Milk thistle is a plant that
contains silymarin, a substance that improves liver function. Originally from
Europe, milk thistle now also grows in the United States.
take milk thistle in capsules or as a tincture (combined with alcohol). It has
been widely used in Europe and Germany, where it is a common complementary
treatment for liver problems such as
cirrhosis. In the United States, it is sold as a
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People use milk
thistle as a complementary treatment for liver problems, particularly hepatitis
and cirrhosis and inflammation of the bile ducts (cholangitis). Research on
silymarin suggests that it may protect the liver from inflammation. But it does
not have a direct effect on viruses that cause hepatitis, such as the hepatitis
Preliminary research suggests
that silymarin is an
antioxidant, which helps protect the body from
cell-destroying substances called
free radicals. Silymarin also may reduce inflammation
and block the effects of toxins that harm the liver.2
Two studies on milk thistle presented
conflicting results. One study found that milk thistle appeared to help some
people with cirrhosis live longer than they would have otherwise, while another
found no benefit.2
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate dietary
supplements in the same way it regulates medicines. A dietary supplement can be
sold with limited or no research on how well it works.
tell your doctor if you are using a dietary supplement or if you are thinking
about combining a dietary supplement with your conventional medical treatment.
It may not be safe to forgo your conventional medical treatment and rely only
on a dietary supplement. This is especially important for women who are
pregnant or breast-feeding.
When using dietary supplements, keep
in mind the following:
Like conventional medicines, dietary
supplements may cause side effects, trigger allergic reactions, or interact
with prescription and nonprescription medicines or other supplements you might
be taking. A side effect or interaction with another medicine or supplement may
make other health conditions worse.
Dietary supplements may not
be standardized in their manufacturing. This means that how well they work or
any side effects they cause may differ among brands or even within different
lots of the same brand. The form you buy in health food or grocery stores may
not be the same as the form used in research.
Other than in
vitamins and minerals, the long-term effects of most dietary supplements are
In this article
This information is produced and provided by the National
Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National
Institute via the Internet web site at http://
.gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.
WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise
June 11, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor.
Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this