Milk Thistle – The Ultimate Liver Antioxidant

The world is thriving and exploring new horizons in the realm of nature to get the best out of it. Despite medical and technological evolutions, the globe’s demand for herbs is soaring high and so the researches are being carried out to provide herbal medicine practitioners and people with the latest updates of the fashion regarding herbs usage and its adverse events.

Being around plant spirits has its own perks as it not only provides you with the latent knowledge but also gives the ability to use those magical powers for the welfare of living beings.

There is no better learning then learning from the woods itself. 

For several moons, researches have been sweating blood to come up with new inventions in the monarchy of herbs to equip the world against novel infectious agents.  

This green wave is taking the world by storm and all those herbs and plants that were once just a part of ancient pharmacopeias are now happily swinging along with their hybrids too for the prosperity of the globe.

Milk thistle is also a part of this wave that people cannot stop raving about. And those ravings are highly misleading sometimes. So we (the self-proclaimed herb specialist) are here to vanish all those misleading concepts to pop you on the precise path.

Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) belongs to Asteraceae family and is native to the whole world now. It is characterized by red to purple flowers with spike shaped petals that look dangerous and strong, and white-blotched leaves.

Health Benefits of Milk Thistle

Milk thistle seeds
serving size: 100gm

NameAmount Unit
Dietary fiber4g

Chemical Constituents

Chemical constituentsImportance
SilibininHepato-protective, chemoprotective, anti-inflammatory, protects against UV
FlavonolignansHepatoprotective, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anticancer, and cardioprotective activities.
PhenothiazineAnti-psychotic, anti-emetic, and anti-hiccup
ButyrophenoneAnti-psychotic and anti-emetic

Hepatoprotective Milk Thistle

The perks of milk thistle are well celebrated in the treatment of compromised liver. Several disorders can be attributed as a cause for liver dysfunctioning: alcoholic liver disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, hepatitis, liver cancer, and so forth.

Alcoholic liver disease comes into action there is excessive consumption of alcohol. Persistent over-consumption leads to the buildup of fat that further brings about inflammation and scarring. When microscopically viewed, fat globules can be clearly observed.

On the contrary, Non-Alcoholic Fatty liver is characterized by buildup of fat due to the cause that does not involve the idea of alcohol consumption. It is secondary to any primary disease like diabetes or metabolic syndrome.

Hepatitis, on the other hand, is yet another story that incorporates further classes: A, B, C, D and E. As the name indicates, it’s the inflammation of liver due to viral infection and the reason why this infection is classified into five different classes is because a distinct virus is responsible for each type to occur.

A brief description of viral hepatitis is given below for a better understanding. [5]

Hepatitis AHepatitis BHepatitis CHepatitis DHepatitis E
AgentHepatitis A Virus (HAV)Hepatitis B Virus (HBV)Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) Hepatitis D Virus (HDV) Hepatitis E Virus (HEV)
TransmissionFaeces, consumption of contaminated food and waterBlood, semen, milk and infected syringesInfected blood transfusionUntreated Hepatitis BConsumption of contaminated water and food

Milk thistle has actively been part of various clinical trials to prove its efficacy against liver diseases. Silymarin, active constituent of milk thistle, is employed to treat alcoholic liver disease, acute and chronic viral hepatitis and toxin-induced liver diseases. [6] Silymarin is comprises of silibinin, silydianin, and silychristin out of which silybin is the most abundant one is responsible for most of the biological activities. Silymarin is found in the entire plant but it is concentrated in the fruit and seeds. Silymarin acts as an antioxidant by reducing free radical production and lipid peroxidation, has anti-fibrotic activity and may act as a toxin blockade agent by inhibiting binding of toxins to the hepatocyte cell membrane receptors. [6] In addition, the activity of silymarin and silybin is oriented towards antagonism the progression of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease by inhibiting oxidative stress, insulin resistance, and fat accumulation in the liver and mitochondrial dysfunction. [7] Moreover, silibinin alone can combat chronic liver disease, cirrhosis, and hepatocellular carcinoma.

Furthermore, in amatoxin poisoning, a semi-purified fraction of milk thistle-derived silymarin was added in the regimen of two patients who reported with the poisoning. It proved to be hepatoprotective against the toxin. [8] Silibinin interacts with specific hepatic transport proteins blocking cellular amatoxin re-uptake and thus interrupting entero-hepatic circulation of the toxin. [9] Intravenous administration of silibinin in severely poisoned patients can reverse the condition effectively. [9]

When it comes to inflammation, that is the root cause of hepatitis, milk thistle does not back down. Instead, it bolts from the blue at the viral infection and shoos it away like a pro. Silibinin being an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anticancer agent combats efficiently by inhibiting different cell signaling pathways to alleviate liver disorders and even cancer. [10]

Another clinical trial proclaimed that silymarin is intelligent enough to increase the life expectancy of patients who are suffering from liver cirrhosis.

Bone protective

Reduction in density and quality of bones due to increased porosity is termed as osteoporosis. Bones become extremely fragile and the risk of fracture is multiplied by thousands upon small exertion.

The condition is asymptomatic, i.e. you don’t get to know about the condition until you experience your first fracture. 

A subtle symptom that osteoporosis gives away is the back pain but that too occurs due to fractured vertebra. So, basically, the condition still remains asymptomatic.

Osteoblast plays a chief role in maintaining the integrity of bone whereas osteoclasts are the bone nibblers. When there is a disturbance in their functioning osteoporosis kicks in. 

Milk thistle extract has been reported to be anti-osteoclastic. Silymarin-rich milk thistle extract improves the activity of osteoblast and reduces the activity of osteoclasts. [12] In a preclinical trial, upon administration of 10mg/kg of milk thistle extract, significant suppressive effects were seen in bone loss. [12]

Osteoporosis usually occurs in the race of females after menopause because of highly dropped levels of estrogen. This lack of insulin triggers resorption of bones i.e. the rate of formation of bones is fairly less than its disintegration.
Silymarin, however, has proved itself again as it modulates osteogenesis, prevents bone loss and is extremely beneficial when it comes to fracture healing. [13]

It wouldn’t harm to conclude that milk thistle can protect your bones even if they are not prone to osteoporosis due to its highly feasible mechanism of action. 


There are times when lactating mothers are not able to realize that their milk production is decreasing. Then again, little knowledge is of no use as it usually leads to misconceptions that prove to be highly risky for both mother and baby.

This condition can arise due to any of the following mishaps:

  • Inadequate milk-making ducts
  • Stress
  • Depression
  • Improper diet
  • Smoking cigarette
  • Alcoholism
  • High caffeine intake

A clinical placebo trial recruited fifty healthy lactating mothers. They received micronized silymarin (420mg/day) in comparison with a placebo. The trial was continued for sixty-three days after which the milk production increased up to 85.94% of the daily milk production whereas the placebo product showed increment of just about 32%. Without any reportage of adverse events, Silymarin is declared as one of the finest galactagogue of all times.

Fights Acne

Caring for your skin is a satisfaction in itself. It always feels good to have a perfect Korean skin to flaunt around. When you take your skincare time more as a pamper time rather than a chore, then you are surely doing a great job.

Perfectly hydrated skin is always ready to ward off any sort of infectious agents. The problem arises when your skin is not hydrated. Acne flares up when your skin is not able to produce enough oil and isn’t hydrated up to the mark.
Your body being your best friend, starts producing an excessive amounts of oil in response to dry skin. It takes dry skin as some sort of non-physiologic condition and responds through a negative feedback mechanism.
But this excessive oil proves to be a perfect environment for the incubation of bacteria. It grows, reproduces, and infects the skin resulting in clogged pores and acne formation.

However, its pathogenesis is multifactorial. Its outburst can be attributed to hormonal imbalance (specifically androgens), stress, improper diet, excessive oil production, clogged up pores, and bacterial invasion.

A study recruited 66 patients out of which 32 patients were of acne vulgaris while 34 patients were healthy and recruited in control. It was concluded that oxidative stress plays a major role in the outburst of acne. [14] Interestingly, another trial proved that intake of 210mg per day for 8 weeks portrayed 53% curtailment in break out of acne. [15]

Milk Thistle- Neuroprotective

Degeneration of neuron or nerve cells is irreversible. Neurodegenerative diseases are highly progressive diseases i.e. the condition worsens with the progression of time. The worsening of condition results in death of brain cells that ultimately proves to be fatal. 

The underlying cause of the death of brain cells is unknown and currently there is no cure to curtail the death rates. However, a reason that could be attributed to neurodegeneration is elevated oxidative stress.

Oxidative stress arises due to the birth of reactive oxidative species (ROS) i.e. free radicals in the body. The history of these free radicals is another story that needs to be understood before the action of milk thistle in managing the neurodegeneration.

Free radicals are highly unstable and have a true desire to complete their octet. To do so, they wander around to attain the electrons and become stable. But in their quest to become stable, they end damaging the cell from which it attained that electron. The higher the number of free radicals in the body, the more oxidative stress pours in that your body has to endure. This endurance never proves to be fruitful and results in end-organ damage.

Milk thistle is specially programmed by Mother Nature to combat these reactive oxidative species to protect against a plethora of diseases including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and cerebral ischemia. It is also reported to be endowed with auxiliary benefits by modulating various pathways such as β-amyloid aggregation, inflammatory mechanisms, cellular apoptotic machinery, and estrogenic receptor mediation. [16, 17, 18] 

All the aforementioned treatments that are combatted by milk thistle serve as a base for the formation of this blessed herb as a CNS drug in managing neurodegenerative diseases.

Milk Thistle- Amelioration of cancer treatment

The most sensationalized issue of the century in this day and age is prevailing immensely and allowing thousands of mortals to meet their fate.

The influence of the environment of the cell plays a key role in the development of cancer. These environmental factors (surrounding cells, extracellular matrix, and other features) are responsible for both genesis and progression of cancer.

For decades, this disease has been a hot commodity and a talk of the town. 

STAT 3 is of the essence when it comes to regulation of proliferation, invasion, migration, and angiogenesis in cancer metastasis. Silibinin shows significant anti-cancer effects in a variety of malignancies. [20] A recent study exhibits the activity of silibinin in downregulation of STAT 3 that opens the gate for the reversal of tumor and reduction in toxicity which comes about due to the treatment of cancer. [19] The trial also recruited cancer patients and received nutraceuticals products that incorporated silibinin. The results manifested prevention in the emergence of STAT3-mediated cancer drug resistance in clinical settings. [19]

Other vicious pathways that guide the way to bladder cancer can also be inhibited by the white magic of silibinin. It can suppress the levels of trimethylated histone H3 lysine 4 and acetylated H3 at the KRAS promoter, long non-coding RNA and other oncogenic factors that aid in the genesis of the proliferation of innumerable cancer.

Another study recruited flavonolignans as their constituent of interest and used it in the management of prostate cancer. [21] Flavonolignans reflected chemotherapeutic effects, chemopreventive effects, and hampered the progression of cancer cells proliferation in the patients. [21]

In conclusion, it would be an understatement to hail this singular purple bloom as a superhero in the world of herbs. Even its aura has seemingly endless perks, making it one of the most deserving herbs to slip in your daily routine because of the protective mechanisms that it carries out for the wellbeing of people around the globe.  


  2. Rottapharm|Madaus. Media Communications Legalon®. Retrieved March 6, 2017.
  3.  Sarubbo, F.; Ramis, M. R.; Kienzer, C.; Aparicio, S.; Esteban, S.; Miralles, A.; Moranta, D. (March 2018). “Chronic Silymarin, Quercetin and Naringenin Treatments Increase Monoamines Synthesis and Hippocampal Sirt1 Levels Improving Cognition in Aged Rats”. Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology. 13 (1): 24–38. doi:10.1007/s11481-017-9759-0ISSN 1557-1890PMID 28808887.
  4. Balouchi, Sima; Gharagozloo, Marjan; Esmaeil, Nafiseh; Mirmoghtadaei, Milad; Moayedi, Behjat (2014-08-01). “Serum levels of TGFβ, IL-10, IL-17, and IL-23 cytokines in β-thalassemia major patients: the impact of silymarin therapy”. Immunopharmacology and Immunotoxicology36 (4): 271–274.
  6. Abenavoli, L., Capasso, R., Milic, N. and Capasso, F., 2010. Milk thistle in liver diseases: past, present, future. Phytotherapy Research24(10), pp.1423-1432.
  7. Federico, A., Dallio, M. and Loguercio, C., 2017. Silymarin/silybin and chronic liver disease: a marriage of many years. Molecules22(2), p.191.
  8. Ward, J., Kapadia, K., Brush, E. and Salhanick, S.D., 2013. Amatoxin poisoning: case reports and review of current therapies. The Journal of emergency medicine44(1), pp.116-121.
  9. Mengs, U., Pohl, T. and Mitchell, T., 2012. Legalon® SIL: the antidote of choice in patients with acute hepatotoxicity from amatoxin poisoning. Current pharmaceutical biotechnology13(10), pp.1964-1970.
  10. Polachi, N., Bai, G., Li, T., Chu, Y., Wang, X., Li, S., Gu, N., Wu, J., Li, W., Zhang, Y. and Zhou, S., 2016. Modulatory effects of silibinin in various cell signaling pathways against liver disorders and cancer–A comprehensive review. European journal of medicinal chemistry123, pp.577-595.
  11. Vargas-Mendoza, N., Madrigal-Santillán, E., Morales-González, Á., Esquivel-Soto, J., Esquivel-Chirino, C., y González-Rubio, M.G.L., Gayosso-de-Lucio, J.A. and Morales-González, J.A., 2014. Hepatoprotective effect of silymarin. World journal of hepatology6(3), p.144.
  12. Kim, J.L., Kim, Y.H., Kang, M.K., Gong, J.H., Han, S.J. and Kang, Y.H., 2013. Antiosteoclastic activity of milk thistle extract after ovariectomy to suppress estrogen deficiency-induced osteoporosis. BioMed research international2013.
  13. Farhana Mohd Fozi, N., Mazlan, M., Nazrun Shuid, A. and Naina Mohamed, I., 2013. Milk thistle: a future potential anti-osteoporotic and fracture healing agent. Current drug targets14(14), pp.1659-1666.
  14. Sarici, G., Cinar, S., Armutcu, F., Altınyazar, C., Koca, R. and Tekin, N.S., 2010. Oxidative stress in acne vulgaris. Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology24(7), pp.763-767.
  16. Borah, A., Paul, R., Choudhury, S., Choudhury, A., Bhuyan, B., Das Talukdar, A., Dutta Choudhury, M. and Mohanakumar, K.P., 2013. Neuroprotective potential of silymarin against CNS disorders: insight into the pathways and molecular mechanisms of action. CNS neuroscience & therapeutics19(11), pp.847-853.
  17. Karimi, G., Vahabzadeh, M., Lari, P., Rashedinia, M. and Moshiri, M., 2011. “Silymarin”, a promising pharmacological agent for treatment of diseases. Iranian journal of basic medical sciences14(4), p.308.
  18. Devi, K.P., Malar, D.S., Braidy, N., Nabavi, S.M. and Nabavi, S.F., 2017. A Mini Review on the Chemistry and Neuroprotective Effects of Silymarin. Current drug targets18(13), pp.1529-1536.
  19. Bosch-Barrera, J., Queralt, B. and Menendez, J.A., 2017. Targeting STAT3 with silibinin to improve cancer therapeutics. Cancer treatment reviews58, pp.61-69.
  21. Vue, B. and Chen, Q.H., 2016. The potential of flavonolignans in prostate cancer management. Current medicinal chemistry23(34), pp.3925-3950.

1 thought on “Milk Thistle – The Ultimate Liver Antioxidant”

  1. Milk thistle kept me from pickling my liver when I lost my husband of 35 years to an car accident. No amount of alcohol takes that pain away but I sure tried, a handle in 3 days X months, years. Milk thistle has helped me get past that painful moments.

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