Milk thistle has been used for medicinal purposes dating back 2000 years.
It’s been known by many names. Its botanical name is Silybum marianum.
Several of milk thistle’s common names are Marian Thistle, St. Mary’s
Thistle, Holy Thistle, Our Lady’s Thistle, Wild Artichoke, and Mary
Thistle. The milk thistle plant is indigenous to Europe. The seed is the
medicinal portion of the plant.
Milk thistle contains the antioxidant silymarin. Silymarin contains four
isomers: Silibinin, isosilybinin, silychristin, and silydianin. The most
active ingredient is Silibinin.
Historically, milk thistle has been used as treatment for liver dysfunctions.
For centuries, Native Americans have used milk thistle to treat boils
and other skin ailments. Today, the primary use of milk thistle is to
treat various liver conditions, inflammation, gall bladder disease as
well as hepatic problems related to diabetes.
The active ingredient Silibinin plays an important role in the treatment
of hepatitis, cirrhosis and many other liver conditions. Milk thistle
prevents toxic damage by stimulating the growth of new liver cells to
replace damaged ones. Silymarin is known to stimulate the production of
glutathione. Increased glutathione levels increases the potential for
Milk thistle not only protects and regenerates the liver but also encourages
the liver to cleanse itself of toxic substances such as alcohol, drugs,
metals, pesticides, and anesthesia.
Clinical studies found that silymarin prevents toxic chemicals from entering
cells by stabilizing cell membranes. Other studies demonstrated that Silibinin
stimulates enzymes responsible for detoxifying the liver and neutralizes
An unusual property of milk thistle is that it is an effective antidote
for Amanita phalloides or Death-cap mushroom. Amanita phalloides is a
deadly mushroom which ingested causes liver failure and ultimately death.
It has also been suggested that milk thistle helps slow down the growth
of new cancer cells. Experimental studies suggest that Silibinin assists
cisplatin and doxorubicin in fighting ovarian and breast cancers. Milk
thistle’s cancer fighting properties inhibits the growth of certain
It’s been reported that milk thistle is beneficial in treating
psoriasis by inhibiting inflammatory prostaglandins. This also helps to
reduce general inflammation throughout the body.
Milk thistle has a mild laxative quality due to its ability to increase
bile secretion and flow in the intestinal tract. Improvement in bowel
regularity and stool consistency has been demonstrated in clinical trials.
Milk thistle has also been used to treat gallbladder conditions by improving
the solubility of bile. Studies have shown that individuals who ingested
420 mg of milk thistle daily for 30 days had a significant reduction in
biliary cholesterol concentration and bile saturation index.
Other potential benefits of milk thistle include lowering cholesterol,
stimulating milk flow in nursing mothers, liver regeneration effects,
treatment for minor hypotension, stimulate adrenal functions, reduce sorbitol
accumulation, treatment of jaundice, colitis, and pleurisy, diseases of
the spleen, and reducing symptoms of toxic liver damage.
It is not recommended that HIV/AIDS patients take milk thistle supplements.
HIV/AIDS medications are protease inhibitors or non-nukes which are processed
by the liver enzyme CYP3A4. The active ingredient Silymarin decreases
the presence of CYP3A4.
Due to its lipophilic nature (which means it dissolves easily in lipids),
milk thistle is available in capsules and tablets. The recommended daily
dosage for adults is 250 mg taken once a day.