Artichaut Sauvage, Blessed Milk Thistle, Cardo Lechoso, Cardui Mariae Fructus, Cardui Mariae Herba, Carduus Marianum, Carduus marianus, Chardon Argenté, Chardon de Marie, Chardon de Notre-Dame, Chardon Marbré, Chardon-Marie, Épine Blanche, Holy Thistle, Lady's Thistle, Lait de Notre-Dame, Legalon, Marian Thistle, Mariendistel, Mary Thistle, Our Lady's Thistle, Shui Fei Ji, Silibinin, Silybe de Marie, Silybin, Silybum, Silybum marianum, Silymarin, Silymarine, St. Mary Thistle, St. Marys Thistle.<br/><br/>


Overview Information

Milk thistle is a plant that is native to Europe and was brought to North America by early colonists. Milk thistle is now found throughout the eastern United States, California, South America, Africa, Australia, and Asia. The plant grows up to 2 meters high and has large, bright purple flowers. Milk thistle gets its name from the milky sap that comes out of the leaves when they are broken. The leaves also have unique white markings that, according to legend, were the Virgin Mary's milk. The above ground parts and seeds are used to make medicine. The seeds are more commonly used.

Milk thistle is taken by mouth most often for liver disorders, including liver damage caused by chemicals, alcohol, and chemotherapy, as well as liver damage caused by Amanita phalloides (death cap) mushroom poisoning, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, chronic inflammatory liver disease, cirrhosis of the liver, and chronic hepatitis.

Milk thistle is also taken by mouth for heartburn (dyspepsia), inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis), enlarged prostate (benign prostatic hyperplasia), a blood disorder called beta-thalassemia, and infertility.

Some people also take milk thistle by mouth for diabetes, kidney damage caused by diabetes, prostate cancer, to decrease the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation, uterine complaints, increasing breast milk flow, allergy symptoms, starting menstrual flow, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), high cholesterol, and menopausal symptoms.

Some people apply milk thistle directly to the skin for skin toxicity caused by radiation.

People use milk thistle intravenously (by IV) for Amanita phalloides (death cap) mushroom poisoning.

In foods, milk thistle leaves and flowers are eaten as a vegetable for salads and a substitute for spinach. The seeds are roasted for use as a coffee substitute.

Don't confuse milk thistle with blessed thistle (Cnicus benedictus).

How does it work?

Milk thistle seed might protect liver cells from toxic chemicals and drugs. It also seems to have blood sugar-lowering, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory effects.


Uses & Effectiveness?

Possibly Effective for

  • Diabetes. Some research shows that taking milk thistle extract along with conventional treatment for diabetes can decrease blood sugar, total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL or "bad") cholesterol, and triglycerides in people with diabetes. But conflicting results exist. It' s possible that milk thistle extract needs to be taken for at least 4 months before benefits are seen.
  • Heartburn (dyspepsia). When used daily for 4 weeks, a specific combination product (Iberogast by Medical Futures, Inc.) that contains milk thistle plus peppermint leaf, German chamomile, caraway, licorice, clown' s mustard plant, celandine, angelica, and lemon balm seems to reduce the severity of acid reflux, stomach pain, cramping, nausea, and vomiting.

Insufficient Evidence for

  • Liver disease caused by excessive use of alcohol. There is conflicting evidence about the effectiveness of milk thistle for treating alcohol-related liver disease. Early research shows that taking milk thistle by mouth might improve liver function and reduce risk of death. However, other research shows no benefit.
  • Seasonal allergies. Some research shows that taking milk thistle extract by mouth along with the allergy medication cetirizine (Zyrtec) reduces seasonal allergies more than taking cetirizine alone.
  • Alzheimer' s disease. Early research shows that taking a combination supplement containing milk thistle extract improves mental function in people with Alzheimer' s disease.
  • Amanita mushroom poisoning. Early research shows that giving silibinin, a chemical found in milk thistle, intravenously (by IV) and then by mouth may lessen liver damage caused by Amanita phalloides mushroom (death cap) poisoning. However, it is hard to obtain silibinin in the US.
  • Enlarged prostate (benign prostatic hyperplasia). Early research shows that taking a specific combination of milk thistle extract and selenium for 6 months might improve symptoms of enlarged prostate in men.
  • Blood disorder called beta-thalassemia. Early research in people 12 years or older with the blood disorder beta-thalassemia shows that taking a specific milk thistle extract for 3 months, along with conventional medicine, does not improve symptoms. But another study found that it might provide some benefits when taken for 9 months.
  • Hand-foot syndrome. Early research shows that applying a gel containing milk thistle extract to the hands and feet beginning on the first day of chemotherapy and continuing for 9 weeks decreases the severity of a complication of chemotherapy called hand-foot syndrome.
  • Chemotherapy toxicity. Early research shows that taking a specific milk thistle product containing the chemical silibinin beginning at the start of chemotherapy treatment does not significantly reduce liver toxicity caused by chemotherapy.
  • Kidney damage caused by the chemotherapy drug cisplatin. Early research shows that taking milk thistle extract beginning 24-48 hours before starting therapy with cisplatin, and continuing until the end of the treatment course, does not prevent or decrease the rates of kidney injury.
  • Liver scarring (cirrhosis). Early research shows that milk thistle extract might reduce the risk of death and improve liver function in people with cirrhosis. However, milk thistle extract does not seem to benefit all patients with liver disease.
  • Kidney disease in people with diabetes. Early research shows that taking milk thistle extract together with conventional treatment might help treat kidney disease in people with diabetes.
  • Hepatitis. Research on the effects of milk thistle in people with hepatitis is not consistent. Some research shows that taking milk thistle extract by mouth for 4 weeks reduces hepatitis symptoms, such as dark urine and jaundice, but does not improve liver function tests. But taking product containing the milk thistle constituent silybin plus phosphatidylcholine by mouth for 2 weeks to 3 months might improve some liver function tests.
  • Hepatitis B. Research on the effects of milk thistle in people with hepatitis B is not consistent. Early research shows that taking milk thistle extract by mouth for up to one year, or taking a product containing the milk thistle constituent silybin plus phosphatidylcholine by mouth for 1 week, improves liver function tests. But other research shows no benefit.
  • Hepatitis C. Research on the effects of milk thistle in people with hepatitis C is inconsistent. Early research shows that taking milk thistle extract by mouth for up to one year, or taking a product containing the milk thistle constituent silybin plus phosphatidylcholine by mouth for 1 week, improves liver function tests. But other research shows no benefit.
  • High cholesterol. Evidence about how milk thistle affects cholesterol is inconsistent. Some early research shows that taking milk thistle extract does not improve cholesterol levels in people with high cholesterol due to liver disease. But other research shows that taking a product containing milk thistle and tree turmeric can help prevent cholesterol levels from increasing in people with high cholesterol who need to lower the dose of their cholesterol medication. It' s not known if milk thistle would have this benefit if taken without tree turmeric.
  • Infertility. Early research shows that taking milk thistle extract along with fertility hormones might provide some benefits for women undergoing in vitro fertilization due to male infertility.
  • Low milk production. Early research shows that taking milk thistle extract for 4 weeks does not increase milk production in mothers of premature infants.
  • Menopausal symptoms. Research shows that taking a specific combination product containing milk thistle and other ingredients by mouth for 3 months reduces hot flashes by 73% and night sweats by 69% in people with menopausal symptoms. Sleep quality also improves. It' s not clear if these benefits are due to milk thistle or other ingredients.
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS). Early research shows that taking a combination supplement containing milk thistle extract can improve mental function and increase disease stabilization in people with multiple sclerosis.
  • Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Early research shows that taking a combination of the milk thistle chemical silybin, along with phosphatidylcholine and vitamin E, by mouth for 12 months improves liver function tests in people with liver disease not caused by alcoholism. Taking products containing milk thistle extract plus phospholipids or milk thistle extract plus vitamin E might also be beneficial in people with this condition. But higher quality studies are needed to confirm these results.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Early research shows that taking milk thistle leaf extract by mouth three times daily for 8 weeks has a limited effect on OCD symptoms. It does not appear to more beneficial than conventional medication.
  • Parkinson' s disease. Early research shows that taking a combination supplement containing milk thistle extract improves mental function and increases disease stabilization in people with Parkinson' s disease.
  • Prostate cancer. Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) is a protein in the blood that can be measured to diagnose and monitor prostate cancer. Early research shows that taking a supplement containing milk thistle extract, soy isoflavones, lycopene, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants by mouth daily can delay the rise in PSA levels in men with a history of prostate cancer. The effects of milk thistle alone are not clear.
  • Skin toxicity caused by radiation. Early research shows that applying a specific product containing the milk thistle extract reduces the effect of radiation on the skin in women being treated for breast cancer.
  • Inflammation and ulcers (mucositis) caused by radiation. Early research shows that taking milk thistle extract starting on the first day of radiation and continuing for 6 weeks thereafter decreases the severity of ulcers caused by radiation.
  • Liver damage caused by chemicals. Research on the effect of milk thistle on liver damage caused by chemicals is inconsistent. Taking milk thistle extract by mouth for up to one month improves liver function tests in people who have been exposed to the chemicals toluene or xylene. Also, taking milk thistle extract or the milk thistle chemical silibinin appears to decrease the risk of liver damage caused by anti-tuberculosis drugs. But taking milk thistle extract by mouth does not seem to prevent liver damage associated with the drug tacrine (Cognex) in people with Alzheimer's disease.
  • Inflammation of the digestive tract (ulcerative colitis). Early research shows that taking milk thistle extract by mouth for 6 months, in addition to standard medications, decreases the symptoms of ulcerative colitis and helps maintain remission.
  • Hangover.
  • Spleen disorders.
  • Gallbladder problems.
  • Swelling of the lungs (pleurisy).
  • Depression.
  • Malaria.
  • Pain in the uterus.
  • Menstrual problems.
  • Low breast milk.
  • Other conditions.
More evidence is needed to rate the effectiveness of milk thistle for these uses.

Side Effects

Side Effects & Safety

Milk thistle extract is LIKELY SAFE when taken by mouth for most adults. In some people, taking milk thistle extract can cause diarrhea, nausea, intestinal gas, fullness or pain, loss of appetite, and possibly headache.

Milk thistle extract is POSSIBLY SAFE when applied directly to the skin for short periods of time.

There isn't enough reliable information available to know if milk thistle is safe to inject into the body.

Special Precautions & Warnings:

Pregnancy and breast-feeding: There is not enough reliable information about the safety of taking milk thistle if you are pregnant or breast feeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid use.

Allergy to ragweed and related plants: Milk thistle may cause an allergic reaction in people who are sensitive to the Asteraceae/Compositae plant family. Members of this family include ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigolds, daisies, and many others. If you have allergies, be sure to check with your healthcare provider before taking milk thistle.

Diabetes: Certain chemicals in milk thistle might lower blood sugar in people with diabetes. Dosing adjustments to diabetes medications might be necessary.

Hormone-sensitive conditions such as breast cancer, uterine cancer, ovarian cancer, endometriosis, or uterine fibroids: Milk thistle extracts might act like estrogen. If you have any condition that might be made worse by exposure to estrogen, don't use these extracts.



Moderate Interaction

Be cautious with this combination

  • Medications changed by the liver (Cytochrome P450 2C9 (CYP2C9) substrates) interacts with MILK THISTLE

    Some medications are changed and broken down by the liver.<br /> Milk thistle might decrease how quickly the liver breaks down some medications. Taking milk thistle along with some medications that are broken down by the liver can increase the effects and side effects of some medications. Before taking milk thistle talk to your healthcare provider if you take any medications that are changed by the liver.<br /> Some medications that are changed by the liver include amitriptyline (Elavil), diazepam (Valium), zileuton (Zyflo), celecoxib (Celebrex), diclofenac (Voltaren), fluvastatin (Lescol), glipizide (Glucotrol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), irbesartan (Avapro), losartan (Cozaar), phenytoin (Dilantin), piroxicam (Feldene), tamoxifen (Nolvadex), tolbutamide (Tolinase), torsemide (Demadex), warfarin (Coumadin), and others.

  • Medications changed by the liver (Glucuronidated Drugs) interacts with MILK THISTLE

    The body breaks down some medications to get rid of them. The liver helps break down these medications. Taking milk thistle might affect how well the liver breaks down drugs. This could increase or decrease how well some of these medications work.<br /> Some of these medications changed by the liver include acetaminophen, atorvastatin (Lipitor), diazepam (Valium), digoxin, entacapone (Comtan), estrogen, irinotecan (Camptosar), lamotrigine (Lamictal), lorazepam (Ativan), lovastatin (Mevacor), meprobamate, morphine, oxazepam (Serax), and others.

Minor Interaction

Be watchful with this combination

  • Estrogens interacts with MILK THISTLE

    Milk thistle might decrease hormones in the body. Milk thistle might help the body break down estrogen pills to get rid of them. Taking milk thistle along with estrogens might decrease the effectiveness of estrogen pills.<br /> Milk thistle contains a chemical called silymarin. Silymarin might be the part of milk thistle that helps the body break down estrogens.<br /> Some estrogen pills include conjugated equine estrogens (Premarin), ethinyl estradiol, estradiol, and others.

  • Medications used for lowering cholesterol (Statins) interacts with MILK THISTLE

    Theoretically, milk thistle might change the levels of some medications used for lowering cholesterol (statins). This could increase or decrease how well these medications work.<br /> Some medications used for lowering cholesterol include atorvastatin (Lipitor), fluvastatin (Lescol), lovastatin (Mevacor), pravastatin (Pravachol), and rosuvastatin (Crestor).



The following doses have been studied in scientific research:


  • For diabetes: 200 mg of milk thistle extract has been taken once daily or three times daily for 4 months to one year.
  • For upset stomach (dyspepsia): 1 mL of a specific combination product (Iberogast by Medical Futures, Inc.) containing milk thistle and several other herbs has been used three times daily for 4 weeks.

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