What is silymarin?
Milk thistle (silymarin) is a flowering herb related to the daisy and ragweed family. It is native to Mediterranean countries. Some people also call it Mary thistle and holy thistle.
People have traditionally used milk thistle for problems with the liver and gallbladder . Experts believe silymarin is the primary active ingredient of the herb. Silymarin is an antioxidant compound taken from milk thistle seeds. It’s unclear what benefits, if any, it may have in the body, but it’s sometimes used as a natural treatment for things including cirrhosis, jaundice, hepatitis, and gallbladder disorders.
What is silymarin used for?
The active ingredient in milk thistle is called silymarin. Milk thistle is also known as Mary thistle or holy thistle. It is mainly used to treat liver problems, but some people claim it can lower cholesterol and help manage type 2 diabetes.
What is silymarin capsule used for?
One of the active ingredients in milk thistle called silymarin is extracted from the plant's seeds. Silymarin is believed to have antioxidant properties.
Milk thistle is sold as an oral capsule, tablet and liquid extract. People mainly use the supplement to treat liver conditions.
Here are 7 science-based benefits of milk thistle.
1.Milk Thistle Protects Your Liver
Milk thistle is often promoted for its liver-protecting effects.
It’s regularly used as a complementary therapy by people who have liver damage due to conditions like alcoholic liver disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, hepatitis and even liver cancer (1Trusted Source, 5Trusted Source, 6Trusted Source).
It’s also used to protect the liver against toxins like amatoxin, which is produced by the death cap mushroom and is deadly if ingested .
Studies have shown improvements in liver function in people with liver diseases who have taken a milk thistle supplement, suggesting it could help reduce liver inflammation and liver damage (9Trusted Source).
Although more research is needed on how it works, milk thistle is thought to reduce damage to the liver caused by free radicals, which are produced when your liver metabolizes toxic substances.
One study also found that it may slightly extend the life expectancy of people with cirrhosis of the liver due to alcoholic liver disease. However, the results from studies have been mixed, and not all have found milk thistle extract to have a beneficial effect on liver disease.
Thus, more studies are needed to determine what dose and length of treatment are needed for specific liver conditions (2Trusted Source, 11Trusted Source, 12Trusted Source).
And although milk thistle extract is commonly used as a complementary therapy for people with liver diseases, there’s currently no evidence that it can prevent you from getting these conditions, especially if you have an unhealthy lifestyle.
2. It May Help Prevent Age-Related Decline in Brain Function
Milk thistle has been used as a traditional remedy for neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease for over two thousand years (13Trusted Source).
Its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties mean that it is possibly neuroprotective and could help prevent the decline in brain function you experience as you age (14Trusted Source, 15Trusted Source).
In test-tube and animal studies, silymarin has been shown to prevent oxidative damage to brain cells, which could help prevent mental decline (16Trusted Source, 17Trusted Source).
These studies have also seen that milk thistle may be able to reduce the number of amyloid plaques in the brains of animals with Alzheimer’s disease (18Trusted Source, 19Trusted Source, 20Trusted Source).
Amyloid plaques are sticky clusters of amyloid proteins that can build up between nerve cells as you age.
They are seen in very high numbers in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease, meaning that milk thistle could potentially be used to help treat this difficult condition (21Trusted Source).
However, there are currently no human studies examining the effects of milk thistle in people with Alzheimer’s or other neurological conditions like dementia and Parkinson’s.
Moreover, it’s unclear whether milk thistle is well enough absorbed in people to allow adequate amounts to pass through the blood-brain barrier. It’s also unknown what doses would need to be prescribed for it to have a beneficial effect (18Trusted Source).
Initial test-tube and animal studies have shown that milk thistle has some promising characteristics that could make it useful for protecting brain function. However, it’s currently unclear if it has the same beneficial effects in humans.
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3. Milk Thistle Could Protect Your Bones
Osteoporosis is a disease caused by progressive bone loss.
It usually develops slowly over a number of years and causes weak and fragile bones that break easily, even after minor falls.
Milk thistle has been shown in experimental test-tube and animal studies to stimulate bone mineralization and potentially be protective against bone loss (22Trusted Source, 23Trusted Source).
As a result, researchers suggest that milk thistle may be a useful therapy for preventing or delaying bone loss in postmenopausal women (24Trusted Source, 25Trusted Source).
However, there are currently no human studies, so its effectiveness remains unclear.
In animals, milk thistle has been shown to stimulate bone mineralization. However, how it affects humans is currently unknown.
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4. It May Improve Cancer Treatment
It’s been suggested that the antioxidant effects of silymarin may have some anticancer effects, which could be helpful for people receiving cancer treatment (9Trusted Source).
Some animal studies have shown that milk thistle could be useful for reducing the side effects of cancer treatments (26Trusted Source, 27Trusted Source, 28Trusted Source).
It may also make chemotherapy work more effectively against certain cancers and, in some circumstances, even destroy cancer cells (9Trusted Source, 29Trusted Source, 30Trusted Source, 31Trusted Source).
However, the studies in humans are very limited and have yet to show a meaningful clinical effect in people (32Trusted Source, 33Trusted Source, 34Trusted Source, 35Trusted Source, 36Trusted Source).
This may be because people aren't able to absorb enough to get a medicinal effect.
More studies are needed before it can be determined how silymarin might be used to support people undergoing cancer treatment.
The active ingredients in milk thistle have been shown in animals to improve the effects of some cancer treatments. However, human studies are limited and haven’t yet shown any beneficial effects.
5. It Can Boost Breast Milk Production
One reported effect of milk thistle is that it can boost breast milk production in lactating mothers. It’s thought to work by making more of the milk-producing hormone prolactin.
The data is very limited, but one randomized controlled study found that mothers taking 420 mg of silymarin for 63 days produced 64% more milk than those taking a placebo (37Trusted Source).
However, this is the only clinical study available. More research is needed to confirm these results and the safety of milk thistle for breastfeeding mothers (38Trusted Source, 39Trusted Source, 40Trusted Source).
Milk thistle may increase breast milk production in women who are lactating, though very little research has been done to confirm its effects.
6. It Could Help Treat Acne
Acne is a chronic inflammatory skin condition. While not dangerous, it can cause scars. People may also find it painful and worry about its effects on their appearance.
It’s been suggested that oxidative stress in the body may play a role in the development of acne.Due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, milk thistle may be a useful supplement for people with acne.
Interestingly, one study found that people with acne who took 210 milligrams of silymarin per day for 8 weeks experienced a 53% decrease in acne lesions (42).However, as this is the only study, more high-quality research is needed.
One study has shown that people taking milk thistle supplements experienced a decrease in the number of acne lesions on their body.
7. Milk Thistle Can Lower Blood Sugar Levels for People With Diabetes
Milk thistle may be a useful complementary therapy to help manage type 2 diabetes.
It’s been discovered that one of the compounds in milk thistle may work similarly to some diabetic medications by helping improve insulin sensitivity and decrease blood sugar (43Trusted Source).
In fact, a recent review and analysis found that people routinely taking silymarin experienced a significant reduction in their fasting blood sugar levels and HbA1c, a measure of blood sugar control (44Trusted Source).
Additionally, the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of milk thistle may also be useful for reducing the risk of developing diabetic complications like kidney disease (43Trusted Source).
However, this review also noted that the quality of the studies was not very high, so more studies are needed before it’s possible to make any firm recommendations (44Trusted Source).
Milk thistle has been investigated for its anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and CNS effects. It has been studied for use in allergic rhinitis, asthma, cancer treatment–related adverse effects, rheumatoid arthritis, type 2 diabetes, drug-induced hepatotoxicity, drug-induced nephrotoxicity, dyslipidemia, and thalassemia; however clinical trials supporting these uses are limited. Milk thistle is most commonly evaluated for use in the management of liver diseases (alcohol-induced and viral hepatitis) but the majority of clinical trials show equivocal results.
Milk thistle is considered safe in dosages of 420 mg/day orally in divided doses for up to 41 months. One source suggests daily doses of 12 to 15 g of dry fruits for dyspepsia and disorders of the biliary system, while an extract containing 200 to 400 mg/day of silymarin is considered effective in various liver disorders.
Silymarin side effects
Loss of appetite
Severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis)
This document does not contain all possible side effects and others may occur. Check with your physician for additional information about side effects.
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