Milk Thistle Benefits and Side Effects

by John Griffith

Alongside other wellness trends recently, such as spirulina and ashwagandha, milk thistle has been gaining quite some popularity. Milk thistle or Silybum marianum is a flower plant that comes from the same family as the daisy. Also known as Mary thistle or holy thistle, this plant grows in different Mediterranean countries. And while it has many names, this plant for centuries is a natural remedy to support liver health, immunity, bones and much more. Why? Milk thistle contains a compound called silymarin. This flavonoid has amazing antioxidant properties. And as we all know, antioxidants do wonders for our bodies. Today, we will explore all the potential benefits milk thistle has, as well as any side effects, dosage, and history.

Milk thistle or Silybum marianum is a flower plant that comes from the same family as the daisy

milk thistle bee on flower

Milk Thistle Plant

The milk thistle’s pretty, purple flowers sit on top of very spiky heads and leaves. The plant’s bright green foliage with marbling is what gives it’s milky moniker. All parts of this tall and thorny biennial flower can be eaten, you can consume both the leaves and flower heads. All you need to do is cut the flower heads when they are young, boil or steam them until they are tender enough to eat, and enjoy. Keep in mind this plant can be toxic to many animals, so if it somehow ends up in pastures, it may cause harm to the livestock. Milk thistle is Mediterranean natively and is quite fond of growing in rocky and dry regions. It is considered by many to be a weed due to its invasive properties and the ability to spread quickly.

All parts of this tall and thorny biennial flower can be eaten

what is milk thistle good for milk thistle flower

Milk Thistle Health Benefits

As we mentioned, the active ingredients in milk thistle are a group of plant compounds called – silymarin. You can find high amounts of the compound within the plant. Silymarin has great antioxidant, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory properties. Here are all the incredible benefits consuming milk thistle can get you!

Silymarin has great antioxidant, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory properties

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Protects Your Liver

One of the best benefits we can get from milk thistle is liver protection. The plant is used regularly as a complementary therapy by people who suffer from liver damage. This may be caused by conditions such as alcoholic live disease (cirrhosis), fatty liver disease, chronic hepatitis, and liver cancer. Studies have shown improvements in liver function in people with liver diseases who have taken a milk thistle supplement. This suggests it could help reduce liver inflammation and liver damage. Some studies also show the plant may help people whose liver damage from industrial toxins, such as toluene and xylene. Although more research is needed, there are claims that milk thistle reduces the damage cause by free radicals, which are produced when your liver metabolizes toxic substances.

Improves Brain Function

Initial test-tube and animal studies have shown that milk thistle has some promising traits that can make it useful for protecting brain function. Milk thistle is used as a traditional remedy for neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease for over two thousand years. Its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties mean that it is possibly neuroprotective. This means it can help prevent the decline in brain function as we age. In some studies, the silymarin has prevented oxidative damage to brain cells, which could help prevent mental decline.

Milk thistle has some promising traits that can make it useful for protecting brain function

can pregnant woman take milk thistle brain drawing

Supports The Immune System

Both animal and human research has shown that milk thistle extract can help boost the body’s immune system response. However, it’s best to pair it with other multivitamin supplements, or search for some that contain milk thistle within them.

Bone Protection

Milk thistle could play an essential role in supporting bone health. However, once again the research is still very vague when it comes to human benefits. However, some studies have shown milk thistle stimulates bone mineralization and potentially protects against bone loss. Diseases such as osteoporosis are caused by progressive bone loss, so taking milk thistle supplements may help prevent that.

Milk thistle could play an essential role in supporting bone health

how much milk thistle should i take skeleton

Helps Cancer

Small studies found that milk thistle can slow down cancer cell and tumor growth. Consequently, this will possibly increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy, as it also reduces the side effects from cancer treatments. This is all thanks to the antioxidant effect of silymarin. The studies are still limiting but have potential benefits for several types of cancer. This includes prostate, breast, cervical, skin, colorectal cancer and leukemia.

Boosts Breast Milk Production

Milk thistle boost breast milk production in lactating mothers. This is because it helps create more of the milk-producing hormone prolactin. However, more research is needed to determen if milk thistle is fully safe to take while breastfeeding. Make sure to bring it up with your health care provider before trying it out for yourself.

Milk thistle creates more of the milk-producing hormone called – prolactin

milk thistle baby drinking milk

Improves Allergic Asthma

While research on humans still needs to be conducted, there have been some promising animal studies. Asthmatic mice who were given silymarin experienced less airway inflammation than those who didn’t get the stuff. This shows it may help improve asthma symptoms.

Lower Blood Sugar Levels

Milk thistle may be quite useful as a complementary therapy when it comes to managing type 2 diabetes. This is because one of the compounds in the plant may work similarly to some diabetic medications. It helps by improving insulin sensitivity and decreases blood sugar levels and HbA1c. Additionally, the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of milk thistle may also be useful for reducing the risk of developing diabetic complications like kidney disease. Keep in mind the supplement is not a substitute for diabetes meds, but rather a helping hand.

One of the compounds found in the plant may work similarly to some diabetic medications

milk thistle plant sugar

Reduces Cholesterol

Cholesterol can be quite the troublemaker. Milk thistle can help lower the LDL or “bad” cholesterol levels, consequently lowering the chance of heart disease. One study found that people who took the plant to manage their diabetes had lower cholesterol levels compared to those who took a placebo. Thanks to keeping good cholesterol levels with milk thistle, it can also aid you in weight loss. Some animal studies found that silymarin caused weight loss in mice that scientists fed a diet intended to cause weight gain.

Treats Acne

Acne can be a pain in the ass to treat, whether that be annoying pimple or blackheads. While it isn’t dangerous, it does affect people’s self-confidence and can cause scars. Some also find it painful. Silymarin’s antioxidant properties just might help boost the effectiveness of other proven acne treatments. People who took around 140 milligrams silymarin and 100 milligrams doxycycline capsules daily for eight weeks showed a reduction in acne lesions.

Acne affects people’s self-confidence, can cause scars and can be painful

what is milk thistle used for freckled girl

Hormonal Support

Hormonal imbalance can come in many shapes and forms, but no matter how it manifests, it’s still a pain to deal with. Since the liver helps balance out hormones, such as estrogen, and taking milk thistle supports liver function, this could mean it’s also great for supporting our hormonal health. Take it alongside certain food to create a great hormone harmony.

Calm An Upset Stomach

One of milk thistle’s traditional uses is easing indigestion. While there isn’t a ton of evidence showing that it actually works, medicine regulators in Germany do list milk thistle as a possible treatment for an upset stomach.

One of milk thistle’s traditional uses is easing indigestion

milk thistle side effects upset woman sitting on floor

Milk Thistle Side Effects

Well, now we know all the benefits, let’s see what potential side effects this magical plant can come with. In some studies where high doses were used for long periods, only about 1% of people experienced side effects. While milk thistle is considered safe for most people, there are some exceptions.  If you apply to any of them, it’s best to avoid taking it. Always consult your doctor for advice if you feel unsure about taking this supplement.

Let’s see what potential side effects this magical plant can come with

what is milk thistle flower

  • Pregnant women. Since there is no concrete data on how safe milk thistle is for pregnant women, it’s best for them to avoid this supplement.
  • People with certain allergies. Milk thistle may cause an allergic reaction in people who are allergic plants such as kiwi, daisies, marigolds, ragweed, kiwi, and any plants from the aster family.
  • Diabetics. The blood sugar-lowering effects of milk thistle may put people with diabetes at risk of low blood sugar.
  • Those with certain conditions. As we mentioned, milk thistle can have estrogenic effects, which may worsen hormone-sensitive conditions, including some types of breast cancer.
  • Certain medications. If you take any medicines regularly, talk to your doctor before you start using milk thistle. It could interact with many drugs, including some that treat high cholesterol, infections, insomnia, and blood pressure.
  • General side effects. Rarely, taking milk thistle may cause laxative effect, nausea, itching, heartburn, upset stomach, headaches, bloating, and gas.

It’s best for pregnant women to avoid taking milk thistle supplements 

when to take milk thistle morning or night pregnant woman

When To Take Milk Thistle: Morning or Night?

When it comes to when it’s best to take milk thistle it’s mainly up to you. There isn’t any particular time of the day where it will be more potent ot effective. It can also be taken on an empty stomach ot combined with meals as an added ingrident. Whatever feels best for you. Some say taking milk thistle on an empty stomach or at least fifteen minutes before food may make it work faster. However, if you have a sensitive liver and tend to over-react it is best to take it after meals to buffer reactions. But when it comes to whether it’s best to take in the morning or night, it’s all up to your routine. Milk thistle won’t keep you awake at night, so if you take your supplements before bed, you can safely take this one as well and enjoy all the potential milk thistle benefits.

There isn’t any particular time of the day where milk thistle will be more potent ot effective


milk thistle tea

Milk Thistle Dosage

There aren’t really any specific guidelines on the right way to use milk thistle. It comes in many forms of supplements. Including capsules and tablets, teas, powders, and tinctures. The dosages can be anywhere from one hundered and seventy five milligrams to a thousand milligrams. However, as a general rule keep in mind that the higher the dose, the higher the risk. Overall, around fourhundered and twenty milligrams are the recommended amount of daily intake you should take. You can buy it almost anywhere, but your best shot is either a drugstore or a herbal store. Oh, and online, of course.

You can find milk thistle under many supplement forms – tablets, capsules, powders, tinctures, or tea

what is milk thistle milk thistle supplement forms

We hope you enjoyed our ultimate guide to milk thistle benefits, side effects and everything you need to know about this magic plant. Now you have all you need to know all in one place. With the growing popularity of different wellness and health foods, such as sea moss, it’s good to be informed.

We hope you enjoyed our ultimate guide on milk thistle benefits, side effects, and more

milk thistle milk thistle flower

John Griffith

John Griffith is a young, passionate journalist. Writing has been John’s hobby ever since he was a boy. He has worked in some of the UK’s most successful news portals over the course of his professional career but found his forever home at Archzine.