Milk thistle: Nutrition, Benefits and Interactions

Evidence Based Research Based
Medically reviewed by - Dr. Tez Pratap Singh, MD Written by - Dr. Shaheen Shah


What is Milk thistle?

Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) is a flowering annual/ biennial plant from the Asteraceae family. It is the same plant family as that of daisies and sunflowers. The milk thistle is a spiny plant with red, purple flowers, pale shiny green leaves, and white veins. It has small brown spotted fruits. It grows up to a height of 200 centimeters. The seeds and the parts above the ground are used for making medicines.

Milk thistle grows very fast and is hence considered a weed in some parts of the world. Milk thistle derives its name from the white milky sap it produces when the leaves are squashed.

Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) is a flowering annual/ biennial plant from the Asteraceae family. It is the same plant family as that of daisies and sunflowers.

Facts of Milk Thistle

  • Milk thistles are also commonly known as blessed milk thistle, holy thistle, Mary thistle, Saint Mary’s thistle, and Mediterranean milk thistle.
  • Milk thistle is native to Europe, Asia, and Africa, but now it is grown worldwide.
  • Milk thistle is drought resistant and has low soil requirement
  • Milk thistle grows best in dry and sunny climates
  • Traditionally milk thistle is used as an herbal medicine to treat various ailments, including kidney and gall bladder disorders, and as an antidote for snake bites 1Overview| Researched based study from


Nutritional in Milk thistle

Milk thistle contains Silymarin and other bio actives.


  • Silymarin is the active substance of milk thistle that is found in the seeds.
  • Silymarin is a flavonoid (phenolic compound) compound having anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
  • It reduces inflammation and neutralizes the body from harmful free radicals.
  • Most milk thistle products contain 70 to 80% of silymarin.

Milk thistle seed silymarin consists of the following chemical compounds. They are as follows:

  • Silychristin
  • Isosilychristin
  • Silybin
  • Isosilybin
  • Taxifolin
  • Silydianin

Most research focuses on the health benefits of silybin and silymarin 2Nutrition| Researched based study from

Health Benefits

Health benefits of Milk Thistle.

Health benefits of Milk thistle

The health benefits of Milk thistle are as follows:

  • Supports liver health
  • Improves memory
  • Strengthen the bones
  • Helps in cancer treatment
  • Promotes skin health
  • Boost breast milk production
  • Reduces blood sugar level
  • Helps with weight loss
  • Reduces cholesterol
  • Improves the immune response

Supports liver health

  • Nutrients in Milk thistle protect the liver against amatoxin, a toxin produced by the dead cap mushroom.
  • It boosts liver function in people with liver disease 3Health benefits| Researched based study from

Improves memory

  • In animal studies, milk thistle’s silymarin prevented the mental decline
  • It also reduces the number of amyloid plaque between the nerve cells in animals with Alzheimer’s disease 4Health benefits| Researched based study from . Amyloid plaques are sticky proteins built up between nerve cells as one age.

Strengthen the bones

  • In animal studies, milk thistle improved the bone mineralization
  • It prevented the bone loss 5Health benefits| Researched based study from .

Helps in cancer treatment

  • In animal studies, milk thistle reduced the side effects of cancer treatment.
  • It also helps chemotherapy to work more efficiently 6Health benefits| Researched based study from

Promotes skin health

  • Nutrients in Milk thistle decrease the acne lesions in the body
  • It reduces oxidative stress in the body 7Health benefits| Researched based study from

Boost breast milk production

  • Nutrients in Milk thistle increases breast milk production in nursing mothers.
  • It stimulates the milk producing hormone prolactin 8Health benefits| Researched based study from

However, more research is warranted to prove the effect of Milk thistle on breast milk.

Reduces blood sugar level

  • Nutrients in Milk thistle improve the insulin sensitivity. Insulin sensitivity is the ability of the cells to use blood glucose effectively
  • It decreases the blood sugar in type 2 diabetes
  • It reduces the risk of diabetic complications 9Health benefits| Researched based study from

Helps with weight loss

  • In animal studies, milk thistle reduced the body weight 11Health benefits| Researched based study from However, research in humans is needed to prove the effect of Milk thistle on weight loss

Reduces cholesterol

  • Nutrients in milk thistle lower the total cholesterol in the body
  • It reduces the risk of heart diseases 10Health benefits| Researched based study from

Improves the immune response

  • Nutrients in Milk thistle help the body fights infection and reduce inflammation.
  • It also suppresses the overactive immune system in chronic conditions such as asthma and reduces inflammation 12Health benefits| Researched based study from


Dosage of Milk thistle

There is no standard dose (amount) for milk thistle. It is best to follow the dose as mentioned on the product label.

However, some of the doses of Milk thistle that are taken safely as per scientific research are mentioned below:

For diabetes (in adults)

  • 210-600mg (milligram) milk thistle extract daily for six months
  • 200 mg milk thistle extract once daily or thrice daily for four months or to a year
  • 210 mg milk thistle extract with 1176 tree turmeric extract- for 3 to 12 months 16Dosage| Researched based study from


Available forms of Milk thistle supplement

Milk thistle supplements can be purchased online or from any health store. It is available in the following forms:

Liquid extract

  • It is the liquid preparation of the herb in water or alcohol in a ratio of 1:1

Capsule form (with 120 to 140 mg of silymarin)

  • It contains herbal powder inside the gelatin shell that one can swallow

Tincture form

  • It is the concentrated liquid form of the herb

Silymarin phosphatidylcholine complex (oily medium soft gel capsules)

  • Phosphatidylcholine is a substance in the cell membrane that allows the free movement of nutrients into the cell. It helps in the easy binding of silymarin to the cell membrane and prevents toxins from entering the liver cells

Tea form

  • It is the ground seed or leaves of the herb. It is also available as tea bags.

Side effects

Side effects of Milk thistle

Most people can well tolerate milk thistle when taken by mouth.

However, some people might experience the following side effects:

  • Headache
  • Appetite loss
  • Heartburn
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach gas (Bloating)
  • Itching
  • Hives
  • Skin rash
  • Swelling in the lips, mouth, tongue, and throat
  • Difficult breathing 13Side effects| Researched based study from

Milk thistle is likely safe when applied directly to the skin for short durations.


Precaution of Milk Thistle

The Food and Drug Administration, United States, does not approve Milk thistle for any medical condition.

  • Milk thistle is a supplement, and the active ingredient written on the label might not match the actual amount in each dose. Thus, people must buy milk thistle supplements only from reputed retailers.
  • Milk thistle has the same effect on the body as estrogen, so people on cancer medication and radiation therapy must consult a physician before including it in their diet.
  • Milk thistle has a blood sugar-lowering effect, so people on diabetic medication must take a doctor’s consultation before taking the supplement 14Precautions| Researched based study from
  • Pregnant women, nursing mothers, and infants must avoid using Milk thistle due to the lack of evidence on the safety and efficiency of these groups.
  • People allergic to Asteraceae and Composite family, such as daisies and ragweed, must consult a healthcare provider before taking Milk thistle.


Interactions of Milk Thistle

Antidiabetic medication (medicine to lower blood sugar)

  • Milk thistle lowers the blood sugar
  • Taking milk thistle and antidiabetic medication viz; glimepiride together might cause the blood sugar level to go too low, causing sweating, confusion, lightheadedness, and fainting.

Medications that are metabolized by the liver

  • Milk thistle and medication changed by the liver viz; acetaminophen, when taken together, might affect the splitting capability of the liver.
  • It might decrease the efficiency of the drug

Cholesterol-lowering medication

  • Milk thistle lowers cholesterol
  • Taking Milk thistle and cholesterol-lowering medication, viz; statin together might lower the drug’s effect.

Anticoagulant medication (blood thinning medicine)

  • Milk thistle delays the blood clotting taking, Milk thistle and anticoagulant medication, viz; warfarin, might together may increase the risk of bleeding.
  • It might decrease the drug’s effect.


  • Morphine is a medication to relieve the pain.
  • Taking Milk thistle and morphine together might reduce the effect of the drug.


  • Ledipasvir is a drug to treat Hepatitis infection
  • Taking Milk thistle and Ledipasvir together might decrease the body’s ability to metabolize the drug.
  • It might increase the side effect of the drug


  • Raloxifene is a medication to treat osteoporosis (bone disease)
  • Taking Milk thistle and Raloxifene together might reduce the body’s capacity to break down the drug
  • It might increase the side effect of the drug


  • Tamoxifen is a medication to treat breast cancer
  • Taking Milk thistle and Tamoxifen together might increase the blood levels of Tamoxifen in the body.
  • It might increase the side effect of the drug.

Estrogen pill

  • Estrogen pill is a medication used to reduce post-menopausal symptoms.
  • Milk thistle has the same effect as estrogen in the body
  • Taking Milk thistle and Estrogen pill viz; estradiol together might decrease the efficiency of the drug 15Interactions| Researched based study from


Key Takeaways

  • Milk thistle is an herbal supplement with multiple health benefits
  • Further research is wanted to confirm the list of Milk thistle health benefits.
  • Preliminary research recommends Milk thistle as a worthwhile try alongside standard treatment.
  • People can buy Milk thistle supplements from reliable retailers from health stores or online.
  • People with health conditions must consult a physician before including Milk thistle supplements in their diet to avoid unwanted complications.
Disclaimer: The user acknowledges that this article's information is being offered for informational purposes only. Every attempt has been made to guarantee that the article is informational and correct. If they have any doubts or questions about their health, we firmly advise our readers to visit a doctor or other healthcare professional.

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