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Milk Thistle

Milk Thistle for Healthy Liver Function

What Is Milk Thistle?

Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) is a flowering herb that has been consumed as an herbal remedy for a wide range of health problems—especially those affecting the liver, kidneys, and gall bladder—for more than two millennia.

Although high-quality, well-designed studies of milk thistle are relatively limited, research suggests that taking a milk thistle supplement can benefit liver health, among many other potential health benefits.

What Are the Active Ingredients in Milk Thistle?

The active ingredients in milk thistle are a set of plant compounds (otherwise known as a “flavonoid complex”) called “silymarin.”


The benefits of milk thistle can be attributed largely to silymarin, which comprises three isomer flavonolignans (silybin, silydianin, and silychristin) and is particularly concentrated in the plant’s fruit and seeds.


Milk thistle is considered to have powerful antioxidant properties thanks to its high silymarin content. Silymarin has been shown to reduce production of free radicals and lipid peroxidation, which means it may protect the body against oxidative stress and free radical-related illnesses like cancer and cardiovascular disease.


High concentrations of silymarin also make milk thistle an anti-inflammatory herb, which may be especially useful for treating inflammation of the liver (also known as hepatitis).

How Does Milk Thistle Help Your Liver?

Supplementing with milk thistle for liver health and protection is this herb’s most common use. Many people take milk thistle for fatty liver disease, alcoholic liver disease, hepatitis, and liver cancer. For instance, one study found that the herb can increase life expectancy in those with alcoholic liver disease-related cirrhosis.

Milk thistle supplementation can also help to protect the liver from exposure to toxins like the deadly amatoxin, which is found in the death cap mushroom.

A comprehensive review of the properties of silibinin, which is derived from milk thistle, shows that the compound has demonstrated “promising effects against liver disorders,” both in vitro (i.e., in a lab dish or test tube) and in vivo (i.e., in living organisms like animals and humans).

However, scientists will need to do more studies to confirm milk thistle’s mechanism of action—in other words, how exactly milk thistle benefits the liver. At present, the most promising theories suggest that milk thistle reduces damage caused by the free radicals that the liver produces as a byproduct of toxin metabolism. In addition, researchers have not yet been able to show that milk thistle extract can prevent liver diseases.

How Long Should You Take Milk Thistle to Detox Liver?

Although the answer to this question depends on how much milk thistle you’re taking per day, the Cleveland Clinic writes that taking up to 700 mg of milk thistle three times per day for a period of 24 weeks is safe.

How Much Milk Thistle Should You Take?

It depends on what you’re taking milk thistle for. For liver disorders, 200 to 400 mg per day of silymarin is thought to be an effective dose.

What Are the Side Effects of Milk Thistle?

Side effects of milk thistle are uncommon and rarely severe, but can include:

  • Gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea, diarrhea, and bloating
  • Itching
  • Headache
  • Joint pain

How Does Milk Thistle Interact with Other Medications?

Because milk thistle can interact with other medications, you should ask your doctor before incorporating milk thistle into your daily supplement regimen. Here are some of the medications that milk thistle has been shown to interact with (keep in mind that this is an incomplete list):

  • Diabetes medications
  • Hepatitis C medications
  • Sirolimus
  • Warfarin
  • Diazepam
  • Metronidazole

What Are the Other Health Benefits of Milk Thistle?

In addition to its liver health benefits, milk thistle is a promising remedy for a host of other health concerns:

Brain Function

As an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, milk thistle may be neuroprotective, helping to prevent the mental decline associated with aging. It may even help to treat Alzheimer’s.

Bone Health

Animal studies show that milk thistle could have protective effects against bone loss, which could make it a useful treatment for osteoporosis (low bone density).

Breast Milk Production

There is only one clinical study of the effects of milk thistle on breast milk production, which showed that mothers who took silymarin produced 64 percent more milk than mothers who didn’t.

Treat Acne

One study showed that taking silymarin reduced acne lesions by an average of 53 percent after eight weeks, but more research is needed to confirm these dermatological benefits.

Regulate Blood Sugar

Milk thistle can help to regulate blood sugar levels in those with diabetes, reducing their fasting blood sugar levels and HbA1c, but more research will be needed to confirm its efficacy.

Who Shouldn't Take Milk Thistle?

According to Mount Sinai, the following groups should not take milk thistle:

  • Pregnant or breastfeeding women
  • Anyone with a history of hormone-related cancers (e.g., uterine, breast, or prostate cancer)
  • Anyone with endometriosis or uterine fibroids
  • Those allergic to other plants in the Asteraceae family, such as ragweed, daisies, marigolds, or chrysanthemums

How Do You Take Milk Thistle?

There are countless liver health supplements on the market that contain milk thistle—with so many options to choose from, what’s the ideal way to consume this beneficial herb?

The Best Milk Thistle Supplement: Capsulyte PREGAME

Carefully formulated by internal medicine physician and pharmaceutical management consultant Dr. Dan Nguyen, Capsulyte’s PREGAME supplement works to actively target the three root causes of hangovers: nutrient depletion, GABA rebound (when GABA levels plummet after drinking), and acetaldehyde buildup. PREGAME features the highly bioavailable, milk thistle-derived Siliphos®, which was developed expressly to support liver function and is backed by peer-reviewed studies.

In addition to Siliphos®, PREGAME contains other liver-supporting compounds, including dihydromyricetin (DHM) (which supports the liver and helps the brain manage GABA rebound), Clovinol® (which is made from clove buds and helps the liver eliminate acetaldehyde), and N-Acetyl Cysteine (a potent antioxidant with numerous liver health benefits).


PREGAME is designed to be taken before you start drinking to help your body combat the negative effects of alcohol. For more info on Capsulyte’s benefits, visit the Capsulyte blog.