Milk thistle is a weed that grows commonly in warm climates. It’s native to the Mediterranean region and is part of the Asteraceae plant family, which also includes daisies and sunflowers. In the US, it is found primarily in California. As a natural herb, milk thistle has been used for over 2,000 years as it provides antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties that can detoxify the body. People benefit from milk thistle because it draws toxins out of the body, which if left in the body, could cause a variety of symptoms or diseases from cancer, high cholesterol, gallbladder problems, liver problems, diabetes, and skin damage, among others. Many supplements include milk thistle extract because of the multitude of milk thistle benefits obtained from the herb.
Top Milk Thistle Benefits
Possibly Decrease Risks for Cancer
The seeds of milk thistle contain an antioxidant flavonoid, silymarin, known for improving the immune system, reversing cancerous tumor growth, and helping to fight DNA damage. Almost 70% of the silymarin molecules found in milk thistle are silybin type. Silybin is an antioxidant responsible for protecting our body from damage and mutation through protein synthesis of the outside layer of healthy cells . It works by preventing toxins from remaining in the body and helping cells renew .
Detoxifies the Liver
Our liver works to detoxify our bodies through the purification of our blood. In the liver, milk thistle may help rebuild damaged liver cells and aid in the removal of toxins that are processed through the liver. For example, if you drink alcohol, milk thistle is effective at reversing the unhealthy effects that alcohol consumption causes. It can also help reverse harmful effects caused by the pollution of our air supply, and the pesticides found in our food supply. Milk thistle is used to treat various diseases of the liver, including alcoholism damage, hepatitis, fatty liver syndrome, psoriasis – and more .
Possibly Prevent or Control Diabetes
Research of silymarin, the antioxidant flavonoid found in milk thistle, shows that it can be useful in controlling systems of diabetes when used along with conventional diabetes treatments. Milk thistle can promote lower blood sugar levels in individuals who are insulin-resistant .
May Reduce Cholesterol to Healthier Levels
Initial research of milk thistle on patients with high cholesterol levels have shown that silymarin milk thistle extract combined with traditional high cholesterol treatment methods can improve cholesterol levels. Studies have so far been conducted only with individuals who also have diabetes, so it’s unclear whether milk thistle can benefit individuals with high cholesterol who do not also have diabetes. Milk thistle is an anti-inflammatory agent however, and as inflammation is the main cause of heart disease, it stands to reason that milk thistle can help reduce cholesterol through decreasing inflammation .
Improve Appearance and Health of Skin
The sun and the aging process can take a toll on our skin’s health. But using milk thistle on the skin may reduce skin damage and give you a healthier glow. The antioxidants in milk thistle help prevent free radical damage in the body and on the surface of your skin, helping to reduce dark spots, lines, wrinkles, and discoloration .
- Advances in the use of milk thistle (Silybum marianum).
Post-White J1, Ladas EJ, Kelly KM. Integr Cancer Ther. 2007 Jun;6(2):104-9.
- Milk thistle in liver diseases: past, present, future.
Abenavoli L1, Capasso R, Milic N, Capasso F. Phytother Res. 2010 Oct;24(10):1423-32. doi: 10.1002/ptr.3207.
- The efficacy of Silybum marianum (L.) Gaertn. (silymarin) in the treatment of type II diabetes: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, clinical trial.
Huseini HF1, Larijani B, Heshmat R, Fakhrzadeh H, Radjabipour B, Toliat T, Raza M. Phytother Res. 2006 Dec;20(12):1036-9.
- Silymarin, a Flavonoid from Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum L.), Inhibits UV-induced Oxidative Stress Through Targeting Infiltrating CD11b+ Cells in Mouse Skin
Santosh K. Katiyar,1,2,3,* Sreelatha Meleth,4 and Som D. Sharma1 Photochem Photobiol. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2008 Jun 1. Published in final edited form as: Photochem Photobiol. 2008; 84(2): 266–271. Published online 2007 Nov 28. doi: [10.1111/j.1751-1097.2007.00241.x] PMCID: PMC2394725 NIHMSID: NIHMS49376