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Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum)


Milk thistle grows in rocky soils in southern and western Europe and some parts of the United States. Historically, the plant has been used to assist milk production in nursing mothers and for liver disorders.


Milk thistle possesses liver protective properties and is traditionally used for digestive problems.


Part of herb used: FRUIT

MILK THISTLE EXTRACT, 300-600mg daily.


Milk thistle has been used for Hepatitis, Cirrhosis, jaundice and fatty degeneration of the liver. The herb is also used for digestion and treating Psoriasis.

Liver Protection and Restoration:
Silymarin is the most potent liver-protecting substance known. It competes in its action with liver toxins including alcohol and deathcap mushroom (the strongest liver toxin known). However, to treat mushroom poisoning, only the intravenous form is effective. Silymarin alters the membranes of the hepatic (liver cells) by inhibiting the movement of toxins into the organ (1). This membrane-stabilising action may be a result of antioxidant and radical scavenging actions of the active compounds in milk thistle (2).

Silymarin has been shown to improve immune function in patients with Cirrhosis (chronic liver disease with scarring) (3). It also relieves symptoms of liver disease, including nausea, weakness, loss of appetite, Fatigue, and Pain.

Silymarin increases cellular regeneration in the liver by stimulating protein synthesis (2). This results in an increased production of new liver cells to replace the old damaged ones. However, silymarin does not appear to have a stimulatory effect on malignant liver tissue.

Milk thistle is used to treat alcoholic hepatitis, alcoholic fatty liver, liver cirrhosis, liver poisoning, and viral Hepatitis.

Silymarin is a powerful antioxidant that helps to protect against depletion of glutathione in liver cells (4). Glutathione is responsible for detoxifying a wide range of hormones, drugs and chemicals. The flavonoids in milk thistle are effective in neutralising excess superoxides, thereby limiting cellular damage. Milk thistle may help to protect breast tissue from free radical damage (5).

Milk thistle is used to improve digestion by promoting the flow of bile from the liver, which then emulsifies dietary fats. Additionally, silymarin may help to prevent or treat gall stones via its ability to increase the solubility of bile (3).

Silymarin inhibits the action of certain inflammatory enzymes. As a result, milk thistle has been used as a supportive treatment for those with inflammatory liver conditions such as Cirrhosis and Hepatitis (3).

Silymarin is valued in the treatment of Psoriasis due to its ability to inhibit leukotriene synthesis (leukotrienes have the potential to cause Inflammation) (3) and improve liver function by protecting it against toxins.


A mild laxative effect has been observed in individuals taking large amounts of milk thistle.

Pregnant and lactating women should consult with a qualified health professional before taking milk thistle due to a lack of safety data during these times.

Milk thistle is not recommended for use by children.


There are no interactions or contra-indications with medication listed for milk thistle extract. However, there is a chance that silibinin, a component of silymarin, may interfere with certain drugs such as oral contraceptives (7).

Milk thistle may be helpful for people taking medications that are potentially liver-damaging.


1. herbs for Health, 1997,Jul/Aug:46-49.
2. "Herbal Drugs and Phytopharmaceuticals", N Grainger Bissett, Medpharm, 1994.
3. "The Healing Power of herbs", M T Murray, Prima Publishing, 1995.
4. Feher J, Lang I, et al. Free radicals in tissue damage in liver diseases and therapeutic approach. Tokai J Exp Clin Med 1986;11:121-34.
5. Zi X, FEyes DK, and Agarwal R. Anticarcinogenic effect of a flavonoid antioxidant, silymarin, in human breast cancer cells MDA-MB 468. Clin Cancer Res 4: 1055-1064, 1998.
6. Kim DH, et al. Silymarin and its components are inhibitors of beta-glucuronidase. Biol Pharm Bull 17(3): 443-445, 1994.

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