milk thistle powder 50g
Milk thistle is an herbal remedy derived from the milk thistle plant, also known as Silybum marianum.
This prickly plant has distinctive purple flowers and white veins, which traditional stories say were caused by a drop of the Virgin Mary’s milk falling onto its leaves.
The active ingredients in milk thistle are a group of plant compounds collectively known as silymarin.
Its herbal remedy is known as milk thistle extract. Milk thistle extract has a high amount of silymarin (between 65–80%) that has been concentrated from the milk thistle plant.
The silymarin extracted from milk thistle is known to have antioxidant, antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties
In fact, it has traditionally been used to treat liver and gallbladder disorders, promote breast milk production, prevent and treat cancer and even protect the liver from snake bites, alcohol and other environmental poisons.
Milk thistle is often promoted for its liver-protecting effects.
It’s regularly used as a complementary therapy by people who have liver damage due to conditions like alcoholic liver disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, hepatitis and even liver cancer (1Trusted Source, 5Trusted Source, 6Trusted Source).
Studies have shown improvements in liver function in people with liver diseases who have taken a milk thistle supplement, suggesting it could help reduce liver inflammation and liver damage (9Trusted Source).
Although more research is needed on how it works, milk thistle is thought to reduce damage to the liver caused by free radicals, which are produced when your liver metabolizes toxic substances.
One study also found that it may slightly extend the life expectancy of people with cirrhosis of the liver due to alcoholic liver disease (10Trusted Source).
However, the results from studies have been mixed, and not all have found milk thistle extract to have a beneficial effect on liver disease.
And although milk thistle extract is commonly used as a complementary therapy for people with liver diseases, there’s currently no evidence that it can prevent you from getting these conditions, especially if you have an unhealthy lifestyle.
Milk thistle has been used as a traditional remedy for neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease for over two thousand years (13Trusted Source).
Its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties mean that it is possibly neuroprotective and could help prevent the decline in brain function you experience as you age (14Trusted Source, 15Trusted Source).
These studies have also seen that milk thistle may be able to reduce the number of amyloid plaques in the brains of animals with Alzheimer’s disease (18Trusted Source, 19Trusted Source, 20Trusted Source).
Amyloid plaques are sticky clusters of amyloid proteins that can build up between nerve cells as you age.
Osteoporosis is a disease caused by progressive bone loss.
It usually develops slowly over a number of years and causes weak and fragile bones that break easily, even after minor falls.
It’s been suggested that the antioxidant effects of silymarin may have some anticancer effects, which could be helpful for people receiving cancer treatment (9Trusted Source).
It may also make chemotherapy work more effectively against certain cancers and, in some circumstances, even destroy cancer cells (9Trusted Source, 29Trusted Source, 30Trusted Source, 31Trusted Source).
This may be because people aren’t able to absorb enough to get a medicinal effect.
More studies are needed before it can be determined how silymarin might be used to support people undergoing cancer treatment.
One reported effect of milk thistle is that it can boost breast milk production in lactating mothers. It’s thought to work by making more of the milk-producing hormone prolactin.
The data is very limited, but one randomized controlled study found that mothers taking 420 mg of silymarin for 63 days produced 64% more milk than those taking a placebo (37Trusted Source).
However, this is the only clinical study available. More research is needed to confirm these results and the safety of milk thistle for breastfeeding mothers (38Trusted Source, 39Trusted Source, 40Trusted Source).
Milk thistle may be a useful complementary therapy to help manage type 2 diabetes.
In fact, a recent review and analysis found that people routinely taking silymarin experienced a significant reduction in their fasting blood sugar levels and HbA1c, a measure of blood sugar control (44Trusted Source).
Additionally, the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of milk thistle may also be useful for reducing the risk of developing diabetic complications like kidney disease (43Trusted Source).
However, this review also noted that the quality of the studies was not very high, so more studies are needed before it’s possible to make any firm recommendations (44Trusted Source).