Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum)

milk thistle flower

Like Batman protects Gotham City, milk thistle fiercely protects your liver.  Milk thistle stimulates liver regeneration and promotes liver detoxification.  It is used in the herbal treatment of cirrhosis, hepatitis, alcohol-induced fatty liver, chemical-induced fatty liver, gallstones, and psoriasis.  It also has protective effects on the brain as well as the kidneys.

Number One Herb for the Liver

Milk thistle works liver magic.  It has therapeutic use in numerous liver conditions.  It has been clinically shown to improve liver function and it can lower liver enzymes.5  If you haven’t been watching your drinks, especially alcohol, you may want to talk to your doctor about taking this herb.  Because of milk thistle’s ability to protect and regenerate the liver, it’s the go-to herb for liver toxicity from alcohol, recreational drugs, and pharmaceuticals.  It’s also excellent for the treatment of mushroom poisoning.

Hangs Out in the Bile

You can think of bile as milk thistle’s batmobile in the gastrointestinal tract.  Milk thistle concentrates in the bile, possibly due to the body’s natural recycling process called enterhepatic circulation.4  Silybin, a flavonoid found in milk thistle, was found to be 60 times more concentrated in the bile than in the blood.2  Milk thistle also promotes the output and flow of bile from the liver into the digestive tract and it aids in the digestion of fats.1

For the Brain, too?

An interesting study in 2009 found silybin to prevent memory impairment in mice.  This same study found that silybin preserved glutathione levels in the hippocampus (a part of the brain associated with memory).3  Glutathione is one of our bodies’ best antioxidants.  Because of these properties, milk thistle may be therapeutic in the prevention or treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. 3

Supports Healthy Hormone Balance

Your liver processes hormones.  Hormonal imbalances can result from a boggy liver, overwhelmed with toxins. Using milk thistle to get the liver moving can help to balance hormones.

Therapeutic Preparations of Milk Thistle

The best herbal preparations of milk thistle include alcoholic tinctures, capsules, or tea.  You can also grind the seeds and sprinkle the powder on food.  The use of milk thistle glycerites should be avoided because the constituents in milk thistle do not extract well in glycerin.

If you would like to start taking milk thistle, please consult your naturopathic doctor.  A licensed healthcare practitioner can tailor the dose according to your needs.

1.   Kingsbury, Sheila.  Silybum marianum.  Herbal Monograph.  2005.
2.  Ghaffari AR, Noshad H, Ostadi A, et al:  The effects of milk thistle on hepatic fibrosis due to methotrexate in rat.  Hepatitis Monthly.  2011;11(6):464-8.
3.  Lu P, Mamiya T, Lu LL, et al:  Silibinin prevents amyloid beta peptide-induced memory impairment and oxidative stress in mice.  British Journal of Pharmacology.  2009 Aug;157(7):1270-7. Epub 2009 Jun 22.
4.  Valenzuela A, Aspillaga, M, Vial S, Guerra R:  Selectivity of silymarin on the increase of the glutathione content in different tissues of the rat.  Planta medica.  1989 Oct;55(5):420-2.
5.  Hoffmann, David.  Medical Herbalism:  The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine.  Healing Arts Press, 2003.

Thanks for reading! Enter your email to send new articles directly to your inbox:

2 Responses

  1. Pragati

    Great monograph, Archer! I really appreciate that you took the time to cite studies. And to reference Batman :)


    Dr. Archer

    Pragati! Thanks so much for your kindness in acknowledging the cited studies. Reading and citing studies seriously takes FOREVER! Especially the citing part… who likes typing all that garble up? My husband was over my shoulder saying, “Its not a research paper!”…


Leave a Response

* Required