Milk thistle has been used for various health benefits for thousands of years, today many people associate it with liver health. Find out more about this plant and whether it really can help improve your liver health.


What’s in this article

  • What is milk thistle?
  • Milk thistle and liver health
  • Conclusion


What is milk thistle?
Milk thistle is a natural herb that has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and is commonly used, along with other supplements to detoxify the body, in particular, the liver. Milk thistle gets its name from the dense white fluid that seeps from the leaves when broken.  The plant is originally a native of Southern Europe through to Asia however it is now found throughout the world. Because of the antioxidant qualities, milk thistle is just as powerful as other vitamins such as vitamin C or E which help to fight free radical damage and slow disease development. Silymarin is an element from the seeds of milk thistle plants and is thought to have many beneficial functions, such as aiding in liver detoxification, protecting the liver, reducing liver inflammation, helping to repair damaged liver cells and preventing damage to new liver cells by the same toxins. It is available in capsule form, liquid extract, tincture and silymarin phosphatidylcholine complex. Milk Thistle has not presented any serious side effects in studies, however, can cause digestive disturbances.


Milk thistle and liver health
This plant has been well studied and analyzed, with over 200 clinical studies carried out over the past 30 years. According to the National Institute of Health, results from clinical trials of milk thistle for liver diseases have been mixed, and two meticulously designed studies found no benefit of taking the herb.

However, there are numerous scientific studies that suggest elements of milk thistle do protect the liver from toxins. In these studies, the plant has been found to reduce, or even reverse, damage to the liver that has been caused by prescription medications and pollution. However, some of these studies have been poorly planned and liver regeneration takes time, which makes it complicated to test.

A 2012 clinical trial by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, showed that two higher-than-usual doses of silymarin, found in milk thistle, were no better than a placebo for chronic hepatitis C patients who had not responded to standard antiviral treatment.

Always consult your doctor or health professional about taking milk thistle as according to the National Institute of health milk thistle has been shown to lower blood sugar levels in diabetics and should not be mixed with certain medications


There is no undisputed scientifically accepted evidence at this time for milk thistle benefitting your liver health. It could be beneficial for those looking to detox from medications and pollution. Further studies will need to be conducted in order to make a deep-rooted decision. Always consult your doctor or health care professional for treatment regarding liver diseases.


Find out more about which vitamins and minerals are good for your liver as recommended by Dr. Tarek Hassanein, M.D.