Benefits Of Milk Thistle.

I wrote about the role and importance of liver detoxification previously. This post is about one of the most popular and widely used liver detox herbs – Milk Thistle (Silybum Marianum). Its traditional use dates back over 2000 years, when it was used to treat mushroom poisoning and snake bites, and it remains to be one of the health shops bestsellers to this day. The modern use of Milk Thistle began in 1949 when animal studies confirmed that it could protect the liver from toxic effects of certain chemicals. In 1968, an active compound was isolated and called Silymarin. Since then, Milk Thistle has been the subject of over 100 clinical trials, mainly for liver disease. Silymarin blocks certain liver damaging factors and stimulates the growth of new liver cells in place of damaged ones. It has been shown to have positive effects in treatment of several types of liver disease, such as cirrhosis, chronic hepatitis, fatty liver, sub-clinical cholestasis of pregnancy, etc. It also helps to improve skin conditions, which caused by inappropriate liver function, such as acne, psoriasis and eczema. Recently, Milk Thistle has been used as a common emergency treatment of amanita mushroom poisoning.

Milk Thistle in action.

Cholesterol. Milk Thistle increases fat metabolism in liver, reducing LDL (bad) cholesterol and total triglycerides.

Hepatitis B and C. Silymarin and Silibinin accelerate the rate of protein synthesis in the liver, leading to faster cell regeneration. Combined with phosphatidylcholine, milk thistle reduces the markers of oxidative stress in the treatment of chronic hepatitis B. It has also been found that a combination of milk thistle with PPC, SAMe and selenium improves the outcome of patients treated from hepatitis  C. This combination also decreases the side effects 0f conventional antiviral therapy.

Liver detoxification and weight control. Milk Thistle enhances liver function through its ability to prevent toxin-induced damage and by stimulating the growth of new liver cells to replace old, damaged cells, without stimulating malignant tissue (tumors). Silymarin has been shown to stimulate the production of Glutathione by over 35%. Increased glutathione levels raise the liver’s ability  to handle a wide range of hormones, drugs and chemicals. One human placebo controlled study has demonstrated the effectiveness of Milk Thistle in protecting the liver from toxins such as solvents, paints, and glues. The study showed the decrease in certain harmful liver enzymes and bilirubin in the group that took Milk Thistle, while there was no improvement in placebo group.

Milk Thistle does not cleanse the liver, but it increases the production of bile, which helps to reduce fatty deposits in the liver, aiding detoxification and weight control. Taken for a couple of months, Milk Thistle will improve fat metabolism in the liver. This will also stimulate weight loss. Milk Thistle is also a bitter herb that assists the digestion of fats. It helps digestive discomforts caused by overeating, such as nausea and indigestion. It is one of the most popular remedies sold in health food shops during Christmas. Everyone who drinks alcohol, take recreational drugs, indulge in fatty foods and taking medicines such as painkillers on a regular basis, should take Milk Thistle. It is a wonderful anti-hangover remedy too. Taken before and after drinking, Milk Thistle helps to alleviate hangover symptoms and helps to detoxify the liver.

PMS. Liver breaks down excess hormones such as estrogen, but sometimes it is not degrading estrogen properly, which causes or increases hormonal imbalance. In addition, period can be heavy because the liver does not detoxify the bloodstream properly, leading to accumulation of toxins. This also results in outbreaks of acne in females. Healthy liver function may contribute to a better hormone balance, thus helping to alleviate PMS symptoms and clear the skin in cases on hormonal acne. Taking milk thistle prior to period can help to lighten it and reduce the discomfort.

Skin. Liver cleanses the bloodstream and encourages good bowel function through the production of bile. Maintaining these processes is of prime importance for a good skin condition, free of acne, eczema and psoriasis. Silymarin reduces excessive proliferation of skin cells, reduces inflammation and significantly improves liver function, which is often impaired in psoriasis sufferers.

Milk Thistle as a supplement.

Milk Thistle comes as liquid tincture (with or without alcohol), capsules and sometimes tablets. It can be sold as a whole herb, a standardised extract of Silymarin on it’s own, or a combination of both. The latter tends to be more potent. Personally I am an advocate of purity and high absorption in supplements, therefore I would recommend taking herbs in tincture preparations or tea form.

If you do prefer capsules, look for a standardised extract of no less than 80% of Silymarin. A good quality supplement will combine standardised silymarin extract with whole herb seed, so that you get the benefit of silybin, silydianin and silychristin. Note that these compounds are often not mentioned on the label, but it is assumed that you get it if the supplement is whole, rather than just standardised extract on its own. Typical intake range of standardised extract in capsules or tablets is 200mg-500mg.

  • For detox and weight control, take Milk Thistle for three months.
  • To ease PMS symptoms, take one week prior to period and continue taking until it ends.
  • To ease hangover, take 20 drops of liquid extract before going out, then 20 drops before going to bed, followed by another 20 drops on waking. This way, you will hydrate yourself and aid liver detox. Those who drink regularly, or alcoholism sufferers, might consider taking 500mg a day of Silibinin, which is the most potent constituent of Silymarin. An extract of an extract if you like. In Germany, silibinin even sold as a drug to treat liver diseases.

Milk Thistle is also common in herbal complexes for liver detox. The most common herbs to combine it with are artichoke and dandelion. Phosphatidylcholine enhances bioavailability of many nutrients and herbs, including Milk Thistle.

Contraindications. There are no major concerns regarding taking a Milk Thistle supplement and there are no interactions with other medicines, which means it is possible to take Milk Thistle alongside prescription medication. It can also be taken long-term as a liver tonic for those with high cholesterol. However, patients taking regular prescription medications should consult with their doctor before taking Milk Thistle, because it affects the way drugs metabolised in the liver.

Milk Thistle should not be used by children under 18, pregnant or breastfeeding women (unless prescribed for sub-clinical cholestasis of pregnancy) and people sensitive to daisy family plants.

Since April 2011, in UK, Milk Thistle supplements are MHRA regulated and there should be a registration number on the package, unless bought straight from USA.

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13 comments to Benefits Of Milk Thistle.

  • Daniel Webster

    Hi,

    Our son has an illness that affects his Liver, and we became aware of some fellow sufferers of GSD3 taking this. Our intention is always to check with our consultant before trying anything, but have you heard of this being used in infants ever?

    • Anabel

      Hello Daniel,

      No, it is typically not recommended for children below 8 and I wouldn’t advise to give it to an infant. Generally, a high protein diet is recommended, together with a little healthy starch to prevent glucose drop. The article below bliefly describes the management of GSDIII withing the first year: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK26372/

  • Ann

    I have an underactive thyroid, hay fever and type 2 diabetes. The medication I take is 100mg of thyroxine, 120mg of tel-fast. Is milk thistle Ok to take with this medication?

  • Briana

    Is milk Thistle also good for cleansing out the kidneys? I have been a pretty bad alcoholic for about 6 years now, and i am slowing down on the drinking thing, but is milk thistle enough to cleanse my liver and kidneys or do u recommend something else?

    • Elvira

      Hello Briana,

      If you stop or at least slow down with drinking, your liver and kidneys will eventually cleanse themselves. Milk Thistle can help to speed up this process however, so it is agood idea to take it daily. Other things you can try to improve your liver and kidneys function are Glutathione and herbal teas like nettle and dandelion consumed once a day.

      Elvira.

  • Can milk thistle reverse my age spots? I’m 41 years old.

    • Elvira

      Hello Michelle,

      Unfortunately, no. Once you have them on your skin, you can only remove them or make them less visible with some cosmetic procedures or creams. However, you might be able prevent or lessen the appearance of new age spots with milk thistle extract.

      Elvira.

  • debbie

    I have a liver problem caused through auto immune hepatitis I am using milk thistle for the first time, hoping this will help my condition. The auto immune hepatitus has burnt out but I am under a liver consultant and have monthly blood checks to check the auto immune hepatitus doesn’t come back. I am hoping the milk thistle helps me

  • Great, informative article and advice on Milk Thistle, thank you for sharing! I was wondering what the difference is (if there is any) between the drops and other forms of the Milk Thistle? Any feedback is greatly appreciated! :)

    • Elvira

      Herbal tincture preparations are generally more bio-available than herbal tablets and capsules. Also, most good quality tinctures are made using the whole plant, while tablets and capsules are generally made with herbs’ active ingredient only, which makes them more potent, assuming the preparation proses and encapsulation doesn’t spoil it. In the case of Milk Thistle, I would always recommend tincture over tablets. If you prefer hard form, it is better to use Silymarin or Silibinin extracts rather than Milk Thistle capsules. A. Vogel (BioForce) does very good Milk Thistle tincture, which I personally have been taking for years and it works for me and my family. Many of my clients also had very positive experience taking it.

  • Amanda

    Hi, thanks for all the information here – really helpful.
    Can you take silymarin long term? I read that I one shouldnt take it for more than 4 years, so I stoped a couple of years ago, but my live is still struggling and I thought I’d try again with the actual seeds.

    Also can milk thistle cause hormone imbalance or interfere with anything you are using to correct a hormone imbalance? I am using wild yam cream to balance hormones.
    Thanks for any advice or experience you can share : )

  • Amanda

    Hi my homeopath prescribed this for my 21 month old son to take he has exzema really bad and she thinks leaky gut. Is this safe for him to take?

    • Elvira

      No, you should not give herbal extracts to toddlers, it is not safe. Toddlers can develop eczema as a reaction to certain types of food. Food intolerance can be tested by the doctor and eczema can be easily corrected with the right nutrition. Taking herbs will not help your son if the damage is done on the daily basis by something he eats. Also, you have to be sure that it is indeed eczema and not contact dermatitis, which is very common in toddlers during winter months.

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