Turmeric and milk thistle are herbs, both of which have been used for over 2,000 years to treat a variety of health issues. Although they share few traits in common, they're sometimes associated together as a treatment for liver issues. Most of the benefits for the liver, however, are associated with milk thistle. Knowing the potential benefits for each herb can help you make an informed decision about their use. Consult a qualified health care professional before taking either herb in supplement form.
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Milk thistle is also known as Silybum marianum. It has traditionally been used to treat liver, kidney and gall bladder problems, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center, although it's most commonly associated with liver problems. The active ingredient in milk thistle is silymarin and is responsible for most of milk thistle's beneficial properties. Silymarin is a flavanoid extracted from milk thistle seeds and is thought to benefit the liver by helping to protect and rebuild its cells. Like turmeric, milk thistle also helps reduce inflammation and acts as a strong antioxidant.
Turmeric, also known as Curcuma longa, is commonly used as an ingredient in cooking. It's what gives curry its distinct flavor, as well as its yellow color. It has also traditionally been used as an anti-inflammatory, a treatment for skin issues and as a treatment for digestive and liver problems. The active ingredient in turmeric is a powerful antioxidant known as curcumin, which helps protect cells from free radicals that can damage cell membranes, possibly leading to cell death.
Research on both turmeric and milk thistle performed on animals has shown potential benefits, but many of the trials conducted on humans have been poorly designed or have had mixed results. Overall, however, milk thistle has shown promise in treating liver disease from alcohol poisoning, viral hepatitis, mushroom poisoning and cancer, while turmeric -- or extracts of curcumin in some cases -- has shown potential in treating indigestion, ulcerative colitis, osteoarthritis, heart disease, cancer, bacterial infections and uveitis, which is an inflammation of the iris in the eye. In many cases, however, it was suggested that more research was needed to fully verify any benefits.
Turmeric and milk thistle in supplement form is generally considered safe, although potential risks exist. Taking milk thistle supplements isn't recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding women, or for those with a history of cancers that are hormone-related. If you're allergic to other plants, including ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigolds, chamomile, yarrow, or daisies, avoid milk thistle. Turmeric is safe when consumed in food, but you should avoid it in supplement form if you have stomach ulcers, are pregnant or breastfeeding or have diabetes. Consult a doctor before taking any supplements, particularly if you're taking any other medication.