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.