The EclecticPhysician

The Eclectic Physician
Medicinal Herb Monographs

Milk Thistle

Botanical Name 
Silybum marianum

The information on this page compiled by
Beth Burch N.D.
(click on the keywords)


The medicinal use of milk thistle dates back over 2000 years for treatment of liver and gallbladder conditions and as a bitter digestive stimulant. Modern research has confirmed that it is a very important plant for treatment of liver disease including fatty liver, chronic hepatitis and cirrhosis. The liver protective effects of silymarin are remarkable; studies have demonstrated that it can prevent liver damage from such toxins as carbon tetrachloride and amanita mushrooms by preventing them from entering the liver cells (11). Silymarin is also a powerful antioxidant and promotes regeneration of damaged liver cells. Clinical studies have demonstrated significant improvement in cases of chronic hepatitis with liver enzyme levels returning to normal. New research shows promise for prostate and breast cancer and as a kidney cell protector (1,2,3).

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  • Milk thistle originated in the Mediterranean, but can be found growing wild throughout the world. It belongs to the Compositae family and is a large plant with glossy green leaves that have spines at the edges and white streaks along the veins of the leaf. It has a large globular flower head with purple ray flowers and spines. Like other thistles the seed has a white tuft of hair. The seed is used medicinally and is glossy brown with spots. While the milk thistle plant is regarded as a noxious weed in many parts of the US, it is extensively cultivated in Europe for herbal extracts.

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  • Flavonoids
  • Silymarin including silibinin, isosilybin A & B, silychristin, silydianin
  • Fatty oils

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  • Alters liver cell membranes to prevent penetration of toxins
  • Stimulates formation of new liver cells
  • Stimulates bile flow
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Conditions used for

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  • Extract assayed for silymarin- 140 mg of 70-80% silymarin three times a day
  • Whole ground seeds- 1 tablespoon three times a day

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Side Effects

  • Mild laxative effect in some people

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  • None known
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Interactions with medications

  • None known
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Use in pregnancy & lactation

  • Safe for use in pregnancy and lactation
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1. Sonnenbichler J et al, Stimulatory effects of silibinin and silicristin from the milk thistle
Silybum marianum on kidney cells, J Pharmacol Exp Ther 1999;290(3):1375-83
2. Zi X et al, Silibinin decreases prostate-specific antigen with cell growth inhibition
via G1 arrest, leading to differentiation of prostate carcinoma cells:
implications for prostate cancer intervention, Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 1999;96(13):7490-5
3. Zi X et al, Anticarcinogenic effect of a flavonoid antioxidant, silymarin, in human
breast cancer cells MDA-MB 468: induction of G1 arrest through an increase
in Cip1/p21 concomitant with a decrease in kinase activity of
cyclin-dependent kinases and associated cyclins, Clin Cancer Res 1998;4(4):1055-64
4. Monograph:Silybum marianum, Altern Med Rev 1999 Aug;4(4):272-4
5. Flora K et al, Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) for the therapy of liver disease, Am J Gastroenterol 1998;93(2):139-43
6. Schopen RD et al, Therapeutic use of silymarin, Med Welt 1970; 21:691-8
7. Sarre H, Experience in the treatment of chronic hepatopathies with silymarin, Arzneim-Forsch 1971; 21:1209-12
8. Ferenci P et al, Randomized controlled trial of silymarin treatment in patients with
cirrhosis of the liver, J Hepatol 1989;9(1):105-13
9. Skottova N et al, Silymarin as a potential hypocholesterolaemic drug, Physiol Res 1998;47(1):1-7
10. Krecman V, Silymarin inhibits the development of diet-induced hypercholesterolemia in rats, Planta Med 1998;64(2):138-42
11. Desplaces A et al, The effects of silymarin on experimental phalloidin poisoning, Arzneim-Forsch 1975;25:89-96.

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* The information presented in this web site is intended to inform and educate. It is not intended replace a qualified medical practitioner to diagnose or treat medical conditions.

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