Milk Thistle – Latest Research Included

Full Disclosure

Milk thistle is a source of compounds that can aid in liver, skin, and bone health and weight loss. It could also prevent the development of insulin resistance. However, further studies are needed.

The milk thistle (Silybum marianum) is a flowering plant in the same family as the daisy. Also called Mary Thistle or Holy Thistle, it is a common plant in Mediterranean countries, and people utilize it to create natural remedies.

The active component of milk thistle is silymarin. Doctors use the plant primarily to treat liver issues. However, some believe it may lower cholesterol levels and aid in managing Type 2 Diabetes.

This article examines the potential benefits of milk thistle and whether there is any scientific evidence for its use. It also explains the best ways to utilize milk thistle and whether there are any risk factors to consider.

The advantages of milk thistle

Individuals can use different components from the plant to treat various ailments. It is used as an herbal tea or supplement and is often incorporated into skin creams.

The most commonly used use for milk thistle is to treat liver issues. Many claim that it can assist in treating:

  • Cirrhosis
  • jaundice
  • Hepatitis
  • gallbladder disorders

Other possible benefits include protecting your heart health by reducing cholesterol levels and helping control the symptoms of type 2 diabetes.

We look at the favorable health properties of milk thistle.

Supports the health of the liver

A 2016 study revealed that milk thistle reduced the damage to the liver caused by diet in mice. Medical researchers need more evidence to show that milk thistle can benefit human livers in the same way.

However, research suggests that it may. Silymarin, the active component of silymarin in milk thistle, is an antioxidant that reduces the production of free radicals. Researchers believe this affects detoxification, so milk thistle can help with liver issues.

In the meantime, until researchers complete additional studies, doctors don't recommend milk thistle as the main treatment for liver issues. However, if a medical specialist is willing to recommend it, it could be a beneficial complementary treatment.

Promotes skin health

Milk thistle could help improve the health of your skin. A study from 2015 found it was able to reduce inflammation skin conditions after being applied to the mice's skin.

Researchers also discovered in another research study that thistle has antioxidant and anti-aging properties for human skin cells in a lab environment. A survey conducted in 2019 on cells in a laboratory discovered that the substances in milk thistle can shield against the damaging consequences of exposure to the sun, including slowing the skin's aging process.

Researchers need to conduct more research on humans to discover the benefits of applying milk thistle to their skin.

Reduces cholesterol

The presence of cholesterol in the blood can cause issues with heart health and increase the risk of stroke. A few studies have found that milk thistle may affect cholesterol levels in the blood, but the results are inconclusive.

A 2006 study indicates that thistle might be a factor in lowering cholesterol levels. It found that those who took milk thistle for diabetes had higher cholesterol levels than those who took a placebo.

In a research study 2016, the researchers fed rats with a high-cholesterol diet. They gave certain animals silybin (the active component present in milk thistle) in doses of 300 milligrams and 600 milligrams for each kilogram (mg/kg) (mg/kg) of body weight. They discovered that the rats had significantly lower blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

Helps to lose weight

The first animal study, carried out in 2016, revealed that silymarin reduced the weight of mice fed a diet designed to induce weight gain.

This suggests that milk thistle could benefit people looking to shed weight. However, to confirm this, researchers must conduct further studies regarding how milk thistle affects human weight loss.

Reduces insulin resistance

A 2016 study in mice showed that milk thistle extract reduced insulin resistance, which is a major issue for those suffering from type 2 diabetes. A second review of research regarding milk thistle in 2020 concluded that silymarin is a “promising substance” to treat insulin resistance, particularly for overweight people and those with type 2 diabetes.

While milk thistle may contribute to diabetes management, more research is needed to establish the hypothesis that it decreases resistance to insulin and aids in its management.

It improves the symptoms of allergic asthma.

Asthma is an ongoing inflammatory condition in which the immune system is overreactive to environmental triggers, causing inflammation of the airways. The active component in milk thistle can aid in reducing inflammation.

A 2012 study found that silymarin protected against inflammation of airways in mice suffering from allergic asthma. Another study from 2020 in mice found that silymarin may assist in reducing asthma symptoms by controlling the immune response.

The medical community needs to conduct further research to determine whether silymarin improves the symptoms of asthma in humans.

Reduces the spreading of cancer

Milk thistle can help slow the spreading of some forms of cancer.

Studies primarily conducted on lab-grown cells have shown that milk thistle can reduce the rate of tumor and cancer growth and may even boost the efficiency of chemotherapy, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Researchers have discovered benefits for various types of cancers, including:

  • prostate cancer
  • breast cancer
  • cervical cancer
  • Leukemia
  • skin cancer
  • colorectal cancer

Numerous small studies have discovered that milk thistle could reduce the adverse negative effects of cancer treatments, including surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.

It is important to note that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not yet approved milk thistle for treating cancer. More research is needed to discover how milk thistle could aid in fighting cancer.

Bone health is supported.

The tea of milk thistle could help prevent bone loss due to estrogen deficiency. Milk thistle can play a vital role in maintaining bone health. A 2013 study found that milk thistle could help stop bone loss.

The study specifically focused on the loss of bone due to an estrogen deficiency among rats whose ovaries were removed. It's unclear whether milk thistle is beneficial in preventing bone loss due to an alternative source.

The medical community needs to conduct more research before they are confident that milk thistle benefits bone health in humans.

Improves cognitive function

A 2015 study in worms revealed that milk thistle improved resistance to oxidative stress, which may be a cause of Alzheimer's disease.

This way, it is possible that milk thistle can aid in improving cognition and treating diseases that can affect the brain. Researchers should conduct more research on humans to confirm milk thistle's beneficial effects on cognitive function.

Aids in the development of immunity

Milk thistle can help boost an individual's immune response. It can help the body fight infection and decrease chronic inflammation caused by the immune system.

Numerous studies have indicated that milk thistle could have immune modulatory effects. Researchers discovered that silymarin boosted your immune system. It also reduces an overactive immune system to reduce chronic inflammation in asthma and allergic rhinitis.

A study conducted in 2016 on an animal model revealed that milk thistle extract increased the immune system. An earlier study revealed that milk thistle extracts have a positive effect on human immunity.

Further studies using human participants will allow scientists to conclude without doubt that milk thistle boosts the body's immune system.

Is milk thistle healthy?

Based on the NIH, milk thistle supplements are believed to have a few negative reactions. Very rarely, taking milk thistle can result in the following:

  • a laxative effect
  • nausea
  • heartburn
  • stomach upset
  • A mild allergic reaction in high doses

There isn't much information on the interactions of milk thistle with other medications, such as chemotherapy and anticancer medicines. One should consult with their physician prior to starting the use of any supplement or drug.

The benefits of milk thistle, as well as the dandelion

Like milk thistle, the dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is an antioxidant. Other reports suggest it has health benefits, which could include:

  • Safeguarding the immune system, the liver protects the kidneys, immune system, and liver
  •  Providing antiviral, antifungal, and antibacterial benefits.
  • Lessening the risk of developing arthritis, diabetes, as well as overweight

Due to their similar health benefits, the producers have investigated milk thistle and supplementation with dandelion and combined them for sale.

A small study conducted in 2017 on rats suggested that these supplements can help prevent kidney damage triggered by carbon tetrachloride. It is an ingredient commonly used in the chemical mix that people employ in dry-cleaning facilities.

Another 2015 study, which fed rats a high-fat diet, revealed an association between milk thistle and dandelions and improved glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity.

These studies are small, and it's unclear if the results can be applied to human beings. More research is needed to determine whether supplements can provide health benefits if people take them alone or in combination.

What are the vitamins in milk thistle?

The seeds of milk thistle are rich in silymarin. This mix is a source of chemical compounds, a few of which might benefit the human body's well-being. This includes:

  • silybin
  • iso silybin
  • silychristin
  • isosilychristin
  • silydianin
  • Taxifolin

The majority of research has focused on the advantages of silymarin and silybin.

Do you think that milk thistle causes breast cancer?

The limited research in the lab suggests that the silibinin compound found in milk thistle can aid in preventing breast cancer, as per the NIH. Researchers think that it could reduce the growth rate of cancerous cells.

A small study of 101 patients with breast cancer indicated that applying milk thistle to the skin could help protect it from harm that may be caused by radiation therapy.

However, the extracts from milk thistle may act as estrogen. It's not safe for those who have breast cancer that is hormone sensitive.

Further research is required to determine the potential advantages and dangers of milk thistle in people who have cancer of the breast.

How do I use milk thistle?

The herb is sold as a supplement at many health food retailers. Since there isn't a standard dosage of this plant, it is advisable to study the recommended dosage listed on the package.

It is also available in tea form. If you drink tea with milk thistle, you should limit your intake to 6 cups daily.

Some promote milk thistle seeds as a soothing or anti-aging element in skincare creams.

Considerations and Risks

It is important to note that the FDA has not yet approved milk thistle for treating medical conditions.

Since milk thistle is an ingredient because it is a supplement, the FDA doesn't regulate it in the same manner it regulates other drugs. This means the number of active ingredients on the label might not always be the same as in every dose. This is why it is crucial to purchase milk thistle from reliable sellers.

Like any natural remedy, it is recommended that you discuss the use of milk thistle with a physician before using it.

Milk thistle can interfere with certain medications and treatments, such as anticancer drugs and radiation therapies. It can also cause effects similar to estrogen on your body. This is especially true for those who are currently being treated for specific types of liver cancers or other liver disorders.


Milk thistle can provide a wide range of health benefits due to silymarin, an antioxidant's active ingredient.

Researchers should conduct more research before they can provide a definitive list of milk thistle's benefits. However, preliminary studies suggest it might be worthwhile to try it alongside conventional treatments.

It's always recommended to consult with a medical professional before taking the milk thistle plant or another supplement since it can interfere with certain medications or medical conditions.

Live Healthier
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