8 Amazing Health Benefits of Milk Thistle

Milk thistle is a herbal supplement derived from the eponymous plant, also known as Silybum Marianum. Silymarin, the active ingredient in milk thistle, is responsible for most of its health benefits.

According to a medical review, milk thistle has been used by humans for over 2,000 years – especially to treat liver disorders. [1]

In this article, you’ll learn more about the health benefits of milk thistle.

What is Milk Thistle?

What is Milk Thistle

The milk thistle plant, with its white veins and unique purple flowers, is used to create organic milk thistle supplement.

The herbal remedy or supplement incorporates milk thistle extract, which contains a very high amount of silymarin, the main active ingredient in milk thistle.

Traditionally, milk thistle has been used for:

  • Treating gallbladder and liver disorders
  • Preventing certain types of cancer
  • Protecting liver from alcohol and environmental pollutants
  • Increasing breast milk production

What is silymarin?

Silymarin is the main active ingredient in milk thistle. It has the following properties: [2], [3], [4]

  • Antioxidant
  • Antiviral
  • Anti-inflammatory

Most importantly, silymarin neutralizes free radicals, protecting cells and their DNA from damage.

Benefits of Milk Thistle

Benefits of Milk Thistle

Even though traditionally milk thistle has been used to prevent or reverse liver damage, it offers many other health benefits.

Protects Your Liver

Protects Your Liver

Since its discovery in 1960, silymarin found in milk thistle has been the gold standard drug to treat liver disorders associated with: [5]

  • Chronic viral hepatitis
  • Alcoholic liver disease
  • Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
  • Liver cancer

Some studies have shown that consuming milk thistle extract can improve liver function in those with liver diseases, suggesting that its supplement can reduce both liver damage and liver inflammation. [6]

How does milk thistle improve liver health?

Researchers hypothesize that substances in milk thistle neutralize free radicals produced during metabolism. Free radicals are toxins that damage the cells in our body, including the cells in the liver.

Could Reduce Acne

Could Reduce Acne

Even though acne isn’t dangerous, it can leave scars. And because it causes inflammation, it can be painful. Acne may also lead to anxiety because of its effects on appearance.

Some studies suggest that oxidative stress may play a role in acne development. [7]

With its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, milk thistle extract may be useful for dealing with acne.

One particular study, participants who took 210mg of silymarin everyday for 8 weeks experienced decreased acne lesions by 54 percent. [8]

Supports Weight Loss

Supports Weight Loss

Milk thistle may help those looking to lose weight.

In a 2016 study done on animals, silymarin consumption led to weight loss in mice even though they were fed a diet meant to increase weight. [9]

However, human studies aren’t available to back up this health benefit.

Protects Brain Function

Protects Brain Function

As we age, our brain function deteriorates, especially in conditions such as:

  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Alzheimer’s

Traditionally, milk thistle has been used in such neurological disorders for thousands of years.

In test-tube and animal studies, because of its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, silymarin has shown its capability to reduce oxidative damage to brain cells, suggesting that it could prevent mental decline. [10], [11], [12]

Summary:

Silymarin found in milk thistle has shown promising capability to protect brain function. However, there’s a lack of human tests.

Can Protect the Health of Your Bones

Protect the Health of Your Bones

In some animal and test-tube studies, milk thistle showed potential to protect against bone loss by stimulating bone mineralization.

According to a few researches, milk thistle may prevent bone loss in postmenopausal women.

However, a lack of human studies makes this benefit difficult to validate.

May Help in Diabetes

May Help in Diabetes

In type 2 diabetes patients, milk thistle may be used as an adjunct treatment to manage blood sugar levels.

Compounds in milk thistle may help not only improve insulin sensitivity but also lower blood sugar. [13]

Silymarin may improve glycemic control and prevent progression of the complications because of its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. [14]

Relieves Symptoms of Allergic Asthma

Relieves Symptoms of Allergic Asthma

As milk thistle reduces inflammation, it may alleviate symptoms of allergic asthma.

A 2012 study found that the active compound in milk thistle, silymarin, protected the airways of mice against inflammation caused by allergic asthma. [15]

Helps in Cancer Treatment

Helps in Cancer Treatment

Milk thistle may be helpful in the treatment of certain cancers. [16]

A review of studies found that milk thistle impeded the growth of cancer cells in patients with colorectal cancer. [17]

And it may help alleviate symptoms caused by cancer treatment. [18]

Is Milk Thistle Safe to Consume?

Is Milk Thistle Safe to Consume

Yes, it generally is. Even in studies with high doses for long periods, only 1 percent of people experienced side effects.

Most common milk thistle side effects include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Bloating
  • Nausea

When taking milk thistle, the following groups must be cautious:

  • People allergic to the plant
  • Pregnant women
  • Those on hormone regulating medications

Note: if you suffer from a chronic health condition or are currently on medication, then consult your doctor before starting a milk thistle supplement.

What is the Appropriate Milk Thistle Dosage?

What is the Appropriate Milk Thistle Dosage

Milk thistle is considered effective for liver disorders in the range of 200 – 400mg per day. But you can take more if desired. Dose of up to 1200 per day haven’t shown any toxic effects.

Toxicity from milk thistle has been noted at very high doses greater than 1,500mg per day. [19]

How to Consume Milk Thistle?

How to Consume Milk Thistle

Milk thistle is available as a supplement. While there’s no particular dosage of milk thistle, you should always read the label and follow the dosage recommended by the manufacturer.

Apart from pills and capsules, it is available as tea. But you must limit the intake of milk thistle tea to 5-6 cups a day.

Conclusion

Milk thistle not only supports a healthy liver but also benefits your bones, cardiovascular system, and brain health. Further, it may even improve your skin and reduce acne. Read through this post and decide if milk thistle extract is right for you.

Frequently asked questions

Q. What is silymarin?
A. Silymarin is the active ingredient in milk thistle. It has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties with which it improves the health of your liver and protects brain function and bones.

Q. Are milk thistle supplements herbal and natural?
A. That depends entirely on the manufacturer. But most milk thistle supplements are both natural and herbal, as they’re extracted from the plant and then provided in the form of pills, powder, or liquid.

Q. Is milk thistle available for kids?
A. Milk thistle is available for children, but its long term effects on kids haven’t been properly studied. So it is better to purchase milk thistle especially curated for children instead of the ones available for adults.

Q. What is the scientific name of milk thistle?
A. The scientific name of milk thistle is Silybum marianum (L.) Gaertn.

Q. What are the common names of milk thistle?
A. Common names of milk thistle include – Wild artichoke, Fructus cardui mariae, Blessed milk thistle, Bull thistle, Lady’s thistle, Carduus marianus, Mary thistle, Pternix, Marian thistle, Shui fei ji, Silberdistel, Silibinin, Silybe, Silybon, Silybum, Silymarin, St. Mary’s thistle, Thistle, Thistle of the Blessed Virgin,, Fructus silybi mariae, Mild marian thistle, Holy thistle, Chardon de Marie, Lady’s milk, Mariana mariana.

Q. Are milk thistle gummies available?
A. Milk thistle gummies aren’t available. Usually, milk thistle capsules are available on the market, as it’s easier to provide a higher dose using capsules.

Q. Can I purchase a silymarin supplement?
A. Milk thistle supplements contain high amounts of silymarin, so you don’t have to purchase a separate silymarin supplement to meet the recommended dosage.

Q. Can milk thistle be used for liver detox?
A. Milk thistle for liver detox works by neutralizing free radicals that damage the cells in the liver. These free radicals are created during the metabolism process and increase oxidative stress on your body.

Q. Can milk thistle be used for fatty liver?
A. Yes, it can. Milk thistle is often used as a complementary treatment option in many liver disorders including fatty liver. Milk thistle helps to reduce the inflammation caused by fatty liver.

Q. Is milk thistle available for dogs?
A. Milk thistle may be beneficial for dogs suffering from liver diseases. Available in capsule, powder, and liquid form, milk thistle supplements for dogs only benefit the liver and not cure liver conditions. Note that you shouldn’t give your dog milk thistle especially made for people.

Consult a veterinarian before feeding your dog a milk thistle supplement.

Q. Is milk thistle available for cats?
A. Milk thistle supplements are available for cats; however, you shouldn’t feed the cat the supplement that is meant for humans. Silymarin, the active ingredient in milk thistle, may reduce the oxidative stress on the cat’s body and reduce inflammation in its liver.

Consult a veterinarian before feeding your cat a milk thistle supplement.

Q. What is Milk Thistle known as in different languages?
A. Here’s a list of names of milk thistle in different languages.

  • Milk thistle in hindi: मिल्क थिस्ल
  • Milk thistle in spanish: Cardo de leche
  • Milk thistle in telugu: Pālu tisṭil (పాలు తిస్టిల్)
  • Milk thistle in bengali: Dudha thisala (দুধ থিসল)

🔻🔺References

[1] PDQ Integrative, Alternative, and Complementary Therapies Editorial Board. Milk Thistle (PDQ®): Health Professional Version. 2021 Jun 23. In: PDQ Cancer Information Summaries [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): National Cancer Institute (US); 2002. [NCBI]

[2] Kim, Moon-Sun et al. “Optimal management for alcoholic liver disease: Conventional medications, natural therapy or combination?.” World journal of gastroenterology vol. 22,1 (2016): 8-23. [PubMed]

[3] Aller, R et al. “Effect of silymarin plus vitamin E in patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. A randomized clinical pilot study.” European review for medical and pharmacological sciences vol. 19,16 (2015): 3118-24. [PubMed]

[4] Ferenci, P et al. “Randomized controlled trial of silymarin treatment in patients with cirrhosis of the liver.” Journal of hepatology vol. 9,1 (1989): 105-13. [PubMed]

[5] Borah, Anupom et al. “Neuroprotective potential of silymarin against CNS disorders: insight into the pathways and molecular mechanisms of action.” CNS neuroscience & therapeutics vol. 19,11 (2013): 847-53. [PubMed]

[6] Polachi, Navaneethakrishnan et al. “Modulatory effects of silibinin in various cell signaling pathways against liver disorders and cancer – A comprehensive review.” European journal of medicinal chemistry vol. 123 (2016): 577-595. [PubMed]

[7] Sarici, G et al. “Oxidative stress in acne vulgaris.” Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology : JEADV vol. 24,7 (2010): 763-7. [PubMed]

[8] Effects of Oral Antioxidants on Lesion Counts Associated with Oxidative Stress and Inflammation in Patients with Papulopustular Acne [Longdom]

[9] Guo, Yu et al. “Silymarin improved diet-induced liver damage and insulin resistance by decreasing inflammation in mice.” Pharmaceutical biology vol. 54,12 (2016): 2995-3000. [PubMed]

[10] Galhardi, F et al. “Effect of silymarin on biochemical parameters of oxidative stress in aged and young rat brain.” Food and chemical toxicology : an international journal published for the British Industrial Biological Research Association vol. 47,10 (2009): 2655-60. [PubMed]

[11] Neha et al. “Silymarin ameliorates memory deficits and neuropathological changes in mouse model of high-fat-diet-induced experimental dementia.” Naunyn-Schmiedeberg’s archives of pharmacology vol. 387,8 (2014): 777-87. [PubMed]

[12] Karimi, Gholamreza et al. “”Silymarin”, a promising pharmacological agent for treatment of diseases.” Iranian journal of basic medical sciences vol. 14,4 (2011): 308-17. [PubMed]

[13] Kazazis, Christos E et al. “The therapeutic potential of milk thistle in diabetes.” The review of diabetic studies : RDS vol. 11,2 (2014): 167-74. [PubMed]

[14] Voroneanu, Luminita et al. “Silymarin in Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials.” Journal of diabetes research vol. 2016 (2016): 5147468. [PubMed]

[15] Choi, Yun Ho et al. “Silibinin attenuates allergic airway inflammation in mice.” Biochemical and biophysical research communications vol. 427,3 (2012): 450-5. [PubMed]

[16] Polachi, Navaneethakrishnan et al. “Modulatory effects of silibinin in various cell signaling pathways against liver disorders and cancer – A comprehensive review.” European journal of medicinal chemistry vol. 123 (2016): 577-595. [PubMed]

[17] Raina, Komal et al. “Silibinin and colorectal cancer chemoprevention: a comprehensive review on mechanisms and efficacy.” Journal of biomedical research vol. 30,6 (2016): 452-465. [NCBI]

[18] Liao, Chen-Yi et al. “Novel Investigations of Flavonoids as Chemopreventive Agents for Hepatocellular Carcinoma.” BioMed research international vol. 2015 (2015): 840542. [PubMed]

[19] Milk thistle [drugs.com]