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Milk Thistle
What is it? Overview Usage Side Effects and Warnings

Milk Thistle Usage

Written by FoundHealth.


Effect of Milk Thistle on Migraine Headache

Milk Thistle is a well-known and studied herb that enhances liver function and stimulates regeneration of hepatic cells when mild to moderately damaged. Due to the liver’s role in detoxifying the...

Read more about Migraine Headache and Milk Thistle.

Effect of Milk Thistle on Viral Hepatitis

Milk thistle may help treat both acute and chronic viral hepatitis, as well as alcoholic hepatitis. Standardized milk thistle extract includes many active chemicals. The most active of these chemicals...

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What Is Milk Thistle Used for Today?

Based on the extensive folk use of milk thistle in cases of jaundice, European medical researchers began to investigate its medicinal effects. It is currently used to treat alcoholic hepatitis , liver cirrhosis , liver poisoning, and viral hepatitis , as well as to protect the liver in general from the effects of liver-toxic medications. However, despite this wide usage, there is no definitive evidence that it is effective.

Standardized milk thistle extract is known as silymarin. Silymarin itself is a mixture of at least seven chemicals. The most active of these chemicals is commonly known as silibinin. But, silibinin too is, in fact, a mixture, comprising the two related substances silibinin A and silibinin B. 1 When injected intravenously, silibinin is thought to act as an antidote to poisoning by the deathcap mushroom, Amanita phalloides. Animal studies suggest that milk thistle extracts can also protect against many other poisonous substances, from toluene to the drug acetaminophen. 2 3 4 5 6 One animal study suggests that milk thistle can also protect against fetal damage caused by alcohol. 7 Silibinin is hypothesized to function by displacing toxins trying to bind to the liver as well as by causing the liver to regenerate more quickly. 8 It may also act as an antioxidant and also stabilize liver cell membranes. 9 In Europe, milk thistle is often added as extra protection when patients are given medications known to cause liver problems. However, milk thistle failed to prove effective for preventing liver inflammation caused by the Alzheimer's drug Cognex (tacrine). 10 Milk thistle is also used in a vague condition known as minor hepatic insufficiency, or "sluggish liver." 11 This term is mostly used by European physicians and American naturopathic practitioners—conventional physicians in the US don't recognize it. Symptoms are supposed to include aching under the ribs, fatigue, unhealthy skin appearance, general malaise, constipation, premenstrual syndrome, chemical sensitivities, and allergies.

One small, but apparently well-conducted, double-blind trial found evidence that milk thistle might improve blood sugar control in type 2 diabetes . 12 Milk thistle may also offer some protection to the kidney. 13 Highly preliminary evidence hints that milk thistle might help reduce breast cancer risk. 14 Milk thistle is sometimes recommended for gallstones and psoriasis , but there is little to no evidence as yet that it really helps these conditions.

In one small, placebo-controlled trial, the topical application of milk thistle with methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) for 1 month appeared to be effective in the treatment of 46 subjects with the skin condition rosacea . 15


  1. Kroll DJ, Shaw HS, Oberlies NH. Milk thistle nomenclature: why it matters in cancer research and pharmacokinetic studies. Integr Cancer Ther. 6(2):110-9.
  2. Muriel P, Garciapiña T, Perez-Alvarez V, Mourelle M. Silymarin protects against paracetamol-induced lipid peroxidation and liver damage. J Appl Toxicol. 12(6):439-42.
  3. Paulova J, Dvorak M, Kolouch F, et al. Verification of the hepatoprotective and therapeutic effect of silymarin in experimental liver injury with tetrachloromethane in dogs [in Czech]. Vet Med (Praha). 1990;35:629-635.
  4. Skakun NP, Moseichuk IP. Clinical pharmacology of legalon [in Russian]. Vrach Delo. 1988;5:5-10.
  5. Tuchweber B, Sieck R, Trost W. Prevention of silybin of phalloidin-induced acute hepatotoxicity. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 1979;51:265-275.
  6. Boari C, Montanari FM, Galletti GP, et al. Toxic occupational liver diseases. Therapeutic effects of silymarin [in Italian]. Minerva Med. 1981;72:2679-2688.
  7. La Grange L, Wang M, Watkins R, Ortiz D, Sanchez ME, Konst J, Lee C, Reyes E. Protective effects of the flavonoid mixture, silymarin, on fetal rat brain and liver. J Ethnopharmacol. 65(1):53-61.
  8. Schulz V, Hansel R, Tyler VE. Rational Phytotherapy: A Physicians' Guide to Herbal Medicine, 3rd ed. Berlin, Germany: Springer-Verlag; 1998:216.
  9. Hikino H, Kiso Y. Natural products for liver disease. Econ Med Plant Res. 1988;2:39-72.
  10. Allain H, Schuck S, Lebreton S, et al. Aminotransferase levels and silymarin in de novo tacrine-treated patients with Alzheimer's disease. Dement Geriatr Cogn Disord. 1999;10:181-185.
  11. Giannola C, Buogo F, Forestiere G, et al. A two-center study on the effects of silymarin in pregnant women and adult patients with so-called minor hepatic insufficiency [in Italian]. Clin Ther. 1985;114:129-135.
  12. Huseini HF, Larijani B, Heshmat R, Fakhrzadeh H, Radjabipour B, Toliat T, Raza M. The efficacy of Silybum marianum (L.) Gaertn. (silymarin) in the treatment of type II diabetes: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, clinical trial. Phytother Res. 20(12):1036-9.
  13. Sonnenbichler J, Scalera F, Sonnenbichler I, et al. Stimulatory effects of silibinin and silicristin from the milk thistle Silybum marianum on kidney cells. J Pharmacol Exp Ther. 1999;290:1375-1383.
  14. Zi X, Feyes DK, Agarwal R. Anticarcinogenic effect of a flavonoid antioxidant, silymarin, in human breast cancer cells MDA-MB 468: induction of G1 arrest through an increase in Cip1/p21 concomitant with a decrease in kinase activity of cyclin-dependent kinases and associated cyclins. Clin Cancer Res. 4(4):1055-64.
  15. Berardesca E, Cameli N, Cavallotti C, Levy JL, Piérard GE, de Paoli Ambrosi G. Combined effects of silymarin and methylsulfonylmethane in the management of rosacea: clinical and instrumental evaluation. J Cosmet Dermatol. 7(1):8-14.


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