Tell me about...
What is milk thistle?
Originally from the Mediterranean, milk thistle is now found
throughout the world, especially the eastern United States
and California. The plant can grow as tall as 10 feet, with
broad, wavy leaves; red-purple flowers; and brown, shiny fruit.
Milk thistle products are made from the seeds inside the
fruit. These seeds contain a bioflavonoid complex known as
silymarin, which provide most of the plant¹s medical benefits.
Silymarin is made up of three parts: silibinin, silidianin,
and silicristin. Silibinin is the most active part and is
largely responsible for the benefits attributed to silymarin.
Why do we need milk thistle? What
is it used for?
The use of milk thistle can be traced back more than 2,000
years, where it was used by early physicians as a remedy for
snakebites and jaundice. It was also used by nursing mothers
to promote the production of milk.
Placebo-controlled, double blind studies have shown milk
thistle extracts to be effective in patients with cirrhosis
of the liver, chronic hepatitis and some types of diabetes.
Milk thistle also alters bile makeup, which can potentially
reduce the risk of gallstones. Other conditions that can be
helped by milk thistle include psoriasis, eczema, skin burns,
wounds and sores.
How much milk thistle should I take?
Although a recommended daily allowance has yet to be determined,
many health experts recommended a dosage of 1-4 grams of dried
fruit (seeds) per day; patients can also take a protective
dose of 120mg of silymarin daily. For liver disease and impaired
liver function, some doctors of natural medicine suggest 420mg
of silymarin per day from an herbal extract of milk thistle
standardized to 7080% silymarin content. Improvement should
be noted between 8-12 weeks; once that occurs, intake may
be reduced to 280mg of silymarin per day for preventive measures.
What forms of milk thistle are available?
Dried milk thistle is readily available in capsule form.
Extracts and tinctures of milk thistle can also be found at
most health stores. In addition, milk thistle seeds can be
ground and eaten or made into a tea.
What can happen if I take too much
milk thistle? Are there any interactions I should be aware
of? What precautions should I take?
No toxicity has been reported with milk thistle. However,
because it can cause increased bile flow and secretion, milk
thistle may have a mild laxative effect. In those instances,
dietary fiber (in the form of guar gum, psyllium, oat bran
or pectin) can be taken to stop loose stools or stomach discomfort.
Other Resources :
More You Know About Nutrition
1. Brown DJ. Herbal Prescriptions for Better
Health. Rocklin, CA: Prima Publishing, 1996, 15158.
2. Ferenci P, Dragosics B, Dittrich H, et al. Randomized controlled
trial of silymarin treatment in patients with cirrhosis of
the liver. J Hepatol 1989;9:10513.
3. Lirussi F, Okolicsanyi L. Cytoprotection in the nineties:
Experience with ursodeoxycholic acid and silymarin in chronic
liver disease. Acta Phys Hungarics 1992;80:14.
4. Velussi M, Cernigo AM, Viezzoli L, et al. Silymarin reduceshyperinsulinemia,
malondialdehyde levels and daily insulin need in cirrhotic
diabetic patients. Curr Ther Res 1993;S3:S3345.
5. Pares A, Plancs R, Torres M, et al. Effects of silymarin
in alcoholic patients with cirrhosis of the liver: results
of a controlled, double-blind, randomized and multicenter
trial. J Hepatol 1998;28:61521.
6. Nassuato G, Iemmolo RN, et al. Effect of silibinin on biliary
lipid composition. Experimental and clinical study. J Hepatol
7. Palasciano G, Portinascasa P, et al. The effect of silymarin
on plasma levels of malondialdehyde in patients receiving
long-term treatment with psychotropic drugs. Curr Ther