What is Corn Silk?
Corn silk is the name used for the threads, known as stigmas, found at the top and sides of a stalk of corn. These tassel-like fibers are used by the female corn plants to catch the male plant pollen. People usually toss away this byproduct of the corn husk when preparing it for food. However, it has been used to treat a host of ailments for generations. Corn silk is an established staple of Native American and Chinese medicines as well as many European traditions (x).
Corn silk, also known as stigma maydis in Latin, has many benefits. These include treatment of inflammation and enlarged prostate. It’s also a go-to for bladder and urinary tract infections and kidney stones. It might even help manage hypertension and diabetes.
In the old days, people boiled corn silk and drank it as tea. Now, its extract is available as a dietary supplement in powder, liquid or capsule form. With this added convenience, it has never been easier to reap the benefits of this powerful plant.
Corn Silk Benefits
Corn silk is a good source of vitamins and minerals such as calcium, potassium and sodium. It also contains compounds called flavonoids, which are responsible for many of its benefits. Of the flavonoids found within it, researchers believe that one called maysin is responsible for some of its unique therapeutic effects (x).
Flavonoids are compounds that act as antioxidants. Antioxidants are important to prevent oxidation, a process that breaks down cells and can be detrimental to their optimal health. That means that in addition to the applications mentioned below, corn silk promotes overall cellular health.
The benefits of corn silk have been known for centuries within traditional herbal medicine. Now, exciting new research is underway to establish the benefits that have made it so coveted.
Corn Silk for Kidneys and Urinary Health
Corn silk extract acts as a diuretic. This means it helps flush water through the urinary tract and out of the body. It is also a demulcent, which refers to its ability to soothe urothelial surfaces (x). Because of this, one of the most common uses for this extract is to help maintain health of the urinary tract or to alleviate specific urinary ailments (x).
If you’ve ever had a urinary tract infection (UTI), you know it can be painful and inconvenient. The antibiotics often used to treat them can also cause unwanted side effects. Corn silk extract is historically regarded as an effective remedy for UTIs, but modern studies are only beginning to support this use. In one study, however, 42 men and women with active UTIs experienced a continual reduction in their symptoms after five, 10, and 20 days of using the extract (x).
Corn silk extract can also reduce the occurrence of kidney stones by flushing out the mineral debris that can accumulate in the urinary tract. This is a traditional use of the extract, however, for which the specific mechanisms, dosages and effectiveness have yet to be determined. Studies are currently in progress to explore this, though.
Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia, or BPH, is a very common occurrence in men marked by an enlarged prostate gland. While usually not harmful in and of itself, it can cause troublesome and inconvenient symptoms including increased frequency and urgency of urination.
Prescription medications exist for these symptoms, but corn silk extract may be a natural way to reduce them. Humans have used it for this purpose for a long time and animal research is beginning to confirm its efficacy. In one clinical study, for example, researchers synthetically induced BPH in rats by injecting testosterone. Upon treatment with corn silk extract, the symptoms were then dramatically reduced (x).
Results of laboratory studies are also starting to suggest that the maysin found in corn silk extract may have a protective effect against prostate cancer (x).
Reduces Blood Pressure
Research suggests that corn silk extract can help with hypertension (elevated blood pressure), thanks to its high potassium content. In a study, a dose of the extract significantly lowered participants’ blood pressure within hours (x). Because hypertension is a potentially serious medical condition, it’s important to check in with your healthcare professional before attempting to manage it with supplements.
Lowers Blood Sugar
When blood sugar is chronically elevated, as is often the case in people with diabetes, it’s called hyperglycemia. Uncontrolled hyperglycemia can cause a variety of symptoms and even lead to a medical emergency. Corn silk extract is a traditional “anti-diabetic” and can help manage blood sugar levels. Specifically, it can help reduce blood sugar during times of hyperglycemia. Animal research found that water extracts of corn silk lowers blood sugar levels in diabetic mice by increasing insulin and repairing damaged cells of the pancreas (the organ that produces insulin) (x, x, x). Again, because diabetes is also a serious medical condition, be sure to consult a professional before attempting to treat this ailment with supplements.
Corn silk has anti-inflammatory properties. In studies, researchers noted an interruption of the normal functioning of a number of pro-inflammatory compounds. Vascular permeability was increased and inflammation reduced (x). For those dealing with chronic inflammation, corn silk may be useful for managing symptoms with less side effects than standard anti-inflammatories.
Oxidation describes the normal process that occurs during oxygen metabolism in the body. This process creates “free radicals” which can damage cells unless neutralized by antioxidants. Chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer are linked to oxidation (x). Corn silk extract is a rich source of natural antioxidants — particularly flavonoids. Studies found that it reduces oxidative damage (at about the same level as vitamin C) and may also encourage the body’s own production of antioxidants (x, x).
Corn silk extract may also help increase endurance and fight fatigue. In a study, animals given the extract had higher levels of glycogen (fuel) in the liver and therefore showed greater exercise tolerance (x). It can also reduce oxidative damage in the muscle after strenuous exercise, improving recovery rate (x). For those looking for a pick-me-up before or after the gym, this extract may be for you.
Did You Know?
- Corn silk contains more potassium per gram than bananas.
- The use of corn silk tea is said to help children overcome bed-wetting.
- The botanical name for corn, zea mays, comes from a Hopi word that translates to “cause of life” or “our mother.”
Corn Silk Extract Side Effects
The use of corn silk for medicinal applications has demonstrated a very low occurrence of side effects, which are mild (x). The rare instances reported include:
- Lowered potassium in those with an already decreased blood potassium level.
- Allergic reaction – Skin rash, stomach cramps, tightness in throat and dizziness can occur in cases of allergies to corn or corn products (x).
- Low blood sugar – Because corn silk naturally lowers blood sugar levels, if you already have issues with low blood sugar, please consult with a physician before taking the supplement.
Potential Adverse Combinations
Though rare, there is the possibility of adverse reaction when taken in combination with certain medications. If you are taking any prescription medications or other herbal supplements, consult with a healthcare provider before adding corn silk to your regimen. He or she can work with you to catalog your medications and see how they might interact with a supplement.
Corn Silk Supplement Dosage
Corn silk and its extracts are considered safe for most people (x). But due to a lack of modern human studies, there isn’t a specific dosage recommendation at this time.
A dose of 1200 mg (1/2 tsp) daily with water is a reasonable amount with which to start. Consult with a healthcare professional to fine tune your personal dosage depending on the particular application.
The Bottom Line
With a host of benefits and very few side effects, corn silk is an established folk remedy for some of the most common conditions. The accumulated wisdom of the ages is now being confirmed by modern science and can be accessed through a convenient powdered extract!
Whether it’s used for a urinary tract infection or an energy boost, corn silk offers a myriad of potentially great applications. For those wanting a little more push at the gym, this extract can make a noticeable difference.
By: David Jacobson