Milk Thistle

Milk Thistle

Other Names: Silybum marianum, snake milk, milk ipecac, emetic root 

Composition: Milk Thistle refers to the crushed seeds and extract. 

Description / History: This tall plant first earned its reputation by preventing death in mushroom poisoning cases. Many European poison control centers actually keep milk thistle on hand for this use. However, it has been used as a medicine since the Greeks and Romans, and the historical use matches the modern use as a liver support. Milk thistle has the unique ability to stimulate healing of damaged organs and can even prevent damage done by other drugs. It is also beneficial in alcoholism, as it can help rejuvenate the liver. Studies show that the herb is most beneficial in long term use. 

Cross-Reference List: Teething; Chemical Sickness; Acne; Hepatitis A; Chronic Fatigue

Liver Support: Milk thistle is known to help regenerate liver cells and boost liver function. With Chemical Sickness/Environmental Illness chronic low-level exposures may be problematic when they are not detoxified successfully, and liver support would be indicated. It has also been found to protect the liver from known dangers such as the use of OTC drugs such as Tylenol, particularly in children.

Skin Health: Milk thistle is used widely in Germany to boost liver function and has been shown in many clinical studies to protect against harm from alcohol abuse, infections, and OTC medications. Because skin health is considered a reflection of liver function, milk thistle is often used as part of a comprehensive approach to skin conditions like acne.

Hepatitis: Milk thistle contains a substance known as silymarin, which is known to boost liver regeneration and speed healing of liver related diseases. While it is not an antiviral and studies do not indicate that it reduces viral load in cases of hepatitis, it is useful in the recovery period as the liver heals from infection.

Detoxification: Milk thistle helps to support the liver’s natural detoxification abilities and restore the body from damage caused by overuse of substances such as caffeine and alcohol.

Osteoarthritis: From a study of 220 patients with knee pain from osteoarthritis, milk thistle showed itself to be effective for reducing pain and inflammation. Silymarin’s ability to reduce inflammation-producing cytokines was demonstrated after 300mg/day of silymarin (not whole milk thistle). Eight weeks later, both cytokines were reduced, greatly improving quality of life for those volunteers.

Contraindications: None known.

Interactions: May interact with blood glucose levels in diabetics (lowers levels).

Preparations: Milk thistle must be taken internally to achieve the liver-supportive benefits it offers. It is typically taken in a standardized product such as a capsule or a tablet. Handmade preparations can include tinctures, glycerites, and capsules but the lack of standardization may result in variable outcomes from the herb. Milk thistle should be standardized to contain 80% silymarin, which is the active compound in the herb itself. 

Dose: For liver support for hepatitis or cirrhosis, up to 800mg/day of silymarin is used in most clinical studies. (Note: Silymarin is the active compound and is not the same thing as 800mg of milk thistle.) For most other purposes, the average dose ranges from 160mg to 400mg/day of silymarin. For children, the average dose ranges from 80mg to 380mg/day of silymarin for protection from liver damage due to pharmaceutical drugs (such as Tylenol) or other treatments. 

Dig Deeper

Hussain, S. A., Jassim, N. A., Numan, I. T., Al-Khalifa, I. I., & Abdullah, T. A. (2009). Anti-inflammatory activity of silymarin in patients with knee osteoarthritis. A comparative study with piroxicam and meloxicam. Saudi medical journal,30(1), 98-103.

Meet Dr Hawkins

Dr. Hawkins brings 20 years of expertise in the integrative health field to her role as Executive Director of the Franklin School of Integrative Health Sciences and the leader of our clinical research team.

She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Health from Union Institute and University, a Master’s Degree in Health Education & Promotion from the University of Alabama, a post-graduate certificate in epidemiology from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, a PhD in Health Research from Middle Tennessee State University, and is completing the post-doctoral Global Scholars Research Training Program at Harvard Medical School. She also holds certifications in numerous natural health fields including aromatherapy, aromatic medicine, herbalism, childbirth education, and labor support.