Milk thistle is famous for being a source of Silymarin, the substance that helps clean the liver and help to reduce liver or gallbladder problems. But did you know that this herb has been used for thousands of years to stimulate the production of breast milk among mothers?
How effective is milk thistle in helping breastfeeding mothers produce more milk? Here is what you need to know.
What Is Milk Thistle?
Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) is originally a Mediterranean herb that has purple flowers. Ancient Greeks and Romans used this herb for a variety of illnesses, including liver problems, snake bites, and environmental toxins.
When the penicillin was discovered, fewer people used milk thistle. In the 1970s, German scientists discovered compounds in milk thistle that people called silymarin. This compound is primarily extracted from the seeds.
Further scientific studies have proven that silymarin provides the following health benefits:
This herb is also known as Holy Thistle, Our Lady's Thistle, and Saint Mary's Thistle for a reason. According to legends, the white veins in the leaves are from the breastmilk of the Virgin Mary that splashed on the plant long ago.
Milk Thistle and Breastfeeding
Based on anecdotes, nursing mothers who ingest milk thistle significantly produce more milk. Some mothers have shared that they noticed an improvement in lactation two days after consuming milk thistle. Still, others say it takes about a week. Some also say that milk thistle has no effects on them.
No scientific study or clinical trial supports the personal stories of many mothers. The herb is still considered a galactagogue (a substance that promotes lactation). The herb’s effect is also said to be boosted when taken with fenugreek, another herb.
Some studies have shown cows producing more milk when given milk thistle as part of their feed. Other studies consider the estrogens in the herb as the source of this increase in milk production.
Different Forms of Milk Thistle
There are now many ways to ingest milk thistle:
Words of Caution
Using herbs has been a time-honored method to strengthen bodies and help reduce symptoms of illnesses. But, like any ingredient, these can trigger side effects based on an individual’s unique reaction to the herb.
Some women recommend not using milk thistle while still pregnant. The herb could stimulate the uterus and lead to premature contractions. It can also lead to side effects when combined with certain medications. Some people are also allergic to certain herbs.
Also, milk thistle has proven detoxification effects. When it cleanses the body, the toxins are released into the bloodstream. This could mean that the toxins could also enter breast milk. So, if a mother is a heavy smoker, drinker, or has built-up toxins in the liver for years then it would be better to avoid milk thistle.
If you still want to reap the benefits of this herb, though, consult your doctor. You can get guidance on how to use milk thistle.