Botanical: Silybum marianum
parts used: seed, root, leaves, stem, and flower (edible)
energetics: moist, cool
actions: antioxidant, detoxifying, hepatitis, jaundice, liver disease, insulin resistance
used for: Protecting liver cells from damaging effects of toxic substances, promoting regeneration of liver tissue, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, mild cholagogue
common names: Mediterranean Milk Thistle, Blessed Milk Thistle, St Mary’s Thistle, Wild Artichoke
Milk thistle grows as an annual or biennial plant. The erect stem if tall, branched and furrowed, but not spiny. Large alternate leaves are waxy-lobed, toothed and thorny. Disc shaped pint to purple solitary lower heads at the end of the stem. Native to Mediterranean, North Africa, and the Middle East, now found throughout the world.
In the Language of flowers, the thistle is an ancient Celtic symbol of nobility of character as well as of childbirth. This thistle has been the national emblem of Scotland since the reign of Alexander lll (1249-1286) and was used on silver coins issued by James lll in 1470.
The thistle is Eeyore’s favorite food in Winnie the Pooh!
How Milk Thistle Supports Liver Health
The most commonly known health benefit of milk thistle is how it supports the liver. Silymarin directly blocks toxins that flow through the liver, preventing them from entering liver cells, thus preventing premature cell death.
Silymarin is an antioxidant  that soothes redness and irritation, [4, 5] provides a defense against various types of harmful organisms, [1, 2] and prevents the formation of scar tissue, or fibrosis, in the liver and elsewhere in the body. [1, 6]
Milk thistle and its active components particularly help support liver health. Milk thistle can counteract toxin-related damage and other conditions that produce redness and swelling.  Milk thistle:
- Protects against toxic substances
- Protects against harmful organisms
- Promotes normal liver function
- Reduces iron overload in thalassemia patients
- Boosts glutathione levels
- May promote weight loss
What Are the Active Compounds in Milk Thistle?
The extract of the milk thistle is called silymarin, and it contains several components, including silychristin, silydianin, and silybin (also called silibinin), which are flavonolignans. Silybin is the most abundant and most beneficial of the components, making up about 50 to 70 percent of silymarin.
Milk thistle counteracts toxin-related injuries to the liver. Scientists have found that silymarin protects against liver damage from drug use, viral hepatitis, [1,7] death cap (Amanita) mushroom poisoning, [2,8] and acetaminophen. [1, 9] Over 80 percent of the liver is comprised of cells known as hepatocytes.
Silymarin keeps toxic compounds from entering these cells, protecting them and, in turn, their contribution to liver function.  It has helped support the liver in individuals exposed to high amounts of hydrogen sulfide.  That’s an amazing variety of scientifically documented liver benefits for this purple flower!
Using Milk Thistle for Wellness
Known traditionally worldwide as the quintessential liver herb, Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum) also has extensive modern research validating its use as a liver protector and re-generator. Milk Thistle’s potent extract, silymarin, is used for liver support and is the only substance known to protect, revive, heal, detox, and regenerate new clean, strong, detoxed liver cells as it assists with protecting liver cell membranes while regenerating new liver cells.
Milk Thistle is commonly used to support health in liver and gallbladder disorders such as Hepatitis, Cirrhosis, Alcohol and toxin liver damage and increasing the flow of bile.
Dose: range from 150mg as a general tonic to 1000mg daily for severe conditions
- If you are allergic to any member of the aster family – which includes ragweed, chrysanthemums, daisies and marigolds – don’t take milk thistle.
“If those of these times would but be, by a joint concurrence, as industrious to search into the secrets of the nature of herbs, and make trial of them. They would no doubt find the force of simples many times no less effectual, then that of compounds to which this present age is too much addicted.”
– William Cole, Adam in Eden
- Spiteri, Maria. Herbal Monographs. Department of Pharmacy University of Malta, 2011
- Kostek H, et al. “Silibinin and its hepatoprotective action from the perspective of a toxicologist.” Przegl Lek. 2012;69(8),541-3.
- “Milk Thistle PDQ —Health Professional Version.” National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health. Updated 17 Aug. 2018. Accessed 22 Aug. 2018.
- Ebrahimpour Koujan S, et al. “Effects of Silybum marianum (L.) Gaertn. (silymarin) extract supplementation on antioxidant status and hs-CRP in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus: a randomized, triple-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial.” Phytomedicine. 2015;22(2),290-6.
- Liu W, et al. “Potent inhibitory effect of silibinin from milk thistle on skin inflammation stimuli by 12-O-tetradecanoylphorbol-13-acetate.” Food Funct. 2015;6(12),3712-9.
- El-Lakkany NM, et al. “Anti-inflammatory/anti-fibrotic effects of the hepatoprotective silymarin and the schistosomicide praziquantel against Schistosoma mansoni-induced liver fibrosis.” Parasit Vectors. 2012;5,9.
- Schrieber SJ, et al “Differences in the disposition of silymarin between patients with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and chronic hepatitis C.” Drug Metab Dispos. 2011;39(12),2182-90.
- Abenavoli L, et al. “Milk thistle (Silybum marianum): A concise overview on its chemistry, pharmacological, and nutraceutical uses in liver diseases.” Phytother Res. 2018.
- Freitag AF, et al. “Hepatoprotective Effect of Silymarin (Silybum marianum) on Hepatotoxicity Induced by Acetaminophen in Spontaneously Hypertensive Rats.” Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2015;2015,538317.
- Mandegary A, et al. “Hepatoprotective effect of silyamarin in individuals chronically exposed to hydrogen sulfide; modulating influence of TNF-? cytokine genetic polymorphism.” Daru. 2013;21(1),28.
- Moayedi B, et al. “A randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of therapeutic effects of silymarin in β-
-thalassemia major patients receiving desferrioxamine.” Eur J Haematol. 2013;90(3),202-9.
- Alidoost F, et al. “Effects of silymarin on the proliferation and glutathione levels of peripheral blood mononuclear cells from beta-thalassemia major patients.” Int Immunopharmacol. 2006;6(8),1305-10.
- Guo Y, et al. “Silymarin improved diet-induced liver damage and insulin resistance by decreasing inflammation in mice.” Pharm Biol. 2016;54(12),2995-3000.
- National Toxicology Program.”Toxicology and carcinogenesis studies of milk thistle extract (CAS No. 84604-20-6) in F344/N rats and B6C3F1 mice (Feed Studies).” Natl Toxicol Program Tech Rep Ser. 2011(565),1–177.
Polyak SJ, et al. “Hepatoprotective and Antiviral Functions of Silymarin Components in HCV Infection.” Hepatology. 2013; 57(3),1262–1271.
†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.