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Milk Thistle Medicines: Overview, Benefits, Side effects & Risk factors

Team AckoJan 17, 2024

Humans have a long history of seeking remedies for illnesses, using natural substances such as herbs and spices before the advent of modern medicine. Many of these ancient, traditional medications fell out of favour with physicians during the emergence of contemporary, evidence-based medicine. Now again, these natural treatments are making a comeback as more individuals are looking for alternatives to contemporary pharmacological treatments.

Milk Thistle (MT) is acknowledged for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. While herbalists have promoted its health advantages for generations, modern-time researchers have just begun to realise its health benefits. The majority of present research focuses on Silymarin, the active component in MT which is high in flavonolignans. Through this article, let’s understand more about Milk Thistle medicines, their benefits, uses, and potential side effects.




What is Milk Thistle?

Milk Thistle is a Mediterranean plant that belongs to the Asteraceae family. Silybum Marianum is the botanical name for MT. The ripe seeds are the plant's medicinal components. The active ingredient in MT seed extract is Silymarin, a flavonoid with antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and antioxidant properties.

Milk Thistle (MT), or Silybum Marianum, is a bright pink flowering plant that grows in the wild of northern Africa, southern Europe, and the Middle East. For almost more than 2,000 years, it has been used to treat the liver and spleen. MT is now utilised as a herbal medicine to relieve indigestion and for its liver-protective properties. It is available in the form of capsules, pills, and tea.

It is used in herbal medicine to treat liver illnesses such as liver cirrhosis, hepatitis, and jaundice. It is also helpful in treating gallbladder disease and is said to protect the liver against snake bites, alcohol, and other environmental poisons.

According to studies, MT can be used to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) since it is as effective as fluoxetine, which is typically used for the treatment of OCD. As per clinical research, Silybum Marianum inhibits hepatitis C virus (HCV) cell culture infection in human hepatoma cultures. 

Additionally, Silymarin helps treat the liver by scavenging harmful free radicals, protecting the cell membrane, preventing toxins from entering the liver cells, regenerating destroyed cells, and neutralising toxins that tend to damage the liver, such as alcohol.

Health benefits of Milk Thistle

Here are some potential health benefits of Milk Thistle.

1. Helps protects your liver

Milk Thistle is often used as a supplemental therapy by people with liver damage. It is also used for protecting the liver against toxins such as amatoxin, which is generated by the death cap mushroom and is fatal if consumed.

Studies show that it may help minimise liver inflammation and damage. MT is considered to prevent liver damage caused by free radicals, which are generated when your liver metabolises toxic chemicals.

2. May inhibit the age-related deterioration of the brain

The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of MT are neuroprotective in nature and may help prevent the deterioration of brain function caused by ageing. It has been used as a traditional medication for neurological illnesses such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease for over two thousand years.

Silymarin has been demonstrated to reduce oxidative damage to brain cells, which may aid in the prevention of mental decline. Amyloid plaques are sticky amyloid protein clumps that can form between nerve cells as you age. They are found in high concentrations in the brains of persons suffering from Alzheimer's disease, which means MT can be used to help treat this challenging illness.

3. Supports bone health

In experimental test-tube animal studies, it was found that the MT may accelerate bone mineralization and perhaps protect against bone loss. 

4. May improve the cancer treatment

According to certain research, Silymarin's antioxidant properties may have some anticancer effects, which may be beneficial to cancer patients. According to animal studies, MT may be effective in reducing the negative effects of cancer treatments. It may also improve the effectiveness of chemotherapy against some tumours and, in certain cases, even eliminate cancer cells.

5. Help improve the production of breast milk

Milk Thistle has been shown to increase breast milk production in breastfeeding mothers. It is considered that MT works by increasing the level of prolactin hormone in your body, thereby improving breast milk production in lactating mothers. Although the evidence is limited, one randomised trial revealed that women who took 420 mg of Silymarin for 63 days made 64 percent more milk than those who took a placebo.

6. Promotes skin health

Milk Thistle may benefit skin health. According to a 2015 study, when applied to the skin of mice, it was discovered that MT helped treat inflammatory skin disorders. A 2019 study on cells indicated that MT components may protect your skin against the negative effects of sun exposure and may slow down skin ageing.

7. Helps manage blood sugar levels

One of the components in Milk Thistle performed similarly to several diabetes medicines by improving insulin sensitivity and lowering blood sugar. In fact, a recent study discovered that those who took Silymarin on a regular basis had a considerable drop in their fasting blood sugar levels and HbA1c.

Is Milk Thistle safe?

Milk Thistle is considered safe when taken orally. According to the National Cancer Institute, MT or Silymarin have very few side effects, which may include the following.

  • Nausea

  • Heartburn

  • A laxative effect

  • Stomach disorder

  • A mild allergic reaction at high doses

However, the following people need to be watchful when consuming MT supplements.

  • Pregnant women: Since there is no data available on its safety in pregnant women, it is generally suggested that they avoid this supplement.

  • People who are allergic to Milk Thistle Plant: People who are allergic to the Asteraceae family of plants may encounter an allergic reaction.

  • Diabetic people: Since Milk Thistle has blood sugar-lowering properties, it may put diabetic people at risk of low blood sugar.

  • People with specific conditions: Milk Thistle has estrogenic properties, which may augment hormone-sensitive illnesses such as some types of breast cancer.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here’s a section featuring common questions and answers related to Milk Thistle medicines.


What happens when Milk Thistle is taken on a daily basis?

MT is usually regarded as safe for most individuals at doses of up to 420 mg three times per day. However, it may cause mild side effects like allergic reactions, itching, headaches, joint discomfort, and gastrointestinal problems like nausea or diarrhoea.

Is Milk Thistle harmful to your liver?

Several scientific studies show that the compounds in Milk Thistle, especially a flavonoid called Silymarin, help treat your liver by scavenging the harmful free radicals, protecting the cell membrane, preventing toxins from entering the liver cells, regenerating destroyed cells, and neutralising toxins that tend to damage the liver, such as alcohol.

What are the side effects of Milk Thistle?

MT is considered safe when taken orally. It can have very few side effects including nausea, heartburn, a laxative effect, stomach disorder, and a mild allergic reaction, at high doses.


Disclaimer: The content on this page is generic and shared only for informational and explanatory purposes. Please consult a doctor before making any health-related decisions. Milk Thistle is written as MT in this article due to certain constraints, it is not a medical acronym.


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