Milk Thistle

General Information

Common Name:

Milk Thistle

Latin Name:

Silybum Marianum


Asteraceae [compositae]

Other Names:

  • Marian;
  • Mary thistle;
  • St Mary’s silybum.

Indications & Historical Uses

  • Protects liver from toxins, heavy metals, alcohol, poisons;
  • Liver disease, acute and chronic hepatitis;
  • Treatment of fatty degeneration of liver,. Liver cirrhosis;
  • Psoriasis;
  • Gallbladder disorders;
  • Indigestion.

Contraindications & Precautions

None known. See Caution.

None known. See Caution.

Adverse Side Effects:
None known except mild laxative effect is occasionally reported.

Drug Interactions:
None known.

Dosage Information

How Supplied:

Capsules of 200mg of concentrated extract representing 140mg of Silymarin.


200 – 400 mg of extract per day.


German scientists made a breakthrough in the late 1960s when they isolated the liver-protectant principles in the fruit .They called these Silymarin. Milk Thistle contains three potent liver protective flavonoids- Silybin, Silydianin & Silychristin known collectively as Sylimarin. Numerous clinical trials have shown that Silymarin protects the liver. Silymarin protects the liver against various toxins and boasts another remarkable property: namely, by encouraging the regeneration of liver cells, it can actually reverse the damage and help cure the liver. It does this by stimulating protein synthesis [RNA polymerase A ], thus activating the liver,’s ability to regenerate itself through increased formation of new liver cells called hepatocytes. Silymarin counteracts the toxic effects of a wide variety of liver poisons, including alcohol, carbon tetrachloride (used widely in the dry-cleaning industry) acetaminophen and the death cap mushroom, which can cause death within a day. The mechanisms of action of Silymarin are as follows:

  • Altering the membranes of hepatic cells to inhibit passage of toxins;
  • Increasing cellular regeneration by stimulating protein synthesis;
  • Increasing glutathione levels in liver cells;
  • Scavenging for substances called free radicals that can damage the liver -because of it’s powerful anti-oxidant properties in the liver cells, stomach and intestine.

As a result, Silymarin (at a dose of 140 mg. three times daily), can significantly reduce patient mortality in alcohol-induced liver cirrhosis. Acute viral hepatitis can be treated with Silymarin (at a dose of 70 mg. three times daily) to lower levels of bilirubin and the transaminases (liver enzymes). Silymarin has also been used in death angel or death cap mushroom poisoning, and fatal outcome can be prevented if treatment is begun at an early stage. However liver diseases are serious ailments; consult your doctor before taking this or any other medication for them.

Active Ingredients:

Flavonoids – (SILYBIN, SILYDIANIN, & SILYCHRISTIN together known as SILYMARIN)


Milk thistle is native to the Mediterranean region but now grows in many parts of Europe and North America ,including California and the Eastern seaboard of the United States. It is a tall, weed -like plant with large prickly leaves and the stems contain a milky sap that oozes out when cracked open. Small fruits ‘seeds’ nestle in the reddish purple flowers and are used to make the medicinal extract known as silymarin.


Parts of Plant used:
Seeds of the milk thistle plant. The seeds are harvested, and extracted by methyl alcohol. The solution is filtered and vacuum evaporated. The final defatted suspension is dried in ventilation ovens.

Scientific References

Campos, R. et al. (1989) Silybin Dihemisuccinate protects against glutathione depletion and lipid peroxidation induced by acetaminophen on rat liver. Planta Medica. 55:417.

Canini, F. et al. (1985) The use of silymarin in the treatment of alcoholic hepatic cirrhosis Clin. Ther. 114:307.

Ferenci, P. et al. (1989) Randomized controlled trial of silymarin treatment in patients with cirrhosis of the liver. J. Hepat. 9:105.

Hruby, C. (1984) Silibinin in the treatment of Deathcap Fungus poisoning.; Forum 6:23.

Koch, HP et al. (1985) Silymarin: Potent inhibitor of cyclic AMP phosphodiesterase. Meth. Find. Espt. Clin Pharm. 7:409.

Mowrey, D. (1990) Guaranteed Potency Herbs. A Compilation of writings on the subject.

Mowrey, D. (1986) The Scientific Validation of Herbal Medicine. Cormorant Books.

Weiner, M. (1990) Weiner’s Herbal. Mill Valley: Quantum Books.

R.F. Weiss: Herbal Medicine. Beaconsfield Publishers Ltd, Beacons England, 1988, pp. 82-85.

A. Osol and G.E. Farrar, Jr., Eds.: The Dispensatory of the United States of America, 24th Ed. J.B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia, 1947, p. 1629.

H. Wagner and O. Seligmann: In Advances in Chinese Medicinal Maters Scientific Publishing Co., Singapore, 1985, pp. 247-256.

S. Foster: Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum, Botanical Series No. 305 American Botanical Council, Austin, Texas, 1991, 7pp.

Bundesanzeiger, March 13, 1986.

I. Merfort and G. Willuhn: Deutsche Apotheker Zeitung 125: 695 (1985).

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