Scientific Name: Silybum marianum
Common Name: Our Lady’s thistle, Marian thistle, St Mary’s thistle, Sow thistle and Wild artichoke
History of Use
Milk Thistle has been used in as early as 23 AD. Traditionally, it has been used “for infants that have their sinews drawn together, and for those that be bitten of serpents” in Rome. In Britain, it has also been used as treatment of disorders affecting the liver and spleen, the kidneys in provoking the flow of urine, to break and expel stones and also to treat dropsy. By the 19th century Milk thistle was recommended and used by German physicians for the treatment of liver and blood problems, as well as for intestinal cleansing (McCorrie, n.d.)
Currently, good scientific evidence for the following use has been established (Drugs and Supplements: Milk Thistle, 2013):
- Cirrhosis (liver scarring)
- Studies have been performed in Europe in a span of over 5 years and the studies suggest benefits of oral milk thistle for cirrhosis and have come to the conclusion that milk thistle slightly improved liver function and decreased the number of deaths in people with liver disease.
- Studies show that silymarin and it active constituent silibinin provide potent protection against liver damage from nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), in at least one case, genuinely reversing some of the more ominous findings (Campbell, 2015).
- Diabetes (type 2)
- Research showed that milk thistle improved control of blood sugar in people with diabetes with and without liver disease.
- Some research shows that taking silymarin, a chemical found in milk thistle, along with conventional treatment can decrease blood sugar, total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol, and triglycerides in people with diabetes(Milk Thistle Uses & Effectiveness, n.d.).
- Diabetic nephropathy (kidney disease)
- Research suggests that silymarin improves blood and urine markers associated with diabetic kidney disease.
- In rat studies, silymarin treatment has been found to markedly restore kidney tissue damaged by diabetes and significantly improve impaired kidney function, largely by restoring diminished levels of natural enzyme systems (Campbell, 2015).
- Liver disease (chronic)
- Several studies of milk thistle in liver disease caused by viruses or alcohol report improvements in liver tests.
The following uses for milk thistle have also been established as possibly effective (Milk Thistle Uses & Effectiveness, n.d.):
- Seasonal allergies (allergic rhinitis). Some research shows that people who take a milk thistle extract in combination with a conventional antihistamine have reduced symptoms compared to people who just use an antihistamine.
- Heartburn (dyspepsia). When used daily for 4 weeks, a specific combination product (Iberogast, Medical Futures, Inc) that contains milk thistle plus peppermint leaf, German chamomile, caraway, licorice, clown’s mustard plant, celandine, angelica, and lemon balm seems to reduce the severity of acid reflux, stomach pain, cramping, nausea, and vomiting.
- Menopausal symptoms. Research in women suggests that taking a specific product containing milk thistle, black cohosh, dong quai, red clover, American ginseng, and chasteberry (Phyto-Female) twice daily for 3 months reduces menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes and night sweats.
- Skin damage caused by radiation treatment. Research suggests that applying a specific product (Leviaderm) containing silymarin, a certain chemical found in milk thistle, to the skin reduces skin damage caused by radiation treatment in women with breast cancer.
Early research in lung cancer suggests that milk thistle stops the spread of lung cancer and may possibly reverse its effects (Fassa, 2013). According to the study, an inflammatory response leads to a chain of cellular events that can eventually result in tumor growth. The authors discovered that targeting a certain pair of enzymes part of the way into that chain of events eliminates the creation of the final pair of enzymes that produce tumors. It has been found out that milk thistle’s silibinin (aka silybin) eliminates those enzymes that continue a chain of events resulting in the enzymes that produce tumors.
Recommended dosage for milk thistle varies depending on the targeted use. They are as follows (Milk Thistle Dosing, 2013):
- For diabetic nephropathy (kidney disease), 140 milligrams of silymarin has been taken by mouth three times daily for three months.
- For diabetes (type 2), 200-230 milligrams of silymarin has been taken by mouth one to three times daily for four weeks to 12 months, together with regular therapy.
- For cirrhosis, 160-800 milligrams of silymarin has been taken by mouth in 2-3 divided doses daily by mouth for up to two years.
- For allergic nasal symptoms, 140 milligrams of silymarin has been taken by mouth three times daily for one month.
Who Should Not Take Milk Thistle
Minor drug interactions have been observed with people taking estrogen pills. Milk thisle helps the body break down estrogen pills to get rid of them and might decrease hormones in the body. Minor drug interactions have also been observed with people taking medications used to lower cholesterol (statins). Milk thistle could increase or decrease how well the medications work. People with diabetes should also be mindful of milk thistle as Milk Thistle can reduce blood sugar. In any of the above mentioned conditions, as always, consult with your doctor on proper dosing adjustments that might be necessary.
You need to be on the lookout for an allergic reaction if you have a history of sensitivity to the Asteraceae/Compositae plant family. This includes ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigolds, and daisies among others.
How to Get your Milk Thistle On
Highly used in Germany, milk thistle leaves and flowers are eaten as a vegetable for salads and a substitute for spinach. The seeds are roasted for use as a coffee substitute. Milk thistle tea is also available in the market today. Seeds can also be incorporated in the diet as additions to fruit juices and smoothies. Powdered seeds are also used as burger, smoothie and salad sprinkles (How to Use Milk Thistle In Your Diet, 2011).Click here to order our Milk Thistle in softgel form
Campbell, M. (2015, April). Milk Thistle Extract Provides Liver Protection. (P. Smith, R. Price, L. Mathena, J. M. Henry, & A. D. Kessler, Eds.) LifeExtension April 2015, XXI(4), 48-57.
Drugs and Supplements: Milk Thistle. (2013, November 1). Retrieved March 27, 2015, from Mayo Clinic Web site: http://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/milk-thistle/evidence/hrb-20059806
Fassa, P. (2013, September 9). Beyond Liver Support: Milk Thistle Shows Promise as Cancer Therapy. Retrieved March 28, 2015, from Natural Society: http://naturalsociety.com/beyond-liver-support-milk-thistle-cancer-therapy/
How to Use Milk Thistle In Your Diet. (2011, June 17). Retrieved March 28, 2015, from Newsmax: http://www.newsmax.com/FastFeatures/milkthistle-milkthistlebenefits-liverdetox-milkthistlesupplements/2011/06/17/id/400444/
McCorrie, J. T. (n.d.). Milk Thistle. Retrieved March 27, 2015, from Dr. Christopher’s Herbal Legacy: http://www.herballegacy.com/McCorrie_History.html
Milk Thistle Dosing. (2013, November 1). Retrieved March 28, 2015, from WebMD: http://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/milk-thistle/dosing/hrb-20059806
Milk Thistle Uses & Effectiveness. (n.d.). Retrieved March 27, 2015, from WebMD Web site: http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-138-milk+thistle.aspx?activeIngredientId=138&activeIngredientName=milk+thistle&source=1
Tyagi, A., Agarwal, C., Dwyer-Nield, L. D., Singh, R. P., Malkinson, A. M., & Agarwal, R. (2011, August 31). Silibinin modulates TNF-α and IFN-γ mediated signaling to regulate COX2 and iNOS expression in tumorigenic mouse lung epithelial LM2 cells. Retrieved March 28, 2015, from Wiley Online Library: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/mc.20851/abstract