Milk Thistle Health Benefits: Antioxidant and Anti-inflammatory

| Modified: Nov 22, 2018
Milk Thistle Health Benefits

Milk thistle has been an important natural remedy for centuries of folk medicine practitioners. It is primarily considered a cleansing agent and used to block or flush toxins from the body. One particular area of interest is in milk thistle's ability to protect and perhaps restore the liver. Milk Thistle is often used for liver support and to detox from medication side effects, pesticides, heavy metals, and excessive alcohol consumption.

Animal and some human studies have suggested that milk thistle can counteract cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver (as from alcohol abuse or hepatitis) and improve the liver's ability to remove toxins from the blood.

Health Benefits of Milk Thistle

Milk Thistle is said to help:

  • Improved Liver Function
  • Cirrhosis
  • Jaundice
  • Hepatitis
  • Gallstones
  • High Cholesterol
  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Fatty Liver Syndrome
  • Psoriasis

How Milk Thistle Helps Liver Function

Studies have shown that substances in milk thistle, in particular a flavonoid called Silymarin, protects the liver from toxins, including acetaminophen (a common ingredient in OTC pain relievers), which can cause liver damage when consumed in high doses. Silymarin has anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and antioxidant properties and helps in liver repair by growing new cells.

How Milk Thistle Improves Digestion

Milk thistle helps improve digestion by increasing bile production and enzyme formation. It also soothes mucous membranes.

Milk Thistle and Anti-Aging

Milk Thistle is considered a fountain of youth herb by many herbalists because it contains antioxidants which help prevent free radical damage in the body. Because the herb can remove pollutants in the blood, liver and digestive tract, it may help slow aging.

Milk Thistle Capsules or Tincture?

The milk thistle plant grows nearly worldwide now and can be identified by its stout stalk and spiky purple flower. Milk thistle extract is extremely popular and is widely available in health stores. Extracts of milk thistle, Silymarin and silybin, are perhaps most prescribed natural compounds worldwide. Tinctures are usually standardized to contain 70-80 percent silymarin.

For centuries, herbalists have ground milk thistle seeds down to a fine powder.

What's the Difference Between Silymarin and Silybin?

Silymarin is a complex containing at least 7 flavonolignans (natural phenols composed part flavonoid and a part lignanthat are the most common class of compounds present in milk thistle extract. 1

The main component of Silymarin is a flavonolignan called Silybin, considered to be the most active ingredient in a milk thistle extract. 2  Silyburin represents about 50% to 70% of the silymarin extract.

Milk Thistle Seed Benefits

Milk Thistle seeds contain the highest concentrations of the active compound, silymarin. One study has shown that milk thistle seed extract has estrogenic effects and effects on memory by estrogen. The authors of this study note that silybin shows promise in memory impairment diseases. 3

Can Milk Thistle Cause Breast Cancer Due to Its Estrogenic Effects?

According to an extensive study on the safety of milk thistle by the National Toxicology Program of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, there was no evidence of carcinogenic activity when milk thistle was given to rodents in high doses over a two year period. In fact, female rats demonstrated decreased breast cancer and male rats showed decreased liver cancer with milk thistle extract. 4


Continue reading to learn ailments cured with Milk Thistle as reported by Earth Clinic readers. Do you take Milk Thistle? What has it treated? Please send us your feedback!


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Posted by Elena (Stamford, Ct) on 02/13/2009
4 out of 5 stars

im taking a whole body cleanse that has Milk Thistle, and I'm just finishing my first week with it. so far im very happy I have lots of energy, and I haven't been breaking out. my face is starting to clearing up... I'm taking this cleanse to test to see if i would clear my acne, because when I went to Italy for 5 weeks my acne cleared up once I got back to CT I started to breake out all over again, and I eat pretty much everything organic, I even use organic toothhpaste, organic deodorant, and organic hair and face products. I started getting acne when I was about 13 or 14 I stop taking medication when I was 20 now im 23 and still have 3rd grade acne. I have gone to many dermatologists, and have gone on accutane. I became an esthetician and I took basic herbal studies to fine a cure. once I started to change my diet it has helped but it wasn't enough im still researching but im also finding out Brewer's yeast (available at GNC) helps cure acne I haven't tryed it yet but im planing on it after my cleanse which you can get also at GNC but the web sit for it is I recommend looking online for one that cost less. all I can say is research and fine what works for you because everyone is diffrent ex. my older brother took some mediction, and once he got off the medication he was clear and never broke out again, and he has no acne scarring you can't even till he suffered from acne. my older sister started breaking out when she was 15, and now she is 27 and still on medication, and she tried getting off, because its costing alot but she breaks out. don't give up and don't pick I've been really good about not picking and I dont have acne scarring thank god!

Replied by Eve
Eugene, Or

Try to use bottled water to wash your face. I have had acne in certain places but not others too and this has been my remedy.

Replied by Leannienh
Windham, Nh

Hi there, I am looking at your post and sympathize with your acne condition. I also am an esthetician who specializes on acne treatment for 30 years.. Although I know it is improtant to do internal cleansing and burdock root, milk thistle, red clover, and yellow dock are all good for cleansing the blood and liver (there is a good multiherbal supplement called herpanicine) I am a strong advocate for using a good probiotic and a routine of cleansing the skin and medicating the skin topically. Use distilled water to cleanse your face and use a salicylic acid cleanser. Use witch hazel with a few drops of lavendar and tea tree tree essential oils added as a toner, and then acclimate your face to topical use of 2.5% benzoyl peroxide that you leave on all day and night. Increase percentage of BP until you are able to use up to 10% BP at night every night. This will keep the follicles free and clear, Also food relationships to acne are crucial.. The androgen increasing effects of dairy, peanuts, seaweed and any seaweed derivitives, sugar, caffeine, and red dyes are to be avoided as well as hight sodium.. Drink plenty of water and take chelated zinc and vitamin A. Best wishes to you. Buy the book written by Dr. James Fulton on acne available on e-bay or amazon.. He is a brilliant dermatologist and where I got my acne training 30 years ago. Linked in has an acne specialist group available for estheticians that you could join and learn a great deal about acne treatment.... Best wishes.

Replied by Natasha

Actually brewers yeast causes acne, the root cause of acne is yeast or fungal. Allergies, acne, asthma, eczema can all be traced to yeast or Candida and an overly toxic system, also not digesting fats well. I took brewers yeast when I was young because my mother told me to because she said it would assure I get enough B vits. back then there was no info on Candida. After I started taking it within a couple years I developed acne. I also struggled with asthma over the years when I was young and told it was heriditary. The truth is I no longer have either because I cleared the candida out of my body. Pau d' arco will help clear Candida out and go on the diet (no yeast, moldy, sugary type foods) no breads, cheese, fruit for a while it really works. Seaweed is very alkaline and loaded with minerals, there was nothing in the candida yeast connection book about avoiding seaweed.

Replied by Richeal
Bonnet Lake

Brewers yeast is not bread rising yeast. It's like a nutrional yeast grown on beets. It is an excellent acne and skin remedy because of all the b vits, minerals and nutrition.

Posted by Erica R (Miami, Florida) on 09/25/2008
5 out of 5 stars

Milk Thistle cured my acne! I'm now 21 and have had acne for a few years. After many trips to the dermatologist, I was prescribed Accutane which gave me acne-free skin for about a year. I then did acid peels which only made my skin worse. I was also put on birth control - that didn't help either. After lots of research, I finally decided it was time to attack the CAUSE of acne, and not the actual problem. For those of you who don't know it, acne is the cause of a poor functioning liver. If the liver is not functioning properly, acne forms (these are the toxins trying to get out of your body). Therefore, MILK THISTLE is a great natural herb that promotes healthy liver function by getting rid of the damaged liver cells, and creating new, healthy ones. I have not had a pimple since I started taking it, but be patient, it could take up to two weeks for you to see great results! Also, I take the liquid herbal extract - about 30 drops in a glass of water, twice a day.

Replied by THealth
Los Angeles, CA

Hi Erica. Good to know that your acne has cleared and you have beautiful skin . Thank you for your wonderful feedback and letting us know the root cause of acne. I would also like to try the Milk Thistle so can you please give me more input about the same. What is Milk Thistle and where do you get this. Also please let me know what liquid herbal extract you are using. I would like to try the same also. Thanks a lot. Thealth

Replied by 27mike
Indiana, Usa

Acne's not the cause of a poor functioning liver- you got acne from what you eat and drink and when you keep on picking at it it gets worst and doesn't go away and its from not cleaning every day. Taking a shower would help and a bar of soap. Stay off all the sweets and your problem's gone.

Replied by Concerned
Houston, Tx

Mike/ Indiana... I think she's saying that acne is the RESULT of a poorly functioning liver. The liver is toxic and acne is a way of the body releasing those toxins. Be kind to one another. Acne is not a result of uncleanliness. My son suffers terribly with it and is VERY CLEAN... Bathing and washing/treating his face frequently. Acne jokes are NOT funny.

Replied by Polly
London, England

I haven't tried Milk thistle for acne but another thing you can do is remove ALL wheat from your son's diet especially wholewheat. My brother has bad acne which he has had since a lad he's 56 now and has tried this; it has worked!! It was hard for him because he was an addict. Also it gives my husband a bad temper, exhaustion and bloating. He's miles better without it. He can eat pure rye and kamut bread. So doesn't have to give bread up completely.

Replied by Arya926
Port Huron, Mi

I came across this post while looking for milk thistle side effects. I thought I'd throw it out there that my son has also suffered from severe acne. Through trial and error, we found that alkalizing his water (instructions on earth clinic) and the use of sulfur soap have completely eradicated the acne. It has been almost two years since he has had any breakouts and his skin looks amazing. I hope this helps!

Replied by Green Augustine
Mold, Denbighshire
39 posts

I don't have Acne but take Milk Thistle to help my liver with the fat on the SCD diet which I'm on to try and help IBS and Diverticulis. My husband has suffered with chronic constipation for years and I've tried every remedy on this site and others to little avail. Recently I've been giving him Hawthorn tincture for hypertension and decided to add 5 ml of milk thistle tincture in a little water. He can't get over the fact he now has at least one BM a day and sometimes more. I guess it stimulates the liver and bile production which is good for digestion and getting the stools on the move. An added plus is its reputedly good for the heart too. A brilliant herb. Here in the UK we have Fushi who make Biodynamic tinctures and also well known and respected tinctures from Vogel and Jan de Vries. Jan de Vries also makes Bowel Essence, a tincture of flowers etc which are very soothing for IBS flair ups. Not sure if you have these makes in the US. Good luck

Posted by Sandy (Bethesda, Maryland) on 01/07/2008
5 out of 5 stars

Milk Thistle has SIGNIFICANTLY improved my acne and hopefully cured it. I have not had any breakouts since I started taking the supplement to cleanse my liver. It has been about three weeks and my face is completely clear minus a few scars that I am still trying to fade. YOU WILL SEE HUGE RESULTS IN YOUR FIRST WEEK. This product has worked wonders for me. I have tried many so-called cures (prescription drugs and over-the-counter) but none has given me the results that I have seen thus far. PLEASE TRY IT. I take two capsules daily which are 175mg each. It is very inexpensive and I am confident you will be very pleased with the outcome.

Replied by Mel
Mount Gambier, South Australia

Its good to read that milk thistle has helped you as I am currently taking it in tablet form, one a day to help reduce my fatty liver.


Posted by Francisca (Michelbach-le-bas, Alsace, France) on 08/23/2011

I bought Milk Thistle Oil a while ago and forgot all about it because I read so many bad things about all vegetable oils except Olive Oil. As Milk Thistle is good for the liver what about the oil? Should I use it or not? And is it a oil one can cook with or only for salads?

Replied by Jay
Toronto, Ont, Canada

Francisca, I haven't seen any feedback on using milk thistle seed oil internally but it does seem to have some effectiveness in cosmetics and skin creams.

Here is a link to a manufacturer's website information page with an interesting write up on its manufacture as well as its chemical structure. There are also references to how they perceive it can be used -- both topically and internally.


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Posted by Sophia (Lewisville, TX) on 01/08/2010
5 out of 5 stars

For depression that gets worse at that time of month, Milk Thistle works great for me. I usually start feeling better within 20 minutes. It works great for the kind of depression where you just feel bad. It also works for guys' depression (I give it to my son). Try not to take it every day. I've read, and found from my own experience, that taking it daily lessens its effects.

Digestive Issues  

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Posted by Kathie (Chicago, Il, Usa) on 09/15/2009
5 out of 5 stars

I've had digestive problems for at least a couple of years now, abdominal bloating and gas with diarrhea and constipation. I've been taking a popular on-line fiber supplement for almost a year and that has helped the constipation problem tremendously, but my system was still having difficulty with rumbling/gas/pain with diarrhea at least every other day if not daily. About three weeks ago I began taking a milk thistle supplement simply because I suspected my liver could use the support (no liver specific ailments going on, but family history and age, etc.). Lo and behold, within two days of beginning it, my entire GI tract calmed down beautifully - I am truly amazed. I would say it's 95% or more back to normal, with one or two well-formed bowel movements daily with no straining (that's incredible in itself) *without* taking the fiber supplement, and no gas/pain/diarrhea. The milk thistle supplement contains dandelion root, milk thistle seed, burdock, artichoke, kelp, and peppermint, with a "homeopathically prepared mineral formula designed to work with the herbs" made of potassium chloride 3x and sodium sulphate 3x (I'm including everything because I'm not sure if it's the milk thistle alone that's helping, another ingredient in the mix, or the entire mix combined). This has been a wonderful surprise for me - how great to have a GI tract functioning like it's supposed to! I really hope this helps someone else out there!!

Fifth Disease  

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Posted by Jean (Ky) on 11/18/2018 24 posts
5 out of 5 stars

I acquired 5th disease as an adult. It causes alarming arthritis-like symptoms. It hit my hands. They were swollen and painful. My doctor did a blood work-up and my liver levels were very high. It did subside with a little time and milk thistle. I was told it stays in your system and can return, sort of like chicken pox coming back as shingles. It was scary.

General Feedback  

Posted by Matt (New York, US) on 11/24/2014

Are there problems taking Milk Thistle, Dandelion root, Ginger, Apple cider vinegar and Urso Forte?

Posted by Mimi (California) on 12/26/2013

Can anybody suggest a name brand of Milke thistle that is good. There are so many out there I'm confused. Thank you

Replied by Timh
Ky, Usa
2115 posts

It is difficult to determine such by subjective. When the issue of potency is a factor, always buy "standardized extract".


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Posted by Rob (Manhattan, New York) on 11/20/2009
5 out of 5 stars

Thumbs up for Milk Thistle

testing out a combination Milk Thistle and Sea Buckthorn combo (from Germany). I was surprised that I didn't suffer the usual ill effects this morning from a few beers the evening before. (shakiness, headache... I rarely drink)

I attribute it to the Milk Thistle... decided it will be a regular on my supplement shelf.

Replied by Cajun
Opelousas, La
5 out of 5 stars

After 30+ years on alcohol avoidance [except for the occasional beer with pizza or sandwich] I divorced and found myself spending evenings at local clubs & bars.. A couple capsules of Milk Thistle and a Naproxen Sodium at bed time provides me with a clear head in the morning and no headaches. Whatever does or doesn't work for others has no relation to me. I'm a 150% believer.

Replied by Amy
Nashville Tennessee

Be careful if using Milk Thistle Extract (liquid). The first ingredient listed is certified Organic Alcohol. Check with your doctor.

Replied by Timh
Ky, Usa
2115 posts

I am one rare occasion that cannot tolerate any alcohol so I have had to avoid A completely, but not only did I not need my doctor to tell me this, (s)he won't. If my blood reveals normal enzymes then I do not have liver disease. Two yrs ago the nurse ask me "Mr TimH, do you drink alcohol?" I replied that I do not and cannot drink half of an alcohol beverage without extreme nausea. So, I was not punished for being a drinker nor was I evaluated for liver or metabolic disease.

Conversely, one small alcohol beverage daily is healthy. If I ever do get able, I will likely rotate either a beer or wine every other day.

Although otc natural supplements are not "regulated" by the FDA as pharmaceutical drugs are, they are produced under strict safety guidelines for safe human consumption.

So, Amy, please be more specific in your well meaning post as it appears not credible in the light that this is almost entirely not an issue w/ the overwhelming majority.

Liver Conditions  

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Posted by Crazydogjack (New Castle, Pa, Usa) on 12/07/2010

Here's a question for all of you Earth Clinic friends.... I started taking Milk Thistle w/Choline for a fatty liver about two weeks ago. I noticed that my appetite has decreased (which isn't a bad thing), and I am wondering if any of you experts out there have any feedback as to why the decrease in appetite and cravings?

Posted by Timotrio (West Seneca, NY, USA) on 04/15/2010
4 out of 5 stars

I have had hepatitis c for over 25 years. In the early 1980's I read an article about Milk Thistle from an herb company outside of NYC and it sounded like what I needed. There weren't a lot of herb stores around then so I ordered from them. Since then I have taken many different combination of herbs but mainly milk thistle. I now take a combination of milk thistle/fringe tree, Turmeric & cayenne pepper. The first two in equal doses and the pepper in small dose. I capsule my own alternative medications and mix a teaspoon of the first three and 1/2 a teaspoon of the third. Mix them very well and get a cheap capsule machine on the internet along with 00 capsules. I had a biopsy 4 years ago-I am still at stage one and have by no means maintained a healthy lifestyle until the past few years. I hope it helps.


Posted by Leonhard (Columbus, GA) on 06/24/2009

I have been DXed w/ Hepatitis C. I have failed two treatment's. Milk Thistle is being touted as a supplement to use. Do you know any thing about Milk Thistle...? Are there many form's/dosage of the Milk Thistle...? How do I know which dosage is for my particular case. Thanking you in advance, I am.

Replied by P
Middle, Fl

Sometimes if I want to know about a particular product I go to a vitamin website; be it; vitamin shoppe, swanson vitamins, puritan pride and I search for the product and then read the reviews. I find that it's most helpful.

Replied by Sue

Take 1000mg twice a day of milk thistle for HCV.

Posted by Davey D (Victoria, BC Canada) on 07/30/2008
5 out of 5 stars

Hi Ted! I noticed that while reading one of your posts that you did not have an opinion about Milk Thistle because you did not have much info about it. I just wanted to inform you that this product taken twice a day at 4,750mlg has made me feel a whole lot better. Yes I have the dreaded h-c [hepatitis c] and don't like to mention it because people will avoid you. Before going on Milk Thistle after doing a 42 week pegatron therapy I was felling fluish all the time. Since I have been on the Milk Thistle the fluish feeling has all but gone and I feel much more normal.Two thumbs up for Milk Thistle. You will see it recommended on the hep c website. Thank you.
Davey D.

Replied by Marilyn
Miami, FL

I, too, have Hep-C and my doctor recommended Mild Thistle 200 mg at least 2x per day. I am not a consistent user, but do notice a difference in my energy level when I take it. Good luck to all with this insidious disease."

08/30/2008: Joyce from Joelton, Tn replies: "Hi Marilyn, Google miracle mineral supplement and pull up the one about "demystifying MMS" for a summary of what it can do. Hepatitis A, B, and C are also mentioned as cured by using MMS.

Posted by Mike (Baltimore, Maryland) on 02/04/2008
5 out of 5 stars

Ted has a lot of good insights and makes for a very interesting read, but he forgot one important thing regarding Lecithin.

Dandelion root contains more Lecithin than even soy products and also acts as a mild diuretic, but unlike other diuretics, it does not deplete the body of potassium due to the high amount of it found in the plant. Dandelion also contains loads of trace elements and should go a long way in dissolving gallstones as well as improving and increasing bile flow through the gallbladder.

Milk Thistle is also very good for this although to my knowledge, does not contain Lecithin. It reduces cholesterol in bile as well as other beneficial effects on liver/gallbladder health though.

About all this "flush" business that is so obviously fake that it bears mentioning. To say that there are over 2000 stones in your liver and gallbladder is ridiculous considering the size of these organs and appears even more ridiculous when people say this continues to happen over years of doing these flushes. What people should be doing is changing their diets and taking supplements to deal with these things. It's amazing to me that everyone that does this flush seems to report hundreds and thousands of "stones" even though an ultrasound may only show one or two small ones. Whether these flushes actually work or not is debateable since people seem to want to exaggerate the effectiveness. If they worked, there would be nothing to exaggerate and if they really do work, it's a tragedy that those pushing it on other people have to make things up to make it look better than it is when there is no need. It can't possibly be good for someone long term to continue to do this to their bodies.

To anyone wanting to dissolve and/or prevent gallstones, cut back a little on the fatty stuff you eat and do some research on supplements. Dandelion Root, Magnesium, Milk Thistle and even a daily multivitamin is a good place to start. Make a habit of having a glass or two of apple juice a day as the Pectin in apples and apple juice will soften the stones, exercise a little and watch what you eat to a point. If you really want to change, you can do it. If you're looking for an easy way out where you can have your cake and eat it too, you'll fail everytime. Supplements alone won't fix this problem and neither will 100 flushes. You have to make lifestyle changes as well and you have to stick with them.

However, things like constantly checking your pH and constantly monitoring pH of water you drink and all this stuff seems to be a pretty paranoid and stressful kind of life, constantly worrying and all. I don't think I'd ever go that far and eating enough fruits and vegetables should keep you balanced just fine.

Replied by JLlerenas
Ventura, CA, USA

Have you considered that the stones passed are from more than just the Gall bladder? So it's really not that preposterous, just not well understood. This is not a claim of veracity either or of proof that they are stones. Thanks for your post, it supplement's Ted's post well."

04/22/2009: EJ from Middleboro, MA replies: "It may not be as easy as changing your diet to correct a gallbladder issue. At least that's what I'm finding. I've had two ct scans in the last five years to look for gallstones that don't exist to explain my intermittent pain. About a month ago I switched from a good diet consisting of mainly vegetables and chicken or fish (little grain and dairy, nothing fried ever)to a diet of fruit and vegetables only (including fat from olive oil, avocados and almonds). My gallbladder rebelled like never before. Apples, apple juice, ACV, beet root, dandelion tea, healthy liver tincture - none of them helped the pain - castor oil packs did help temporarily. After 3 weeks, I finally added some cheese back to my diet and the pain subsided. Except for the gallbladder pain, I felt great eating only fruit and veg (ala Dr. Robert Morse). So if anyone knows what will fix this gallbladder permanently, I'd love to know.

Replied by Chords
Manhattan, New York

Milk Thistle for liver cleansing... What part of the plant is the most beneficial? Seeds, roots, leaves, or flower?