandelion are both powerful antioxidants that come with many similar benefits, and somewhat different drawbacks. The one you take should largely depend on the potential drawbacks, and if there are none, both can work just fine.

You should consult a licensed health care professional before starting any supplement, dietary, or exercise program, especially if you are pregnant or have any pre-existing injuries or medical conditions.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any diseases.

Author: Dr. Emil Hodzovic

Holding degrees in both medicine and Sports + Exercise Science from renowned research institution Cardiff University, Dr. Emil Hodzovic has the dual distinction of being a practicing clinician and respected authority in nutrition and supplementation.

During his parallel careers as a personal trainer and professional athlete, Dr. Emil recognized a critical flaw in the supplement space: too much emphasis on appearance and performance—and zero concern for making holistic health and happiness accessible to everyone.

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