Milk thistle extract is a nutritional supplement that is made from the seeds of a member of the daisy family, usually known as milk thistle. This plant is native to the Mediterranean area and is also found in parts of Europe, the Middle East, and some areas of northern Africa. Milk thistle has a long history as a treatment for liver disease, with the seeds either used to create an extract or a tincture, depending on the type of alternative or folk medicine that is being used.
Producing milk thistle extract is normally managed by crushing the seeds and adding the resulting powder to an alcohol base. In times past, this was accomplished by using a mortar and pestle to slowly work whole seeds into a powder. Today, a blender or food processor can be used to obtain the right consistency. The alcohol is cut with fresh water, typically combining an equal amount of water and alcohol.
Once the crushed seeds are added, the milk thistle extract is stored in a dark cool place, such as a pantry. The container is shaken at least once a day, allowing the nutrients from the seeds to infuse the liquid. Depending on the exact formula followed, it may take anywhere from three to five weeks for the infusion to complete. At that time, the liquid is strained to remove any remaining particles, and the extract is ready for use.
Several different health benefits are attributed to milk thistle extract. When used to make a milk thistle tea, the extract can be consumed as a tonic to help ease discomfort in the liver. By some reports, regular use of the extract will actually help to reverse liver damage. There are also some claims that milk thistle benefits also include lowering bad cholesterol, aiding diabetics in maintaining safe levels of glucose in the bloodstream, and even in reducing the incidence of cancerous growths developing in the lungs, prostate, and breasts. Some practitioners of herbal medicine also claim that milk thistle extract can aid in withdrawal from alcohol, tobacco, and various types of medications.
Along with use by humans, milk thistle extract is also sometimes used to cure various ailments in pets. In particular, milk thistle for dogs is said to aid in digestion and also protect them from heartworms and the development of fatty tumors that could impair mobility. This has led to a growing industry online, where milk thistle extract formulated for animals as well as human beings is readily available. In addition, some health food stores and herb shops that carry product lines for pets will likely carry different dosages of the extract for humans and their pets.
While there is some research indicating that milk thistle extract may be helpful in treating liver disease and a few other ailments, that research is not universally recognized. As with any herbal supplement, combining milk thistle extract with any type of prescription medication should only be done under the direction of a healthcare professional. This will help to prevent the occurrence of any unpleasant milk thistle side effects, and increase the chances of receiving some benefit from the extract.