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Monarch Butterflies And Humans Both Utilize Milkweed's Medical Properties

New York City: NY, USA | Oct 20, 2010

By Debbie Nicholson

The Monarch Butterfly

Even with conventional medicine trying to deny healing properties of natures’ herbs and plants, the insect world has no issues in using what nature has provided for healing.

A new study which has been published in the journal of Ecology Letters, takes note of the Monarch butterfly’s common use of medical plants to aide its offspring in the resistance of infection and disease.

Researchers have noticed that the Monarch butterfly favours laying egg larvae on milkweed leaves. This had prompted researchers to look into the reasoning behind this action. Researchers found out that milkweed plants contain essential compositions that aide the larvae to remain healthy.

Emory Universities evolutionary biologist Jaap de Roode explains that they had demonstrated some species of milkweed, the food plant for larvae, can decrease parasite infection in monarchs. They had also discovered that infected female butterflies favour laying their eggs on plants which will help make their offspring less ill.

There are numerous milkweed plants and some contain very large amounts of cardenolides. The cardenolides are toxic to hunters but safe to the butterfly. When the Monarch butterflies consume milkweed, which is abundant in the compound, or lay their larvae upon it, they manage to build up a defence to any hunters which try and invade. This compound also aides in halting parasites which can develop in their intestines and kill them.

Collaborator Mark Hunter from University of Michigan, a chemical ecologist believes that the findings show promise for humans as well.

The milkweed plant is used in the United States for its anodyne properties in medicine, meaning it relieves pain. The root of the plant has had great success as when used as a powder for asthma. The plant has also been used as a cough expectorant along with many other uses.

Diabetes Control

Researchers from the Institute of Medicinal Plants in Tehran, Iran had discovered that daily supplements of extracts from milk thistle had lowered glucose levels by 15%.

For the study researchers recruited 51 persons with type 2 diabetes to participate in a four month randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Participants either received a daily milk thistle supplement 200mg three times each day or placebo at three times a day. All participants had continued their conventional hypoglycaemic treatments and were examined each month.

Researchers noted in the milk thistle group fasting glucose levels had decreased from 156 milligrams per mg of blood to 133mg. In the placebo group it had increased from 167mg to 188mg.

It was also noted that in the milk thistle group that average glycosylated haemoglobin levels had decreased by 1.04% after four months. Also, reductions were noted in blood levels of total cholesterol by 12%, LDL cholesterol by 12% and triglyceride levels by 25%.

The study results had shown that milk thistle extract can play an important role in diabetes control.


In 2009, a study had discovered that milk thistle may aid liver inflammation in patients with cancer who undergo chemotherapy. The study had shown that this herb may just let patients have potent doses of chemotherapy without harm to their liver.

Chemotherapy medications most of the time cause inflammation of the liver. When this occurs physicians most of the time must lower the doses or stop them completely. Numerous clinical studies have examined milk thistle in the treatment of liver damage from alcohol or toxins. To test the herb’s effectiveness to aid in treatment of chemotherapy linked liver issues, Dr. Kara Kelly, MD and associates of New York Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center's Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center in New York City, had conducted a randomised double-blind study in children with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL), who experienced the side effect.

Fifty children had participated in the study. The children were randomised and received either milk thistle or placebo for twenty-eight days. At the beginning of the study all children had shown liver inflammation. When researchers had conducted liver function tests 28 days after receiving the herb, the children who had taken the herb had shown improvements in liver enzymes. The children who took the herb also showed lower levels of AST (asparate amino transferase) and greatly lower levels of ALT (amino alanine transferase). The herb indicated that it had kept fewer patients from having to have their chemotherapy doses lowered. Chemotherapy doses needing to be lowered had been decreased by 61%. The herb also seemed to be totally safe for consumption.

These results showed promise since currently there are no medications which are available for liver toxicity.

Other uses for milkweed

The milky like substance of milkweed has been used for ages to treat warts. Rubbing the juice onto the wart several times a day for a couple of weeks. Keep in mind the milkweed must be used fresh. In the end the wart turns black and falls off.

The leaves of the milkweed can be used to treat poison ivy. The milky sap from the leaves is dabbed on the rash and blisters and allowed to dry. After fifteen or twenty minutes the itching should stop. Photograph of the Milk Thistle PlantRepeat until the entire rash is gone. It will leave a sticky residue on the skin that can be just washed off once the poison ivy is gone.

Milk thistle is also used as a mild laxative due to the fact it can increase bile secretion and flow in the intestinal tract. It has the ability to improve bowl regularity and stool consistency.

This herb is also a demulcent—meaning it has the ability to smooth and moisten mucus membranes, kidney and bladder irritations. It is also great on the skin to soften and moisturise. Patients have used it to clear up acne and eczema.

For a lot of years milk thistle has been used as a treatment in liver disease. It is capable of decreasing enzyme levels and expedites the liver’s process to detoxify the body. Physicians have prescribed this herb for Hepatitis to minimise the inflammation, in Cirrhosis to soften liver and in Liver Cancer to help in detoxification and many dysfunctions in the Gall Bladder System. It also guards an individual’s liver when they are taking medications that elevate liver enzymes.

Notable facts on milkweed

Milkweed is a perennial flowering plant that has seed pods. Milkweed contains nutrients of vitamin C, Beta carotene, alkaloids, asclepiadin and volatile oils.


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