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Milk Thistle
(Silybum marianum)

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The German Federal institute for Drugs and Medical Devices approves the use of this natural supplement for treating toxic liver and for treatment of chronic liver disease and cirrhosis.

If you have liver disease, be it from hepatitis or, cirrhosis, it is definitely worth taking milk thistle to see it will improve your liver function. Routine liver function lab test would be able to easily verify this benefit. There are studies done in animals and humans to show this positive benefit

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Table of Contents

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Evidence of Benefits (Leaf Rating System)

leaf logo plant natural remedies herb herbal Chronic and Acute Hepatitis

Several research studies have shown the benefits of using this supplement to enhance liver function. Studies also show that the remedy can protect the liver cells and cause it to regenerate.

A recent well-designed study involving 105 volunteers showed that taking this herb allowed them recovery from some symptom (such as dark urine and jaundice) quicker than taking a placebo pill.

leaf logo plant natural remedies herb herbal Liver Cirrhosis

Many studies have shown that taking this supplement improves the function of the liver.
leaf logo plant natural remedies herb herbal Menopause symptoms

In a well-designed study involving 50 healthy menopausal women, taking Phyto-Female Complex (containing black cohosh, dong quai, milk thistle, red clover, American ginseng, and chaste-tree berry) was effective. It reduced hot flushes, and night sweats and improved the quality of their sleep.
leaf logo plant natural remedies herb herbal Diabetes (Type 2 - Non-insulin dependent)

One study showed that taking this supplement along with standard prescription treatments helps to lower blood sugar levels and total cholesterol.

leaf logo plant natural remedies herb herbal Preventing Cancer

Many studies done on cells in a lab and on rats showed that milk thistle slows down the growth of human breast, prostate, ovarian and cervical cancer cells.

It was also shown in rats that it could repair skin cells damaged by UVB sunlight exposure. The researchers suggested that it could useful in treating skin cancer.

In their research papers, the authors expressed their excitement over the safety and the potential benefits in using this supplement to treat cancer, especially prostate cancer.
leaf logo plant natural remedies herb herbal Kidney Damage

There is evidence that this supplement could be helpful in preventing damage to the kidneys caused by some drugs. It also seems to cause the kidney cells to regenerate.
leaf logo plant natural remedies herb herbal Throat Cancer (Laryngeal Cancer)

One study done using cancer cells from the throat showed that it can stop its growth. Another study showed that it could repair the skin damaged by UVB (ultraviolet B rays) exposure.


Anecdotal reports suggest that taking this supplement could help treat acne conditions. There are no studies in animals or humans to support this claim.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is milk thistle? What are the health benefits?

This natural remedy contains the active ingredient silymarin which shows powerful antioxidant benefits and is a free radical scavenger.

It is shown to block toxins from entering liver cells and stimulates the liver cells to regenerate itself. Other studies showed that this natural remedy has anti-inflammatory benefits on liver cells.

Can milk thistle be used as a liver cleanse or part of a liver detox program?

Yes. Scientific evidence points to this supplement being able to cause liver cells to repair itself and regenerate. It also appears to protect the liver cells from damage caused by toxic substances.

This herb is commonly included in liver detox supplements.

Is it safe to use it in dogs and cats?

A well-designed study done in dogs showed that this supplement protected their kidneys when they were given an antibiotic known to damage the kidney.

We suspect similar benefits in cats but there is no research studies done in cats to show this.

What about using it for treating menopause symptoms?

A clinical study showed that Phyto-Female Complex (containing black cohosh, dong quai, milk thistle, red clover, American ginseng, and chaste-tree berry) was helpful in treating menopause symptoms such as hot flushes and sleeping problems.

However, it is a combination product and it is impossible to tell which one (or several) of the ingredients are directly responsible for the benefits seen.

See if taking this supplement by itself helps. If not, buy Phyto-Female Complex as there is scientific evidence that it can effectively treat some menopause symptoms.
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Suggested Benefits and Traditional Uses

  • acne
  • anti-bacterial effects
  • anti-inflammatory benefits
  • antioxidant protection (for liver cells)
  • antidote to poison mushroom
  • appetite stimulant
  • asthma
  • bladder cancer
  • bad breath
  • cancer treatment (ovarian, breast, prostate)
  • depression
  • diabetes
  • dyspepsia
  • hepatitis C
  • jaundice
  • kidney damage
  • liver cancer
  • liver cirrhosis
  • liver cleanse
  • liver damage (from toxins and/or drugs)
  • liver regeneration
  • liver transplant protection
  • gallstones
  • hepatitis (viral and alcohol-induced hepatitis)
  • high cholesterol
  • menopause symptoms
  • menstrual problems
  • nerve pain
  • prostate cancer
  • skin cancer
  • spleen disease
  • stimulates the immune system (immuno-stimulant)
  • stimulates breast milk flow
  • stimulates menstrual flow
  • throat cancer
  • varicose veins
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Side Effects, Toxicity, Warnings and Interactions

Some of the commonly reported side effects include:
  • stomach upset
  • stomach gas
  • nausea
  • loss of appetite (anorexia)
  • rash/itching
  • headache
There are other reported side effects that are much less common. They include:
  • joint pain
  • impotence
  • menstrual changes
If you have allergies to ragweed, marigolds, chrysanthemums, daisies, artichokes or kiwi, there is a risk that you will get an allergic reaction to milk thistle as well.

Diabetes / Anti-diabetic Medications - caution

This supplement is shown to lower blood sugar levels in animals. Monitor your blood sugar levels more regularly when you are starting or stopping this supplement.

Liver Clearance of Medications - caution

Animal studies seem to show that this supplement might slow down the liver's ability to clear certain medications from our body. (It does so by inhibiting the P450 enzymes in the liver.) This might increase the concentration of some prescription drugs in your body.

Ask your pharmacist or doctor for more information. Find out if any of the prescription medications you are taking could be affected by this herb.


Milk thistle is quite safe and has been used in research studies lasting up to 3 years.

Pregnancy and Lactation

We could not locate any research studies regarding the use of this supplement in pregnancy or lactation. Avoid using this herb during pregnancy and when breastfeeding until we know more about it.

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Dosage & How to Take It

Capsules / Liquid extract

Dosages of 100 mg to 200 mg of silymarin up to three times daily has been used in research studies. Extracts as high as 800 mg daily (divided into three or four times daily) have been used.

Avoid this formulation as silymarin does not dissolve easily in water.

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Selected References for Milk Thistle
Revised: March 5, 2011

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