Top 7 Benefits of Milk Thistle – Backed by Science

Milk Thistle in Bowl

Milk thistle, blessed milkthistle, Marian thistle, Mary thistle, Saint Mary’s thistle, Mediterranean milk thistle, variegated thistle and Scotch thistle are all common names for Silybum marianum, is a species of thistle.

Milk thistle is an ancient plant with a pinkish purple flower that was used historically as medicine. Today, it’s a popular supplement for supporting liver health. The high levels of antioxidants, including the flavonoid silymarin responsible for many of milk thistle’s disease-preventing benefits. You can take milk thistle as a capsule or herbal extract, though you can also brew milk thistle tea. Here are five health benefits of milk thistle proven by research:

1. Supports Liver Health

As detoxifier of your blood, the liver is constantly processing toxins. These toxins can damage the liver if it’s not protected by antioxidants. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals, which are damage-causing molecules from toxins. Some antioxidants, such as glutathione, are produced naturally by your liver, though this production declines with age. In addition to supplying antioxidants itself, milk thistle has also been found to boost the liver’s own production of glutathione.

The most powerful active substance in milk thistle is silymarin — an antioxidant shown to protect liver cells against mutation and damage. It acts as a toxin blockade by preventing toxins from binding to receptors on liver cell membranes.[1] These findings suggest milk thistle could be a useful agent in helping to prevent liver cirrhosis, liver disease, and potentially liver cancer.

2. Protects the Aging Brain

Amyloid plaque buildup in the brain is the major cause behind the progression of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. As the brain ages, the natural detoxification mechanisms can fail to remove all the amyloid plaque buildup during sleep. Milk thistle may be able to help by reducing amyloid plaque in the brain, as it’s been shown to do in animal studies.[2]

While there are no human studies on milk thistle’s effects on people with neurodegenerative diseases, the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of milk thistle could assist in mitigating the effects of aging on the brain.

Milk Thistle Seeds

Traditional milk thistle extract is made from the seeds.

3. Supports Healthy Blood Sugar Levels

The active substance in milk thistle known as silymarin can also help control blood sugar levels. A review published in the Journal of Diabetes Research looked at five clinical trials involving 270 patients. It concluded that silymarin significantly reduces blood sugar levels and could potentially help diabetics and prediabetics with glycemic control.[3] Drinking milk thistle tea with a meal may help prevent blood sugar spikes, and supplementing with milk thistle regularly could lower your risk of developing diabetes.

4. May Help Fight Cancer

The silymarin in milk thistle may help in preventing the development of cancer. It works by supporting the body’s natural immune response against cancer cells and by directly inhibiting tumor growth. In test tube studies, silymarin has been shown to protect against breast, prostate, bladder, skin, colon, kidney, and lung cancers.[4] Human trials are lacking, but antioxidants like silymarin found in milk thistle show promise in research done outside the body.

5. Increases Breast Milk Production

Silymarin in milk thistle is a galactagogue, which means it increases the production and flow of breast milk in lactating mothers. In a 2-month study, mothers taking 420 mg of silymarin daily increased their breast milk production by 86% compared to mothers taking a placebo. The study also confirmed silymarin supplementation did not affect the quality of the milk supply, which means it’s a great remedy for lactating mothers struggling with low milk supply.[5]

6. Improves Acne

Acne treatments are typically topical products applied to the face. Interestingly, oral supplementation with milk thistle has been linked to improved acne symptoms. In one study on 56 patients, just eight weeks of milk thistle intervention reduced acne lesion count by 53%. The researchers attributed these results to the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of milk thistle.[6]

7. Supports Bone Health in Postmenopausal Women

Supplementing consistently with milk thistle could help menopausal and postmenopausal women prevent osteoporosis — the thinning of bone density that puts your bones at high risk of fracturing and breaking. Postmenopausal women are at the highest risk of osteoporosis because the loss of estrogen is linked to a loss of bone density.

The silymarin in milk thistle makes it a phytoestrogen, which means it acts on estrogen receptors and has estrogen-like effects when estrogen levels are deficient. In a mouse model of osteoporosis caused by estrogen deficiency, oral administration of milk thistle was found to reduce bone loss.[7]

Milk Thistle for Liver Health and Beyond

While milk thistle is best known for its liver health benefits, it’s also a natural remedy that can help with acne, low breast milk supply, high blood sugar, and potentially even age-related cognitive decline. Milk thistle also helps prevent cancer, osteoporosis in women, and illnesses of the liver. Some milk thistle supplements are concentrated in silymarin, while other capsules contain the whole powder ground. As with any herb, it’s important to stay within the recommended daily dose written on the product label.

Note that even natural substances can sometimes have adverse effects. To ensure your safety, it is essential to speak with a healthcare professional before using herbal products or supplements, especially if you have a medical condition, are taking other medications or supplements, or are pregnant.


  1. “Milk thistle in liver diseases: past, present, future” by Ludovico Abenavoli, Raffaele Capasso, Natasa Milic and Francesco Capasso, 7 June 2010, Phytotherapy Research.
    DOI: 10.1002/ptr.3207
  2. “Silymarin Attenuated the Amyloid β Plaque Burden and Improved Behavioral Abnormalities in an Alzheimer’s Disease Mouse Model” by Nakaba Murata, Kazuma Murakami, Yusuke Ozawa, Noriaki Kinoshita, Kazuhiro Irie, Takuji Shirasawa and Takahiko Shimizu, 23 November 2010, Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Biochemistry.
    DOI: 10.1271/bbb.100524
  3. “Silymarin in Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials” by Luminita Voroneanu, Ionut Nistor, Raluca Dumea, Mugurel Apetrii and Adrian Covic, 1 June 2016, Journal of Diabetes Research.
    DOI: 10.1155/2016/5147468
  4. “Silibinin – A Promising New Treatment for Cancer” by Catherine Wing Ying Cheung, Norma Gibbons, David Wayne Johnson and David Lawrence, 2010, Anti-Cancer Agents in Medicinal Chemistry.
    DOI: 10.2174/1871520611009030186
  5. “Clinical efficacy, safety and tolerability of BIO-C (micronized Silymarin) as a galactagogue” by Francesco Di Pierro, Alberto Callegari, Domenico Carotenuto and Marco Mollo Tapia, December 2008, Acta Biomedica Atenei Parmensis.
    PMID: 19260380
  6. “Effects of Oral Antioxidants on Lesion Counts Associated with Oxidative Stress and Inflammation in Patients with Papulopustular Acne” by Ahmed Salih Sahib, Haidar Hamid Al-Anbari, Mohammed Salih and Fatima Abdullah, 2012, Journal of Clinical & Experimental Dermatology Research.
    DOI: 10.4172/2155-9554.1000163
  7. “Antiosteoclastic Activity of Milk Thistle Extract after Ovariectomy to Suppress Estrogen Deficiency-Induced Osteoporosis” by Jung-Lye Kim, Yun-Ho Kim, Min-Kyung Kang, Ju-Hyun Gong, Seoung-Jun Han and Young-Hee Kang, 28 May 2013, BioMed Research International.
    DOI: 10.1155/2013/919374

This article is for informational purposes only and should not be considered as medical advice or a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. If you have any questions or concerns about your health, it is important to consult with a qualified healthcare provider.

14 Comments on "Top 7 Benefits of Milk Thistle – Backed by Science"

  1. Steve Nordquist | January 2, 2023 at 3:38 am | Reply

    That’ll get me planting wildflowers in a section of lawn. Neat.

  2. If you suffer from allergies Milk Thistle could make them worse.

  3. That IS NOT MILK THISTLE in Australia…!!!
    Milk Thistle has a Small Yellow Flower- and when you Pick it – a White Milk-Like Fluid comes out of the Stem…
    I know Milk Thistle – as I have been Feeding it to my Parrots for Decades – IT DOES NOT HAVE A PURPLE FLOWER…!!!

    • Why would a US site care what something is called on the bottom of the globe? No one cares bottom glober!! LOL, just kidding. I live in New England and we have a thistle that is like the one you described.,

    • I’m afraid the flower you are referring to is called Honeysuckle. I used to pick those regularly as a child and eat the sweet nectar from within.

    • diana buttigieg | January 19, 2023 at 12:44 pm | Reply

      Milk Thistle is every where milk thistle,dandelion is the one with yellow flower and fluid like milk.sometimes both herbs are sold together to feed the birds to clean the liver.

  4. T. K. Baumgardner | January 3, 2023 at 3:20 am | Reply

    People with history of breast or uterine cancer, or estrogen sensitive disorders, should NOT take Milk Thistle.

  5. No mention of silychristin induced MCHT-8 inhibition which leads to no thyroid hormones being able to enter the brain and the retardation it causes afterwards due to Milk Thisstle.

  6. Study references for this article are 10-15 years old! I would prefer some updated information before I take it

  7. So how do you know how much you need?

  8. Depending on the species of plant milk thistle is pinkish purple. Milk thistle definitely detoxifys the liver!

  9. When I was a kid someone told me milkweed will treat worts.i treated my words on the way home from school with some milk with in a month the worts got scraped off while playing.

  10. John macharia | March 5, 2023 at 2:55 pm | Reply

    Very very useful congratulations keep up

  11. John macharia | March 5, 2023 at 2:57 pm | Reply

    Very useful congratulations

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