Everything You Need to Know About Milk Thistle
Scientific Name: Silybum marianum (of the Asteraceae family)
Any Other Names: Mary thistle, Silymarin, Wild Artichoke
Primary Constituents: Bitter Principles, Flavonligans / Flavonoid (silymarin), Polyacetylenes
Country or Region of Origin: Native to the Mediterranean Region, Europe, and California
Known Uses: Depression, “Hangover Cure,” Liver Protectant & Liver Infection Treatment, Jaundice Treatment Anti-Allergenic, Hay Fever, and Increases Breast Milk Production
General History & Introduction
Milk Thistle is a spiny plant growing up to 5 feet tall with distinguishable white vein leaves and sprouting purple flowers (Chevallier, 2016). It is very prominent in open areas throughout the wild but is also cultivated ornamentally. The plant requires a lot of sun, though it is still a weed-like species, requiring little affection. The flower heads are typically in full bloom by mid-summer and the seeds are usually harvested before autumn. It has been used throughout Europe for its many health benefits for thousands of years. Most modern research (at least from the 1970s onward) has been focused on plant’s seeds and its constituent, silymarin (2016).
Nootropic Benefits of Milk Thistle
Europe was one of the first places Milk Thistle has been recorded for use as a treatment for depression (Chevallier, 2016). This herbal remedy has spread in modern times to the rest of the world, as clinical trials and studies back its traditional use. One very promising study proved that silymarin can have antidepressant effects, citing its antioxidant-capabilities as one of the leading contributing factors (Ashraf et al., 2019). This same study also credited the flavonoid’s depression-reducing power on its anti-inflammatory properties. Silymarin is also well known to increase neurogenesis in the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus, activities which are well-outlined treatments for depression (2019).
“Hangover Cure” and Liver Protectant*
Milk Thistle has been long revered for its potential to alleviate the symptoms of a hangover (Chevallier, 2016). Mostly this is because the herb exhibits pro-liver capabilities. In specific, the seeds contain a high content of silymarin, which is known for its liver protective properties (2016). There are cultures throughout Europe and Asia which have used Milk Thistle for its positive effects on the liver and hangover for thousands of years (Rainone, 2005).
There are some studies which have suggested that silymarin might be able to detox the body in regards to some compounds absorbed from alcohol (Vargas-Mendoza et al., 2014). There is also some research which inconclusively purport the herb might be able to disable inflammatory signals which are triggered by alcohol (Federico et al., 2017). Still, many sources believe the herb could have positive impact potential on liver damage (Achufusi & Patel, 2020). It has even been suggested that the herb has the potential to protect the liver from toxicity and to promote restorative action in liver function (Chevallier, 2016). It has even purportedly been used to treat hepatitis and liver cirrhosis (2016). Part of this magic can be traced to the herb’s ability to prevent free radical damage and stimulate fresh, new liver cells (Balch, 2010). One recent study certified a reduction in liver-related symptoms in patients suffering from a liver disease (2010).
*It is important to remember that the jury is still out on Milk Thistle’s ability to cure the hangover, and that empirical data is still being collected to firmly outline its potential as a liver protectant.
Possible Regulation of Hay Fever and Allergies
Hay fever, also known as allergic rhinitis, can be a result of oxidative stress (Bakhshaee et al., 2011). Milk Thistle provides natural antioxidant effects which can greatly reduce the symptoms of hay fever and seasonal allergies (2011). It is also worth mentioning that the herb can still have an allergen effect on some individuals (Wojas et al., 2020). Though the connection is still unproven, the herb’s known use for hay fever may relate to its innate anti-inflammatory properties (Achufusi & Patel, 2020).
Milk Thistle is traditionally famous for its ability to replenish individuals who have been suffering a vegetable deficit (Chevallier, 2016). It is also wonderful for women seeking to increase their breast milk production (although it is still recommended to approach a doctor before adding any supplement to a daily regimen, especially when pregnant or nursing). There are accounts of Milk Thistle having positive effects in treating jaundice (2016). One study showed the herb’s positive effects on the kidneys and gallbladder (Balch, 2010). The same study outlined Milk Thistle’s potential treatment capabilities for adrenal disorders, inflammatory bowel disorders, prostate cancer, and breast cancer (2010).
Dosing and Usage Information
The flower heads and fruits are used as a tonic in many recipes. And while they were traditionally boiled and consumed like artichokes, modern times have offered advanced extraction techniques (Chevallier, 2016). The seeds are usually used for their silymarin content, which as previously mentioned aids the liver. Sometimes decoctions or tinctures of the seeds are crafted, however, mostly Milk Thistle is used as a dietary supplement (2016). Milk Thistle supplements may contain extracts from the flower heads, the seeds, or both. Dietary supplements typically list a daily serving size of 400 to 1000 mg of Milk Thistle extract.
Milk Thistle is generally considered safe within established daily values. Although rare, there are some minor adverse effects for some individuals (Mulrow et al., 2000). These side effects may include allergies, bloating, diarrhea, flatulence, headache, insomnia, nausea, or skin irritation (2000).
Other Important Information
Although not constituted, Milk Thistle has been called the “best remedy that grows against all melancholy diseases” (Chevallier, 2016). Despite its ability to (in some cases) reduce inflammation or treat allergies, it is known to produce allergies in some rare cases, and an allergy for Milk Thistle should always be determined before introducing the herb into any diet or supplement stack (2016). The plant lacks water solubility, and thus makes for poor tea concoctions (Balch, 2010). This is the reason Milk Thistle is typically only consumed in capsule (extract) or food form.
Milk Thistle may not be the most exciting herb, but it is helpful and has been a part of holistic traditions for thousands of years. Some of the uses are supported with convincing empirical data, while some are not. Still, more research on Milk Thistle is always pouring in, and it is arguable to say that the herb holds some sort of medicinal value for sure and that it can be easily administered as a dietary extract. Besides offering purported liver protection, the herb also provides aid to depression, metabolism issues, and allergies (Chevallier, 2016). Milk Thistle is certainly worth further investigation, as well as celebrating for the profound benefits it does offer.
A Note from NooFiles
This article is intended to be used for information only. We want to remind you that consulting your physician is recommended before adding any dietary supplement of any kind to your daily regimen.
Achufusi, T., and Patel, R. (2020). Milk Thistle. StatPearls. Treasure Island, Florida. StatPearls Publishing. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK541075/
Ashraf, A., Mahmoud, P., Reda, H., Mansour, S., Helal, M., Michel, H., and Nasr, M. (2019). Silymarin and silymarin nanoparticles guard against chronic unpredictable mild stress induced depressive-like behavior in mice: involvement of neurogenesis and NLRP3 inflammasome. Journal of Psychopharmacology. Vol. 33(5). Pp. 615–631. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0269881119836221
Bakhshaee, M., et al. (2011). Effect of Silymarin in the Treatment of Allergic Rhinitis. Otolaryngology–head and neck surgery : official journal of American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. 145(9). Pp. 904. DOI: 10.1177/0194599811423504
Balch, P. (2010). Prescription for Nutritional Healing. Fifth Edition. Avery Publishing. New York, New York. ISBN 978-1-58333-400-3
Chevallier, A. (2016). Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine. Third Edition. DK Publishing. New York, New York. ISBN 978-1-4654-4981-8
Federico, A., Dallio, M., and Loguercio, C. (2017). Silymarin/Silybin and Chronic Liver Disease: A Marriage of Many Years. Molecules. Basel, Switzerland. Vol. 22(2). Pp. 191. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules22020191
Mulrow, C., Lawrence, V., Jacobs, B., et al., (2000). Milk Thistle: Effects on Liver Disease and Cirrhosis and Clinical Adverse Effects: Summary. AHRQ Evidence Report Summaries. Rockville (MD): Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (US). Vol. 21. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK11896/
Rainone, F. (2005). Milk thistle. Am Fam Physician. Vol. 72(7). Pp. 1285-8. PMID: 16225032.
Vargas-Mendoza, N., Madrigal-Santillán, E., Morales-González, A., Esquivel-Soto, J., Esquivel-Chirino, C., García-Luna Y González-Rubio, M., Gayosso-de-Lucio, J. A., and Morales-González, J. A. (2014). Hepatoprotective effect of silymarin. World journal of hepatology. Vol. 6(3). Pp. 144–149. DOI: https://doi.org/10.4254/wjh.v6.i3.144
Wojas, O., et al. (2020). A case of allergy to Silybum marianum (milk thistle) and Eragrostis tef (teff). Allergy, Asthma & Clinical Immunology. Vol. 16(23). DOI: 10.1186/s13223-020-00421-5