Benefits Of Milk Thistle – How Does This Supplement Support Your Health?

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By Leslie Waterson

Reviewed by Juliana Tamayo, MS, RDN - Last Updated

Benefits Of Milk Thistle

Milk thistle, also known as blessed milk thistle, bull thistle, Chardon de Marie, and more) is a herbaceous plant with a red-purplish tubular flower head. It is native to the Mediterranean region but has been cultivated in North and South America, Southern Australia, and Central Europe. 

Milk thistle gained its title from the milky sap that oozes out of the leaves when they crack. The leaves also have distinctive white markings that, according to the folk tale, were Virgin Mary’s milk. It can grow up to 2 meters high and contains an active ingredient coming from its seeds called silymarin. This is a kind of flavonoid that is said to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, and the main reason it is praised.

For many years, milk thistle has been applied as a natural treatment for a variety of diseases such as diabetes, indigestion, and other conditions but it has been well-known and beneficial for its liver-protecting effects. Milk thistle has been commonly utilized as an interrelated therapy for various liver damage due to conditions like hepatitis, liver cancer, alcoholic liver disease, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Generally, milk thistle is sold as food supplements in a form of tablets, oral capsules, liquid extracts, and powders. So, what are all the benefits of milk thistle? Read on to learn that and more about this supplement.

Milk Thistle

How Does Milk Thistle Work?

Milk thistle is often taken by orally for liver disorders, which includes liver damage brought about by alcohol, chemical, and chemotherapy, as well as liver damage prompted by jaundice, chronic inflammatory liver disease, cirrhosis of the liver, chronic hepatitis, and Amanita phalloides – a kind of mushroom poisoning that contains amatoxin.

Its different parts have also been taken orally for other conditions such as heartburn, dyspepsia, loss of appetite, diabetes, kidney damage, gallbladder disorders, diseases of the spleen, enlarged prostate, infertility, different inflammations, and blood disease called beta-thalassemia. It has also been applied for skin due to skin toxicity caused by radiation and for increasing breast milk flow and alleviating allergy symptoms. As you can see, it’s a wonder plant. 

Milk thistle is not only used for food supplements, but its leaves and flowers were used for human consumption in vegetable salads and as a substitute for spinach. The seeds can also be roasted and be a coffee substitute.

Benefits Of Milk Thistle

There are a variety of benefits to taking milk thistle, as you saw above, but there are a few specific benefits that are most common with taking the supplement. We will explore those below. 

Aids In Liver Health

Silymarin, which is an active ingredient from milk thistle, is said to prevent toxins from attaching to the liver cells. Researches show that silymarin may help alleviate various liver diseases such as liver cancer, liver cirrhosis, fatty liver disease, and jaundice.

It can also aid in protecting the liver from Amanita phalloides or better known as the death cap. Death cap can lead to liver damage and liver failure and is responsible for most deaths worldwide brought by eating foraged mushrooms. Silymarin has been reported to help fight off the mushrooms’ toxins.

Beneficial For Skin Health

Milk thistle also contains antioxidants that are beneficial to the skin. Study shows that silymarin and silybin extracts from milk thistle can help protect the skin cells against harmful solar UV radiation.

Also, milk thistles contain antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects that can help promote healthy skin. Research has shown these advantageous effects in studies done in 2015 – milk thistle improves inflammatory conditions when applied to the mice’s skin. 

Benefits Of Milk Thistle

Helps Prevent Heart Disease

Hyperlipidemia is a heart complication that can cause things like atherosclerosis and atherosclerosis associated conditions, such as Coronary Heart Disease (CHD), peripheral vascular disease, and ischaemic cerebrovascular disease. Treatment with silybin from milk thistle has shown significant effects on preventing the development of CHD by lowering total cholesterol, triglycerides, and low-density lipoprotein (LDL).

Supports Weight Loss

According to studies done in 2016, Silymarin can tend to metabolic dysfunction associated with diet-induced obesity. In this study, mice were fed a high-fat diet that resulted in obesity but significantly lost weight after consuming Silymarin.

Positive Effects On Type-2 Diabetes

Milk thistle has shown beneficial effects on several diabetic complications, including diabetic neuropathy and diabetic nephropathy based on studies. The benefit of milk thistle for Type-2 diabetes has been characterized by decreasing insulin resistance. In a trial study done in 2006, 200mg treatment with Silymarin thrice a day has dramatically enhanced blood sugar control.

Alleviates Allergic Asthma Symptoms

Allergic asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease distinguished by an overreaction of the human immune system to an unknown allergen that is either eaten, injected, inhaled, or touched. This immune overreaction can pose symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes, irritated throat, coughing, hives, rashes, asthma attacks, difficulty in breathing, and even death.  Silibinin has been reported to inhibit its inflammatory response by producing immunoglobulins which can alleviate allergic asthma symptoms.

Assists In Bone Health

In a study conducted in mice with tibial fracture, Silymarin supplementation has shown increased bone mineral density. On the other hand, Silibin shows anti-hepatotoxic properties that contribute to osteoprotective effects. Silibin also promotes the formation of osteoblasts that helps increase bone density. 

Best Milk Thistle Supplements

Puritan’s Pride Milk Thistle

Puritan’s Pride Milk Thistle

Puritan’s Pride has been a trusted brand since 1973 for their vitamins and supplements. Their milk thistle contains 180 soft gels with 250mg of 4:1 milk thistle extract. They recommend an intake of one soft gel once or twice per day for better effects.


Jarrow Formulas Milk Thistle

Jarrow Formulas Milk Thistle

Jarrow Formulas Milk Thistle supplies a standard 30:1 extract of which 80% are flavonoids. It contains 200 capsules with the contracted extract.


Fresh Nutrition Milk Thistle Capsules

Fresh Nutrition Milk Thistle Capsules

Fresh Nutrition Milk Thistle Capsules contains 10,000mg organic milk thistle with 20:1 extract of 80% Silymarin and is said to have a super potent formula. Contains 60 capsules.


FarmHaven Milk Thistle Capsules

FarmHaven Milk Thistle Capsules

FarmHaven Milk Thistle Capsules contain 375mg of 30:1 concentrated extract of Silybum Marianum, standardized to 80% Silymarin. The bottle contains 120 capsules.


Is Milk Thistle Safe?

Milk thistle is Generally Recommended As Safe (GRAS). However, it is contraindicated in individuals with allergies to any plant which belongs to the Asteraceae family.

Also, avoid use if you’re a woman with hormone-sensitive conditions such as cancers of the breast uterine, and ovaries and endometriosis unless under the supervision of a physician, due to the extract’s possible estrogenic effects.

The most frequent adverse effects of milk thistle are brief GI disturbances such as bloating, abdominal fullness or pain, changes in bowel habits, diarrhea, anorexia, dyspepsia, flatulence, and nausea. Headache and pruritus have also been reported as one of the potential side effects.

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Leslie Waterson

Leslie has been passionately involved in the health and fitness industries for over a decade. She is constantly reviewing the latest scientific research and studies in order to take a research-backed approach to lifestyle optimization. Her main areas of interest include nutrition and supplementation. Leslie shares her findings on Fitness Clone to help other health enthusiasts choose the products and routines that will help them achieve their goals.