If you’re someone who takes iron supplements or has a diet rich in iron, you may be wondering if it’s safe to take milk thistle at the same time.
Milk thistle has been touted for its liver-protective properties and is commonly used as an herbal supplement. However, recent studies have shown that milk thistle can also affect iron absorption in the body.
In this article, we’ll explore the relationship between milk thistle and iron and whether or not it’s safe to take them together. So, if you’re curious about how these two substances interact, keep reading!
Can I Take Milk Thistle And Iron Together?
The short answer is yes, you can take milk thistle and iron together. However, it’s important to understand how milk thistle affects iron absorption in the body.
Milk thistle contains compounds called polyphenols that bind to iron in your food. These polyphenols have a high affinity for iron, meaning they tend to bind to iron even when they could bind to something else. Once the polyphenols and iron bind, they stick together and pass through your body without being absorbed.
This means that if you take milk thistle with a meal that contains a significant amount of iron, such as meat or dark leafy greens, the milk thistle may reduce the amount of iron that your body absorbs from the meal.
However, it’s important to note that this effect is more pronounced with non-heme iron, which is the type of iron found in plant-based foods. Heme iron, which is found in meat, is not affected as much by milk thistle.
What Is Milk Thistle And Iron?
Milk thistle is a plant that has been used for centuries for its medicinal properties, particularly for liver health. It contains a compound called silybin, which has been found to have potential iron-chelating abilities. Iron chelation is the process of binding to excess iron in the body and removing it.
Iron, on the other hand, is an essential mineral that is necessary for many bodily functions, including the production of hemoglobin in red blood cells. Hemoglobin carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. Iron is also important for energy production and immune function.
However, too much iron in the body can be harmful and lead to a condition called hemochromatosis. In this condition, the body absorbs too much iron from food, and over time, the excess iron can accumulate in organs such as the liver, heart, and pancreas, causing damage.
Milk thistle has been found to reduce iron absorption from food, particularly non-heme iron found in plant-based foods. This makes it a potentially useful adjunct treatment for hemochromatosis, a condition where reducing iron levels is important.
How Does Milk Thistle Affect Iron Absorption?
Milk thistle contains a compound called silybin, which has been found to have iron-chelating abilities. In a study of patients with hereditary hemochromatosis, silybin was found to reduce iron absorption from food. The study found that consuming milk thistle with a meal resulted in a measurable reduction in the amount of iron that made it into the body.
Silybin has the potential to reduce iron absorption, and this makes it a potential adjunct in the treatment of hemochromatosis. In addition, silybin has been proven to chelate iron, which means it can pull iron away from ferritin and out of storage. Once silybin removes the iron from storage, the iron gets cleared out of the body, and ferritin levels go down.
It’s important to note that milk thistle should be avoided by those with hemochromatosis as the joint effects have not been adequately studied. Milk thistle may also induce iron-deficiency anemia in some patients. However, for those who want to reduce their iron absorption or have high ferritin/iron storage levels, milk thistle can be a useful tool in conjunction with other treatments such as phlebotomies or injectable iron-chelating drugs.
Potential Risks Of Taking Milk Thistle And Iron Together
While milk thistle and iron can be taken together, there are potential risks to consider. One of the biggest concerns is for individuals with hemochromatosis, a hereditary condition that causes excessive iron accumulation in the body. Milk thistle has been found to cause severe problems in those with hemochromatosis, and it is recommended that individuals with this condition avoid herbal medicines altogether.
Additionally, there is a lack of consensus regarding how milk thistle affects anemia. Some studies have shown that milk thistle can reduce iron overload when consumed with an iron chelator, while others suggest that it may induce iron-deficiency anemia. This makes it important for individuals with anemia to talk to their healthcare provider before taking milk thistle.
Furthermore, milk thistle may reduce the amount of iron absorbed from food, which could be a concern for individuals who are at risk for iron deficiency or who have low iron levels. While heme iron found in meat is not affected as much by milk thistle, non-heme iron found in plant-based foods may be more impacted.
It’s important to note that these risks are not necessarily a reason to avoid milk thistle altogether, but rather to use it with caution and under the guidance of a healthcare provider. As with any supplement or medication, it’s important to weigh the potential benefits and risks before taking it.
How To Safely Take Milk Thistle And Iron
If you have a condition that requires you to manage your iron intake, such as hereditary hemochromatosis, it’s important to talk to your doctor before taking milk thistle or any other supplement. Your doctor can help you determine the appropriate dosage and monitor your iron levels to ensure that you’re not getting too much or too little iron.
If you’re taking milk thistle for liver health or other reasons, you can still safely consume iron-rich foods. It’s best to take milk thistle with a meal that contains heme iron, such as red meat or seafood, as these types of iron are less affected by milk thistle. If you’re consuming non-heme iron, such as from plant-based sources, it may be beneficial to separate your milk thistle supplement from your meal by a few hours to avoid reducing iron absorption.
It’s also important to note that milk thistle may have the potential to remove iron that’s already stored in your cells and organs. While this can be beneficial for those with conditions like hemochromatosis, it’s important to monitor your iron levels regularly and work with your doctor to adjust your treatment plan as needed.
Conclusion: Is It Safe To Take Milk Thistle And Iron Together?
While it is generally safe to take milk thistle and iron together, individuals with hemochromatosis should exercise caution. Milk thistle has been known to exacerbate the clinical and biochemical presentation of C282Y homozygous hemochromatosis. It is best to avoid herbal medicines with hemochromatosis as the joint effects have not been adequately studied.
Additionally, there remains a lack of consensus regarding how milk thistle affects anemia. While a study in 2013 demonstrated that milk thistle may enhance standard treatment in patients with Cooley’s anemia, a more recent review published in 2016 discussed how milk thistle has the potential to induce iron-deficiency anemia. As such, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional before taking milk thistle if you have anemia or other related conditions.
It’s also important to note that milk thistle extract is likely safe for most people when taken by mouth, but it may cause diarrhea, nausea, intestinal gas, fullness, loss of appetite, and possibly headache in some individuals. When applied directly to the skin for short periods of time, milk thistle extract is possibly safe.