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10 Health Benefits Of Milk Thistle

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Herbs have been used for medicinal purposes since the dawn of time. 

No, I don’t have a reference link for the first man and woman pertaining to their use of specific herbs for medicinal purposes. 

But, I also don’t have the listed address for their preferred Walgreens either. 

And, considering the fact that you’re alive, and I’m alive…well, math dictates that they figured it out. 

For thousands and thousands of years, our ancestors across the globe have been using the products of nature to treat everything from headaches to rashes, digestion issues, liver problems, and more. 

Truly, even modern medicine wouldn’t be where it is today without all that we’ve learned and derived from nature’s medicinal gifts. 

One such gift: milk thistle.

Used in supplements, extracts, and tea forms, milk thistle’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties boast some powerful aids to health promotion and disease prevention! 

Hmmm, maybe sometime soon we’ll see an ad showing folks with a milk thistle tea mustache that reads: “Got milk thistle?” (If so, can I pull a Ross Geller, and go ahead and claim this one?) 

Until then, let’s get on to those benefits…

What Is Milk Thistle?

First, before we discuss milk thistle’s many boosts to your health, let’s take a look at exactly what this herb is.

Originally found in Mediterranean countries, the milk thistle is also known as the Mary thistle or the holy thistle. Its leaves are white in color and produce a white milky sap. 

Its flowers are prickly to the touch, possibly giving the plant its thistle name. And, those flowers produce seeds, up to 200 seeds to be exact. 

Within those seeds is an antioxidant compound known as silymarin, the active ingredient that is thought to be responsible for milk thistle’s many health benefits. 

1- Liver Health

Possibly the most notable, and most common, health benefit associated with milk thistle centers around its benefit to the liver. 

Its most common use for centuries has been in treating liver (and gallbladder) conditions. 

Silymarin, the antioxidant component we mentioned a moment ago, helps to fight free radical damage in the body. In the liver, it works as a detoxifier, rebuilds damaged cells and reduces overall damage. 

And, as your liver is in the business of metabolizing toxic substances, these detoxifying and rebuilding effects of milk thistle prove especially beneficial. 

In animal studies, mice with diet-induced liver damage saw improvements in their liver health with milk thistle. And, while continued studies need to be conducted to affirm this, researchers fully believe this will be the case in humans as well. 

But, until those studies are completed, for now, we do know…

  • Studies have shown milk thistle to reduce liver inflammation and damage. 
  • In those with liver disease, milk thistle taken as a supplement has been proven to improve liver function. 
  • Milk thistle has been successfully used to treat other liver conditions like jaundice, acute and chronic hepatitis, and alcoholic and toxin-induced liver diseases.

2- Weight Loss

While milk thistle’s notoriety for liver health tops the charts, the herb’s benefits in weight loss follow close behind. 

As with its benefits to the liver, it is the antioxidant compound, silymarin, that is thought to also be responsible for the plant’s aid in weight loss efforts. 

This antioxidant helps to detoxify your digestive tract, boosting your weight loss efforts. 

But, silymarin is also thought to be an effective means of boosting metabolism, which goes a long way in facilitating weight loss as well. 

In animal studies, mice that were fed a diet that should have caused weight gain actually lost weight due to an intake of silymarin.

In another promising study, while the results are not yet conclusive, milk thistle also caused inhibited growth in fat cells in lab cultures.

3- Lowers Cholesterol

One study has proven milk thistle to lower cholesterol. 

While the effects of the herb on cholesterol levels weren’t the main reason for the study, when participants were given milk thistle for diabetes management, those taking the placebo found no effect on cholesterol levels, while those taking the milk thistle all experienced decreases in cholesterol levels.  

Milk thistle also cleans the blood and prevents oxidative stress within the arteries. 

4- Boosts Breastmilk Production

Milk thistle has proven to be beneficial for nursing mothers as it increased milk production by more than 64% over those mothers taking a placebo in a randomized controlled study. 

It is thought that the silymarin in the milk thistle was responsible for boosting prolactin, which is a hormone involved in breast milk production. 

5- Supports Immune System

Milk thistle extract has been shown to boost immune responses as well. 

Strengthening immune responses can help you to fight off invading pathogens, thereby preventing illness. 

Human studies have shown these effects on the immune system; however, since these results were found some time ago, researchers have begun new studies. 

And, the newer animal research backs up what was previously discovered: when consumed, milk thistle extract had a positive effect on the immune system, showing improved immunity.

6- Improves Brain Function

Specifically related to age-related cognitive decline (Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases), milk thistle has been used in natural medicine for thousands of years to treat these neurological conditions. 

As milk thistle (rather the silymarin found in the herb’s seeds) has both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, it is thought that these components combat oxidative stress or damage to cells in the brain, thereby preventing mental decline with age. 

Studies in animals support this thought as administering milk thistle to subjects, in a 2015 study, increased resistance to oxidative stress. 

7- Boosts Bone Health

Milk thistle has been found to prevent bone loss in relation to dips in estrogen in postmenopausal women. 

It has also been found to stimulate bone remineralization, a concern for many with age. 

As osteoporosis is characterized by bone loss, milk thistle’s ability to aid in healthy bone growth makes it a promising avenue for treatment. 

8- May Make Cancer Treatments More Effective

From reducing chemotherapy side effects to even slowing the spread and growth of tumors, milk thistle is proving promising in regards to cancer treatments. 

Silymarin is thought to have actual anti-cancer effects according to some studies. 

As of now, research suggesting that silymarin makes chemotherapy more effective is limited to test tube findings. 

But, in 2016, a study showed milk thistle extract to stop the growth of cancer cells in colorectal cancer (other studies indicate the same for prostate and bladder cancers). 

9- Lowers Blood Sugar Levels

A discovery regarding the effects of milk thistle on blood sugar levels found that the herb actually mimics some diabetic medications, reducing blood sugar and improving insulin resistance. 

Due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits, milk thistle may also be beneficial in preventing kidney damage in diabetics, a common complication for sufferers. 

10- Eases Digestion

We briefly mentioned milk thistle’s benefit to the digestive system in regards to weight loss, but the herb has been notably used to treat symptoms specific to digestion as well. 

German herbal medicine regulators specifically list milk thistle as a possible treatment for sour stomach. 

And, this coincides with its uses throughout history, as milk thistle has classically been known to be used as a treatment for indigestion. 

As this herb supports the health of your liver, gallbladder, and bile ducts, this aids in proper bile flow and detoxification in turn boosts digestion and promotes healthy elimination. 

Conclusion

Milk thistle’s most noted benefits surround liver health, most likely due to its detoxifying, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant effects. 

This also lends to its aid in healthy weight loss as toxic buildup can stall weight loss efforts. 

While milk thistle is generally considered safe, it is important to note, like with anything else, allergic reactions are possible. 

And, if you are currently on medications or undergoing treatment for any of the above-listed conditions, talking with your physician before adding anything to those medications or treatments is wise. 

Healthy Liver. 7 Do’s And 7 Dont’s

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HEALTH

Low Carb Diet May Induce Remission Of Type 2 Diabetes

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Low-carb diets have been popular for some time now due to their proven substantial benefit to weight and/or fat loss. 

But, recent findings have shown that the benefits may be even greater than once believed…even inducing remission in people with type 2 diabetes. 

That’s right, aside from weight loss, improved cholesterol levels, potential boosts in brain health, and benefits to the health of your heart, low carb diets are now proving effective for diabetes patients as well. 

So, what is it about restricting carbs that brings such great benefits to those with type 2 diabetes? And, can these results be sustained long term? 

As low carb diets are often said to be difficult to maintain over long lengths of time, what can you do to ensure you don’t get burnt out?

Let’s take a look…

The Effects Of Carb Restriction On Type 2 Diabetes

The findings of a recent study have the diabetic world buzzing, and rightfully so!

Earlier this year, researchers at Texas A&M studied results from randomized trials assessing the effectiveness of low carb diets amongst those individuals with type 2 diabetes.

These studies found that participants who followed a low carb diet raised the likelihood of their diabetes going into remission by 32%.

Concerning 1,357 participants (spanning several studies), most of whom were between the ages of 47-67 and overweight or obese, those who saw such results followed a strict low carb eating regimen for 12 weeks. 

Researchers checked in on participants at both 6 and 12 months, and the greatest benefits were seen at 6 months. 

At 12 months, while some participants were still in remission, those rates were lower than the 6 month mark. 

The hypothesis is that those individuals who remained diligent in their adherence to a low carb diet saw continued benefit, while those who were less consistent lost the benefits related to their type 2 diabetes over time. 

So then, how exactly does restricting carbs benefit patients with type 2 diabetes?

Essentially, you can think of carbs to type 2 diabetes in a similar way that we think of milk to those with lactose intolerance. 

With lactose intolerance, a person’s body can not accurately process lactose. 

In the case of type 2 diabetes, a person’s body can not accurately process carbohydrates. 

So, someone who can not process carbohydrates accurately or efficiently, when consuming foods rich in carbs will experience high levels of blood sugar (consistently) and even weight gain. 

Normally, when we consume carbohydrates they get broken down into sugar. This sugar then enters our bloodstream causing blood sugar levels to rise. 

This spike then tells your pancreas to produce insulin to help your cells to absorb that blood sugar for energy (both for storage and immediate usage). 

In cases of type 2 diabetes, over time the body stops responding to that insulin which causes blood sugar levels to remain too high for too long. And, eventually that insulin production can stop altogether. 

So, for type 2 diabetes patients, eating a low carb diet decreases the strain on the body and lessens the body’s propensity to produce too much insulin. 

As eating fewer carbs helps the body to maintain healthy blood sugar (or blood glucose) levels, carb intolerance and insulin resistance improves as well.

Obviously then, maintaining a low carb lifestyle would be a crucial component in continuing to reap those rewards in one’s fight against diabetes, but many would argue this to be a difficult task. 

So, how can you successfully restrict carbs long term? 

Tips For Success While Cutting Down On Carbs

One of the biggest hurdles to successfully reaping the rewards of a low carb diet long term is the (often deemed) lack of sustainability of such diets. 

Even registered dieticians and nutrition experts agree that cutting carbs long term can be difficult…but certainly not impossible! 

So, what tips do the experts give regarding low carb success? 

1- Slow And Steady Wins The Race

Low carb diets can be highly restrictive. And, one mistake that many make is to dive headfirst into the deep end…no looking back. 

While such ambition is admirable, dietary restrictions of any kind that are fast and furious often fizzle out before they finish. 

Therefore, the experts recommend an approach with a slow beginning. 

Dr. Minisha Sood, an endocrinologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City advises her patients to “start with one meal at a time.” 

Dr. Sood recommends beginning with dinner as the meal to tackle first: “Aim to lower carb intake (at this meal) by about 50% by swapping out unhealthy, starch-packed carbohydrates for healthier sources such as healthy grains or lentils.”

From there, you can then begin to make similar healthy swaps at lunch, then breakfast, and snacks. 

2- Stay On Track Through Tracking

Keeping a food diary or journal to keep track of not only what you eat, but how those foods affect your body is a proven method to help you stay on track. 

I know that many people don’t like the idea of tracking food long term, but consider doing so as you begin your low carb eating regimen to see how your body reacts to various foods, track your gains in energy, and keep you motivated. 

In time, you may find that you don’t need to track as often. And, you can always drop or pick up this healthy habit as needed. But, in the beginning, keeping track is a great way to foster success. 

3- Talk To Your Doc

Keeping your physician in the loop when dealing with type 2 diabetes is very important. 

Your doctor or specialist knows your situation and can recommend a plan best suited to your needs. 

As different carbs affect different people in different ways, your doctor or a nutritionist can guide you to the best choices for your specific needs. 

4- The Buddy System

As with any diet or healthy eating plan, there’s often help in numbers. 

In fact, studies have shown people are more successful at adhering to dietary changes (and losing weight) when they have the support of a friend or buddy. 

Sticking to any diet long term is difficult, but having a support system along the way can increase your chances of long term success. 

5- Variety Is The Spice Of Low Carb Life

While there are plenty of delicious low carb food options available for breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks, not experiencing a variety of those options can hinder your ability to stay low carb long term, thereby missing the benefits to be had (especially regarding type 2 diabetes). 

Many cultures have eaten low carb diets for centuries, so…we can do it…we’ve just got to stay out of boring ruts when it comes to our food choices. 

Conclusion

Studies have proven that low carb diets can cause type 2 diabetes to go into remission. 

The only problem is, these results aren’t sustained long-term (post 12 months) if patients do not remain on a low-carb diet. In other words, at this point, research suggests that low-carb eating needs to become a lifestyle to reap long-term healthy rewards. 

So, if you have type 2 diabetes, consider talking to your doctor (first and foremost) about how a low-carb diet may benefit your condition. 

Then, once you get the green light and some direction from your physician or specialist, don’t forget to ease into this style of eating, keep track of your food intake and progress, incorporate a variety of foods, and enlist the support of a friend for long-term success. 

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Muscle Strengthening Found To Lower Risk Of Death From All Causes

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Do you incorporate practices into your daily or weekly routine for the benefit those things bring to your health and well-being? 

Take coffee, for instance. Many folks enjoy their daily cup of joe knowing it can improve cognitive functioning and decrease the risk of certain diseases, even lowering the risk of mortality from all causes. 

Or, what about your sleep habits? Do you aim to get a specific number of hours of restful sleep each night for the purpose of improving cardiovascular health, even adding length to your life? 

Those are only a few examples of both foods and practices that, when incorporated into our lives, can improve our health and may even allow us to live longer. 

And, according to the experts, upon analyzing research spanning more than three decades, muscle strengthening can be added to the list of things we can easily incorporate into our lives to add length to our days!

Spoiler alert: adding just 30 minutes of muscle-strengthening activity per week can help you reap this reward!

So, let’s take a look at the benefits of muscle training (strengthening), and then we’ll look at the science and discover some simple, practical ways you can boost your health and lower your overall risk of death.

Benefits Of Muscle Training

Muscle training, or strengthening, exercises offer a wide variety of benefits to your health, so before we dive into the research, let’s quickly explore just a few of those benefits…

1- Improves Bone Density

Studies show strength training to be capable of significantly increasing bone mineral density. 

This is explained by a few things that occur as you increase the strength of your muscles:

  • Weight-bearing exercises done while standing cause gravity to pull downward on the body, slightly stressing bones and muscles, thereby causing them to strengthen. 
  • Each time a muscle contracts throughout exercise, it pulls on the bone where it is attached. This pulling essentially mimics a trauma, causing the cells in the bone to stimulate the production of structural proteins which work to build up and strengthen the bone. 

2- Improves Mental Health

Strength training has been shown to improve symptoms of both depression and anxiety. 

Some believe, as in the case of high-intensity aerobic exercise, that these improvements are linked to a release of endorphins or increased endocannabinoid levels. 

And, according to research findings from the Harvard School of Medicine, “strength training provides an opportunity to overcome obstacles in a controlled predictable environment, increasing mental resilience.” 

3- Raises Basal Metabolic Rate

When you do strength or resistance training, your body requires specific amounts of energy based on how hard you are working. 

Then, your body continues to burn calories at that rate as it returns to a state of rest even after you’ve finished exercising, known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. 

In the case of strength training, after you’ve put in a particularly intense amount of work, this amount is essentially amplified as you then continue to burn calories at this high metabolic rate through recovery. 

Then, as you build lean muscle mass through your efforts, the physical activity that you engage in will require your muscles to burn even more calories as each kilogram of lean muscle mass increases your metabolic rate by upwards to 100 calories per day. 

Mathematically stated: 

  • great efforts put into strength training equal great caloric burn post-workout session
  • lean muscle mass building through strength training equals greater calorie burn in your workouts 

4- Helps Maintain A Healthy Weight

Now this may seem obvious after the last point, but those gains in muscle and potential extra calorie burn kick in to aid you as you seek to maintain a healthy body weight.

Not only can you shed pounds with those calorie burn gains, but studies have shown resistance training (one type of muscle strengthening exercise) works to help dieters keep those pounds off, with a weekly commitment to muscle training activity preventing weight gain as well as keeping visceral belly fat at bay. 

5- Controls Blood Sugar

Studies have shown that as you build muscle this also improves the uptake and use of glucose within the muscle. 

Transporters within the cells of the muscle travel to the bloodstream to get glucose and then bring it back to the muscle. When you strengthen the muscle, this makes that process more efficient, bringing more glucose into the muscle thereby lowering blood sugar levels. 

For this reason, people with type 2 diabetes are encouraged to incorporate muscle-strengthening exercises into their weekly routine. 

Research, Muscle Strengthening, And A Lowered Risk Of Death

As we just saw above, and as we’ve known for some time, the benefits of exercise are great, but did you know (aside from the title and intro of this article) that this benefit list includes the ability to reduce the risk of death from all causes? 

However, those benefits can seem vague. After all, how much exercise brings these benefits? 

What type of exercise benefits you the most? And, how much benefit are we talking about here? 

Well, a group of scientists at Tohoku University in Japan have recently analyzed multiple international studies, spanning over three decades, to bring us those answers. 

The studies reviewed included research conducted over the course of 2-25 years on adults who were healthy (lacking any major health concerns), with a centralized focus on 16 particular studies from the United States, England, Scotland, Australia, and Japan. 

These studies involved a large number of participants, both men and women, from samples with as few as 4,000 to as many as nearly 480,000 people, including ages ranging from 18-97.

Participants in each study did a variety of physical activities, including aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercises. 

And, as the team analyzed the data, one thing stood out: you don’t have to exercise for hours and hours each week to improve your health and reduce your risk of death!

Incorporating just 30-60 minutes per week of muscle strengthening exercises proved to lower the risk of death from all causes, including heart disease and cancer, by 10-20%. 

Even better, when strength training activities were combined each week with aerobic exercise, the risk of death decreased by 40%, the threat of cardiovascular disease dropped by 46%, and the risk of death by cancer reduced by 28%. 

Another bonus? The types of muscle-strengthening exercises that will allow you to reap these rewards aren’t only those typically done in a gym setting. 

Muscle strengthening activities are beneficial due to their (positive) impact on your musculoskeletal health. 

And, while those types of activities certainly include lifting weights, using resistance bands, doing push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, squats, and lunges, they also include practical work such as heavy gardening and shoveling.

Furthermore, according to the physical health guidelines in the UK, even yoga, pilates, and tai chi, as well as wheeling a wheelchair, lifting and carrying children, and carrying heavy shopping bags are considered to be worthy muscle strengthening exercises as they work to benefit the musculoskeletal system. 

While there were limitations to the analysis done here, such as limited data, a lack of diversity in the population of participants, and data collected through observation as opposed to clinical trials, there is still much to be gleaned from the information reviewed. 

But, this new analysis of data can serve to add to what we’ve already known concerning a reduced risk of death with muscle strengthening exercise, now giving us precise “doses” or prescriptions for how much time we should spend engaging in such activities to reap optimal rewards. 

And, as we mentioned above, that prescription reads 30-60 minutes spent weekly doing muscle strengthening exercises to lower the risk of all causes of death (by 10-20%), with added benefits to being reaped when including aerobic exercise alongside your muscle strengthening routine. 

References: 

https://lifeboostcoffee.com/blogs/lifeboost/how-many-cups-of-coffee-should-you-be-drinking-each-day

https://www.verywellhealth.com/sleep-duration-and-longevity-2224291

https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/pa-health/index.htm

https://www.healthline.com/health-news/less-than-an-hour-of-strength-training-a-week-can-lower-your-risk-of-death

https://www.sciencealert.com/study-links-muscle-strengthening-activities-to-a-lower-risk-of-dying

https://medicalxpress.com/news/2022-02-mins-weekly-muscle-linked.html

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2022/feb/28/muscle-strengthening-lowers-risk-of-death-from-all-causes-study-shows

https://www.everydayhealth.com/fitness/add-strength-training-to-your-workout.aspx

https://egym.com/us/blog/boost-metabolism#:~:text=Muscles%20are%20lean%20body%20mass,four%20days%20(afterburn%20effect).

https://health.usnews.com/wellness/fitness/articles/benefits-of-strength-training-that-have-nothing-to-do-with-muscle-size

https://www.cancer.org/latest-news/five-benefits-of-strength-training.html#

https://www.eatingwell.com/article/290619/trying-to-lose-weight-heres-why-strength-training-is-as-important-as-cardio

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HEALTH

Healthy and Delicious: Creative Ways to Add Flavor to Your Meals with Nutrient-Rich Options

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When it comes to healthy eating, many people often think of bland and tasteless meals. However, eating nutritious food does not have to be boring or flavorless. In fact, there are plenty of ways to add flavor to your meals while still keeping them healthy and nutrient-rich.

There are a number of nutrient-rich options that can help enhance the flavor of your meals without adding excess calories or unhealthy ingredients. Here are some creative ways to add flavor to your meals with these healthy options:

1. Fresh Herbs and Spices: Fresh herbs and spices are a great way to add flavor to your meals without adding extra calories or unhealthy fats. Basil, cilantro, parsley, and mint are all great options for adding freshness and flavor to your dishes. Spices like turmeric, cumin, paprika, and cinnamon can also add depth and complexity to your meals.

2. Citrus Fruits: Citrus fruits like lemon, lime, and orange can add a burst of flavor to your dishes. Squeeze some fresh lemon juice over grilled chicken or fish, or add some lime zest to your guacamole for a bright and tangy kick.

3. Nuts and Seeds: Nuts and seeds are not only packed with nutrients like protein, fiber, and healthy fats, but they also add a delicious crunch to your meals. Sprinkle some chopped almonds or walnuts over a salad, or toss some pumpkin seeds into your oatmeal for added texture and flavor.

4. Fermented Foods: Fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, and kefir are not only good for your gut health, but they can also add a unique and tangy flavor to your meals. Add kimchi to your stir-fry or top your avocado toast with sauerkraut for a tasty and probiotic-rich boost.

5. Nutritional Yeast: Nutritional yeast is a great way to add a cheesy and savory flavor to your meals without the added calories and saturated fats of real cheese. Sprinkle some nutritional yeast over your popcorn, pasta, or roasted vegetables for a delicious and dairy-free alternative.

By incorporating these nutrient-rich options into your meals, you can add flavor and excitement to your dishes while still maintaining a healthy and balanced diet. Experiment with different herbs, spices, fruits, nuts, and seeds to discover new and innovative ways to enhance the taste of your meals. With a little creativity and some healthy ingredients, you can create delicious and nutritious meals that will satisfy your taste buds and nourish your body.

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