Natural Power of Milk Thistle: Detox, Glucose, and Liver Health Explained

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Milk thistle isn’t just another plant; it’s a versatile herb with a legacy that spans centuries for its medicinal properties. Today, modern science is catching up with tradition, offering evidence that supports its wide array of health benefits. From liver health to skin rejuvenation, this natural powerhouse may have a role to play in combating a variety of health issues. While more comprehensive studies are needed to confirm its efficacy, the preliminary research paints an encouraging picture.

If milk thistle supplements are right for you, this article will show you the best place to buy milk thistle online. Supplement-Sciences has partnered with Fullscript’s professional-grade supplement formulary to provide a 20% discount on every order, so you always have access to the highest quality supplements.

So whether you’re a healthcare professional or someone looking to optimize their health, understanding the potential benefits of milk thistle could be a game-changer.

What Is Milk Thistle?

Milk thistle is a plant with purple flowers and green leaves that have white veins. It is native to Europe and has been used in traditional medicine for thousands of years. The seeds of the milk thistle plant are the most commonly used part for medicinal purposes. They contain a group of compounds called silymarin, which is believed to have health benefits.

Milk thistle is often taken as a supplement to support liver health. It is thought to help protect the liver from damage and promote its healing. Some people also use milk thistle to help with digestion, lower cholesterol levels, and improve skin conditions. It is available in various forms, such as capsules, tablets, and liquid extracts.

What Are the Health Benefits of Milk Thistle?

  • Supports Liver Health: Milk thistle is known for its ability to help protect the liver from damage and promote healing by improving liver function. Researchers now suggest, “treatment with silymarin should be initiated as early as possible in patients with fatty liver disease and other distinct liver disease manifestations such as acute liver failure, when the regenerative potential of the liver is still high and when removal of oxidative stress, the cause of cytotoxicity, can achieve the best results.” [PMC7140758] Researchers found that “Silymarin improved ultrasound fatty liver grading and liver enzymes morbidly-obese patient candidates for bariatric surgery with NAFLD after only eight weeks.”[PMC9149185]
    • Increases Bile Flow: For centuries, milk thistle extracts have been used for liver and gallbladder issues, containing beneficial compounds called flavonolignans, notably silymarin. Milk Thistle increases bile flow and bile salt secretion. [PMID: 10692567]
  • Aids Digestion: Milk thistle may improve digestion by helping the liver produce more bile, which is necessary for breaking down fats. [PMID: 16611084]
  • Lowers Cholesterol: Some studies suggest that milk thistle can help lower cholesterol levels, which is good for heart health. [PMID: 30834633] “In clinical trials, the most important findings are improved (1) glycemic and (2) lipid profiles in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus and/or hyperlipidemia, while (3) the anti-hypertensive effects of silibinin/silymarin seem very modest.” [PMC9145573]
  • Improves Skin Health: Milk thistle has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that may help improve skin conditions, such as acne [PMID: 36204969] or eczema. [PMID: 26345246]
  • Boosts Antioxidant Levels: The silymarin in milk thistle has antioxidant properties, which can help protect the body from damage caused by free radicals. Silymarin acts as an antioxidant by reducing free radical production and lipid peroxidation, has antifibrotic activity and may act as a toxin blockade agent by inhibiting binding of toxins to the [liver] cell membrane receptors. [PMID: 20564545]
  • Reduces Inflammation: Milk thistle may help reduce inflammation in the body, which is linked to many chronic diseases. [PMID: 20471811]
  • Supports Weight Loss: Some evidence suggests that milk thistle can help with weight loss by improving liver function, which plays a role in metabolism. [PMID: 30015401]
  • Enhances Brain Function: Compounds in milk thistle have shown promise in protecting brain cells and could contribute to better cognitive function. [PMC6493565]
  • Boosts Immune Response: Milk thistle may strengthen the immune system, making it more effective in fighting off infections. [PMID: 28672215]
  • Improves Blood Sugar Control: Some studies indicate that milk thistle can help regulate blood sugar levels, which is beneficial for people with diabetes. [PMID: 29895491]
  • Detoxifies the Body: By supporting liver function, milk thistle aids in the detoxification process, helping to cleanse the body of harmful substances. It is often prescribed to help the liver in the processing of drugs prescribed to cancer patients. [PMC3098397]
  • Alleviates Allergic Reactions: The anti-inflammatory properties of milk thistle may reduce the symptoms of allergic reactions. [PMID: 21952357]
  • Protects Bone Health: Some research suggests that milk thistle can improve bone health by increasing bone mineral density. Researchers state, “Silymarin appears to play a crucial role to prevent bone loss and might regulate osteogenesis and may be beneficial for fracture healing.” [PMID: 24093748]
  • Fights Oxidative Stress: The antioxidant properties of milk thistle can combat oxidative stress, reducing the risk of chronic disease. Researchers found, “Silymarin supplementation improves some antioxidant indices (SOD, GPX and TAC) and decrease hs-CRP levels in Type 2 Diabetes patients.” [PMID: 25765835]
  • Promotes Healthy Skin: Beyond helping with specific skin conditions, the antioxidants in milk thistle can promote overall skin health. [PMID: 26345246]
  • May Help Prevent Cancer and Reduce Toxicity in Cancer Treatment: Although research is still in its early stages, some studies suggest that milk thistle has anti-cancer properties. Possible uses during cancer treatment include detoxification after chemotherapy and preventing liver damage during after chemotherapy. [PMID: 17548794]
  • Mold Toxicity: Research in animals shows milk thistle may protect the liver from liver damage caused by mycotoxins. [PMC9967284]

Why Your Liver Is So Important

Milk thistle works mainly to support the liver. To better understand the benefit of milk thistle, it helps to understand how the liver works as the critical hub for detoxification and bile production. Toxins come from normal metabolic processes as well as our air, food, and water. One of the most important things to understand about detoxification is that it doesn’t work well without the presence of many, many nutrients in adequate amounts. So eating well to get all these nutrients is key to liver detoxification.

Phase I. In detoxification, the liver uses a two-phase enzyme system to neutralize toxins. During Phase I, cytochrome P450 enzymes oxidize, reduce, or hydrolyze toxic substances to them more polar. These more polar molecules often become more reactive, so they need to be further processed by the Phase II enzymes. These more polar molecules are called “reactive intermediates”, and they are often even more toxic than the original toxin.

Nutrients required for Phase I: For optimal function in Phase I of liver detoxification, nutrients like B vitamins, particularly B2, B3, and B6, as well as antioxidant vitamins A, C, and E, and minerals like zinc and selenium are crucial.

Phase II. In Phase II, the liver attaches small molecules like glucuronic acid, amino acids, or sulfate to these reactive intermediates. This process, called conjugation, makes the toxins more water-soluble, so they can easily be excreted through urine or bile.

Nutrients required for Phase II: For Phase II of liver detoxification to run smoothly, amino acids such as glycine, taurine, and glutamine are key, along with sulfur-containing compounds found in garlic and onions. Folic acid, B12, and glutathione also play a vital role in this phase.

Then, there is bile production. The liver makes bile contains bile acids, which are needed to break down fats into tiny droplets so that they can be absorbed from the gut. The liver makes these bile acids from cholesterol and secretes them as bile, which gets stored in the gallbladder. When fatty foods are eaten, the gallbladder contracts, releasing bile into the small intestine. The bile acids then bind to fat, breaking it down into smaller droplets that can be digested by lipase enzymes.

But, let’s get back to milk thistle. By supporting the health of the liver, milk thistle can improve the liver’s ability to detoxify the constant barrage of toxins in our system and improve bile flow for better digestion.

Is Milk Thistle Safe?

  • Diabetes medications (e.g., insulin, metformin): Milk thistle may lower blood sugar levels, which could cause your blood sugar to drop too low when taken with diabetes medications.
  • Blood thinners (e.g., warfarin, aspirin): Milk thistle may increase the risk of bleeding when taken with blood thinners, though more research is needed to confirm this interaction.
  • Allergy medications (e.g., fexofenadine): Milk thistle may reduce the effectiveness of some allergy medications by affecting how they are broken down in the body.
  • Statins (e.g., atorvastatin, simvastatin): Milk thistle may interfere with how statins are processed in the body, potentially affecting their effectiveness.

Medication Interactions with Milk Thistle

  • Berberine: Milk thistle can affect liver enzymes that break down berberine, which may lead to increased levels of berberine in the body.
  • Dandelion root: Both milk thistle and dandelion root are used to support liver health, so taking them together may have additive effects.
  • Alpha-lipoic acid: Alpha-lipoic acid is another supplement known for its potential liver benefits. Combining it with milk thistle may enhance the overall liver-supporting effects.

Supplement Interactions with Milk Thistle

  • Anticoagulants: Milk thistle could affect blood clotting, interacting with supplements like ginkgo biloba or garlic that have similar effects.
  • Blood Sugar Modifiers: Supplements like cinnamon, fenugreek, or berberine that affect blood sugar might interact with milk thistle’s ability to also modulate glucose levels.
  • Liver-supporting Supplements: Ingredients like N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) and turmeric could have synergistic or antagonistic effects with milk thistle on liver health.
  • Immune Boosters: Echinacea, astragalus, and other immune-boosting supplements might have interactions, as milk thistle can also influence immune function.
  • Iron Supplements: Milk thistle can interact with iron metabolism, potentially affecting the efficacy of iron supplements.
  • Hormonal Supplements: Such as black cohosh or dong quai, may interact due to milk thistle’s possible estrogenic effects.

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Milk Thistle

  • Liver Support Formula*
  • With Artichoke & Dandelion

Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) has been used by traditional herbalists for centuries. Silymarin, an extract of milk thistle, is composed of a family of flavonoids, including Silybin, with smaller amounts of Silydianin and Silychristin. Milk thistle has been shown to support the production of glutathione by the liver.* Studies indicate that the constituents in Silymarin may help to support healthy liver function.* This vegetarian formula also includes extracts of Artichoke & Dandelion for additional support.

Suggested Use:
Take 1 capsule 1 to 3 times daily, or as directed by your healthcare practitioner.

Amount Per 1 Veg Capsule Serving
Milk Thistle Extract … 300mg*
(Silybum marianum)(Fruit/Seeds)
(Standardized to 240mg Silymarin Flavonoids – equivalent 80%)
Dandelion Root … 100mg*
(Taraxacum officinale)
Artichoke … 50mg*
(Cynara scolymus)(Leaf)

Food Sources of Milk Thistle

Milk thistle is not typically found in common foods that we eat daily. It is a plant that is primarily used for its medicinal properties rather than as a food source. Instead, milk thistle is mainly available in various supplement forms, such as capsules, tablets, liquid extracts, powders, and teas. These supplements are made using the seeds of the milk thistle plant.

To Sum It Up

Milk thistle has been a subject of interest for its liver-protective qualities. Studies show that its active component, silymarin, may help protect the liver from toxins and even help in liver regeneration. Some evidence also suggests that milk thistle can improve blood sugar control and offer anti-inflammatory benefits. While research continues, milk thistle remains a widely used supplement for liver health and beyond.

This Article is Not a Substitute for Medical Advice

Dietary supplements are not designed to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The Supplement Sciences website seeks to provide comprehensive access to the most relevant supplement information along with convenient online ordering. We do not provide medical advice and cannot guarantee that every product suggested is completely without risk. Since each person is unique in their health history and medication use, it is important to discuss supplements with your personal physician. Specifically, pregnant women and individuals being treated for cancer or liver or kidney problems must consult their physician about every nutritional supplement they plan to take. People taking medications for the treatment of HIV or with a history of organ transplant must not take supplements without consulting with their physician.

About the Author

Stephanie Figon, MS, RDN, LD

Creator of Supplement Sciences and NutriScape.NET. As a dietitian since 1992, Steph has had experiences in consulting, 15 years in clinical, and has operated a private practice nutrition counseling office for since 2011. Log in to comment and save this article on your board or send your comments to

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