Milk Thistle

Milk Thistle


Milk thistle extract is a supplement obtained from the milk thistle plant, Silybum marianum, which is a member of the Asteraceae family. The daisy is also part of this family. The plant has green leaves with white lines and has generally purple flowers. Milk thistle extract contains silymarin, which is an antioxidant that cuts down on inflammation and free radicals and is far more potent than vitamin E. This substance is actually made up of multiple chemicals, including silibinin and silidianin. Milk thistle extract comes in many forms, such as tea, capsules, powders and liquids.

  • Supports liver health
  • Promotes bile manufacturing and flow
  • May protect the kidneys
  • Decreases free radical damage
  • May help with allergies


Milk thistle’s liver-boosting effects have been known for centuries. By toughening external cellular membranes, silymarin helps protect liver cells from being penetrated by toxic substances. Silymarin can regrow the liver by inciting protein synthesis. One study showed that silibinin inserted into mice stomachs stopped liver cells from dying.

This herb also encourages the body to make bile, a substance that, like the liver, encourages detoxification. It also helps with bile flow. Bile stops the liver from storing surplus fat. Bile also assists digestion, helps the body take in some vitamins, and kills some germs in the food we eat.

A rat study suggests that milk thistle extract reduces a certain chemotherapy drug’s harm to the kidneys. In another study, this one on mice, silymarin minimized the inflammatory effects of ferric nitrilotriacetate, which is harmful to the kidneys. Yet another study suggests that silibinin helps repair and shield kidney cells from anti-renal effects of certain drugs.

Milk thistle extract can also reduce oxidative damage from free radicals. Free radicals take electrons from the atoms that make up the body. This damages cells and DNA. If left unchecked by antioxidants, the free radicals multiply and can then lead to aging and disease. But antioxidants, such as silymarin, stop free radicals from multiplying and creating too much damage. This could cut down on disease and help increase longevity. Silymarin may guard against brain cell damage caused by oxidative stress. Therefore, this herb could function as a natural nootropic, provide cognitive support, and help with focus and mental performance.

Milk thistle is used to help with allergies. A study on mice found that silymarin helped prevent the animals’ respiratory systems from being inflamed. However, milk thistle has not been proven to help human respiratory health. But the liver decomposes histamine, which can lead to allergies. Milk thistle extract boosts liver health, so it makes sense that milk thistle extract could help with allergies. In addition, silymarin stops histamine from being discharged from mast cells.



Research suggests that side effects from milk thistle are rare. It can cause diarrhea and other digestive symptoms, as well as headaches and itch. It decreases blood glucose, so be careful if you have diabetes. It can also increase estrogen and create hormone disruption. This herb can trigger rashes or even anaphylaxis in people allergic to the Asteraceae family. If pregnant or breastfeeding, do not take it without your medical provider’s permission.


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