Herb Reference Guide

Milk Thistle

History

Milk Thistle is a herbaceous annual or biennial plant with a dense-prickly flower head and reddish-purple tubular flowers. It is native to the Mediterranean region and has been naturalized in Central Europe, North and South America, and Southern Australia. Milk Thistle has an extensive history of use as an edible plant. In the 1st century AD, Pliny the Elder reported its use for supporting liver health. Theophrastus (IV century BC) and Dioscorides (1st century AD) also wrote of its value. The English herbalist, Nicholas Culpeper (1650) claimed it was effective for supporting the normal functioning of the liver. At the turn of the 20th century, Eclectic physicians also used Milk Thistle to support healthy liver function. Much of the modern day research has been conducted in Germany where it is an approved herb in The German Commission E Monographs.*

Function

Numerous scientific studies have explored Milk Thistle and a group of its constituents called silymarins. Many of these clinical studies have demonstrated that this herb supports healthy liver function and provides powerful antioxidant protection, particularly from free radicals and other toxins that normally enter into the liver and cause damage. A primary constituent of silymarin called silibinin also helps to support healthy liver function, encouraging healthy cholesterol synthesis by the liver.* In addition to its well-recognized role in promoting liver health, key constituents in Milk Thistle also help to maintain normal kidney function and promote optimal immune function. Limited research suggests that this herb may also support healthy prostate function, and encourage a vital gastrointestinal tract by protecting it from free radical damage. More research is warranted to support the use of this herb for supporting its role beyond enhancing healthy liver function.*

Uses of Milk Thistle

Disclaimer

This information in our Herbal Reference Guide is intended only as a general reference for further exploration, and is not a replacement for professional health advice. This content does not provide dosage information, format recommendations, toxicity levels, or possible interactions with prescription drugs. Accordingly, this information should be used only under the direct supervision of a qualified health practitioner such as a naturopathic physician.

Active Constituents

Silymarin

Parts Used

  • Seed

Important precautions

Additional Resources

Lang I. et al. Immunomodulatory and hepatoprotective effects of in vivo treatment with free radical scavengers. Ital J Gastroenterol. 1990 Oct; 22(5) 283-7

Sonnenbichler J. et al. Stimulatory effects of silibinin and silicristin from Silybum marianum on Kidney cells. J Pharmacol Exp Ther 1999; 290:1375-83

Muzes G, et al. [Effect of silimarin (legalon) therapy on the antioxidant defense mechanism and lipid peroxidation in alcoholic liver disease]. Orv Hetil. 1990; 131(16): 863-866