Milk Thistle For The Liver: 7 Must Know Facts

By Joshua Ng (Pharmacist, Caring Pharmacy) | Malaysia | Mon Jan 07, 2019 10:10am

Milk thistle is arguably the most common liver supplement available. If you are thinking of supplementing yourself with milk thistle, here are 7 things to know.

1. Origins

The active ingredient is “Silymarin”, extracted from the milk thistle plant. It is native to the Mediterranean (i.e. modern day Greece and surrounding). Its earliest health benefits was described by Greek physician and botanist named Dioscorides at 40-90AD.1

2. Liver protection

Silymarin (active ingredient) has antioxidant properties. Free radicals are produced when the liver metabolizes toxic substances. Free radicals can cause liver damage by scarring liver tissue. Silymarin may be able to reduce the negative effects of free radicals due to its antioxidant properties. 2

3. Other potential health benefits

Milk thistle supplements may help in preventing brain function decline, bone health, boost breast milk production, treating acne and lowering blood sugar. These benefits are based on either animal studies or small studies; more research is still needed.3

4. Partners well with Dandelion

Some milk thistle products come with dandelion. Animal studies have shown that dandelion protect liver tissue from toxic substances and oxidative stress. Dandelion is also found to improve indigestion and constipation. 4 

Dandelion is helpful as a liver supplement as digestive disorders are common in people with liver damage. Up to 80% of patients with Cirrhosis reported to have digestive related disorders. 5

5. Two common types of milk thistle supplements

When purchasing a milk thistle extract supplement, some products may contain milk thistle fruit extract of 70% to 80% of silymarin. Alternatively, some products contain silymarin extracted from milk thistle dried seed. There are no known studies to compare the efficacy of both types of products.

6. Safety

Milk thistle oral-supplements are well tolerated and are considered safe. However, some people are advised to be cautious, they include pregnant women, those allergic to milk thistle, diabetics, and those with estrogen-sensitive conditions such as women with breast cancer. 6

7. Complementary medicine

Milk thistle supplements are not the only way to keep your liver healthy. High quality research is still required to define its clinical benefits. It is important to keep your liver healthy by first adopting a healthy lifestyle such as: 7

  • Balance diet
  • Limit alcohol intake
  • Regular exercise
  • Watch your body weight
  • Be careful with medicines and remedies
  • Get hepatitis vaccination
  • Stop smoking

  1. Milk thistle: early seeds of potential. AB Siegel and J Stebbing. (2013). Lancet Oncology.

  2. Optimal management for alcoholic liver disease: Conventional medications, natural therapy or combination? Kim M. (2016). World Journal of Gastroenterology.

  3. 7 Science-based benefits of milk thistle. H West. Healthline. (Web accessed December 2018). Web link: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/milk-thistle-benefits#section1

  4. 13 Potential health benefits of dandelion. A Hill. Healthline. (Web accessed December 2018). Web link: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/dandelion-benefits

  5. Gastrointestinal dysfunction in liver cirrhosis. E Kalaitzakis. (2014). World Journal of Gastroenterology.

  6. Milk Thistle. Natural medicines comprehensive database. (Web accessed December 2018). Web link: http://naturaldatabase.therapeuticresearch.com/nd/PrintVersion.aspx?id=138&AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1

  7. 10 Tips for a healthy liver. T Chong. HealthXchange. (Web accessed December 2018). Web link: https://www.healthxchange.sg/digestive-system/liver/tips-healthy-liver 




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