All about milk thistle: benefits and contraindications

Все о расторопше: польза и противопоказания

Today’s article is devoted to milk thistle – a plant that has long been used in traditional medicine and is used in modern pharmaceuticals. The article discusses the beneficial properties of milk thistle, contraindications, recommended dosage, as well as treatment and dosage forms based on it.

Milk thistle: benefits and contraindications

Milk thistle (lat. Silybum marianum) is an annual or biennial plant of the Asteraceae (Asteraceae) family, which has a high value due to its medicinal properties. The aerial parts of milk thistle and its seeds contain biologically active substances. The main biologically active substances of milk thistle fruits are flavonolignans (1.5–3.0%), known collectively as silymarin. The main components of this complex are silybin, or silibinin (it accounts for 60–70%), silichristine (20%), silidianin (10%) and isosilybin (5%). Silymarin is determined in all parts of the plant, but in fruits its concentration is the highest.

Beneficial features

Hepatoprotective action: Silymarin promotes the regeneration of liver cells, protecting them from damage caused by toxins, alcohol, drugs and infections. Milk thistle is effective in the treatment of various liver diseases, such as hepatitis, cirrhosis, steatosis, etc.

Antihepatotoxic activity: prevents toxic liver damage. The detoxification properties of silibinin are explained by the fact that it enters into a competitive relationship with hepatotropic poisons for binding to hepatocyte receptors.

Antioxidant properties: silymarin improves the antioxidant protection of cells by binding free radicals, inhibiting lipid peroxidation processes and counteracting the depletion of glutathione stores. This action of milk thistle helps prevent premature aging of cells and the development of chronic diseases.

Anti-inflammatory effect: silymarin reduces the production of prostaglandins, leukotrienes and other inflammatory mediators, providing an overall anti-inflammatory effect on the body. Milk thistle can be used in inflammatory diseases of the liver and gallbladder, as it has a pronounced anti-inflammatory effect in the liver tissue, which is realized through various mechanisms.

Choleretic effect: silymarin stimulates the production and outflow of bile, which contributes to the normalization of liver and gallbladder function, prevents the formation of gallstones and the development of cholecystitis.

Lipid-lowering effect: milk thistle helps reduce cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood, which is the prevention of atherosclerosis, coronary heart disease and other cardiovascular diseases.

Antidiabetic action: Studies have shown that milk thistle can lower blood sugar levels and increase cell sensitivity to insulin.

Immunomodulatory effect: milk thistle helps to strengthen the immune system and increase the body’s resistance to infectious and viral diseases.

Oncoprotective effect: silymarin has anti-cancer properties. The anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and proapoptotic properties of milk thistle, together they represent a “functional triad” that allows you to counteract the emergence and progression of the mechanisms responsible for the growth and division of tumor cells.

Wound healing and anti-inflammatory effect on the skin: milk thistle tincture and oil can be used externally to treat various skin diseases.

Decongestant effect: milk thistle is characterized by a gentle diuretic effect of short action, therefore it helps to reduce edema and improve microcirculation, especially important in liver diseases accompanied by a violation of the outflow of fluid from tissues.

All of the above properties of milk thistle make it a valuable plant for use in folk and official medicine. Due to its wide spectrum of action and a relatively small number of contraindications, milk thistle for the liver and the health of the whole body is an effective and safe remedy.


Individual intolerance and allergies: Some people may have allergic reactions to milk thistle or its components. If you have allergic reactions to plants of the Asteraceae family (for example, dandelion, chamomile, ragweed), the use of milk thistle should be started with caution or completely abandon its use.

Pregnancy and lactation: the safety of milk thistle during pregnancy and lactation is not well understood. Although milk thistle is not a poisonous plant, doctors recommend avoiding its use during pregnancy and lactation to eliminate possible risks to the baby.

Cholelithiasis: In people with cholelithiasis, the choleretic effect of milk thistle can provoke displacement of stones and bouts of pain.

Acute hepatitis and cirrhosis of the liver: in acute inflammatory processes in the liver and in severe cirrhosis, the use of milk thistle may be limited. The doctor will determine how appropriate the use of milk thistle is in a particular case, based on the clinical picture and condition of the patient.

Children’s age: the safety and efficacy of milk thistle in children under 18 years of age have not been well studied. In this regard, the use of milk thistle for children should be carried out only under the supervision of a doctor who will determine the appropriate dosage and duration of administration.

It is important to remember that self-medication can be dangerous and ineffective, especially in the presence of serious diseases. Milk thistle, despite its beneficial properties, is not a panacea and cannot replace the complex treatment prescribed by a doctor. The use of milk thistle should be carried out reasonably, taking into account the recommendations of a specialist and possible contraindications.

Recommended dosage. How much and how to take?

The dosage and duration of milk thistle depend on the form of the drug and the purpose of use. As a prophylaxis, it is recommended to take 70-140 mg of silymarin per day for 4-6 weeks. In the case of treatment of liver disease, the dosage can be increased to 280-560 mg of silymarin per day for 3-6 months. Milk thistle preparations should be taken with food, washed down with water.

Milk thistle: side effects

In most people, the use of milk thistle in these doses does not cause side effects, since it is a safe and natural product. However, in rare cases, the following side effects may occur:

  • Allergic reactions: urticaria, itching, skin rash, swelling of the mucous membranes. If you are allergic to plants of the Asteraceae family, the use of milk thistle can cause similar reactions.
  • Digestive disorders: nausea, diarrhea, bloating, heartburn, or abdominal discomfort. These side effects usually occur when the recommended dose is exceeded or if you are intolerant.

If you notice any side effects when using milk thistle, be sure to consult your doctor. You may need to adjust your dosage or stop using milk thistle.

Treatment of milk thistle

Milk thistle is used in the treatment of the following diseases:

  • Liver diseases: cirrhosis, viral hepatitis, alcoholic hepatitis, steatohepatitis, toxic liver damage (drugs, industrial poisons, pesticides.
  • Diseases of the gallbladder and biliary tract: dyskinesia, cholecystitis, cholelithiasis.
  • Elevated levels of cholesterol and lipids in the blood.
  • Obesity and metabolic syndrome.

Dosage forms of milk thistle

The aerial parts of milk thistle are used for the production of various dosage forms, such as:

Tablets and capsules : contain a standardized dry extract of milk thistle, providing a certain amount of silymarin. They are used for the treatment and prevention of diseases of the liver and gallbladder.

Liquid extracts and tinctures: used for oral administration or for external use in the form of compresses and lotions for skin diseases and inflammatory processes.

Milk thistle oil: obtained from the seeds of the plant and used as a dietary supplement to improve metabolism and maintain liver health.

Milk thistle seed powder: can be used to make tea or add to culinary dishes.

Ready-made tea blends and herbal teas based on milk thistle : they have a tonic, choleretic and laxative effect, are used for diseases of the liver and gallbladder, as well as to cleanse the body of toxins.

In conclusion, I would like to note that milk thistle is a valuable plant with many useful properties and a wide range of applications. However, before using milk thistle-based drugs, it is recommended to consult a doctor who will determine the most appropriate form, dosage and duration of administration, taking into account the individual characteristics of the body and the presence of concomitant diseases.

Use milk thistle wisely, and it will become a reliable assistant in maintaining the health of your liver and body as a whole.

Frequently Asked Questions About Milk Thistle

What is milk thistle and what is it used for?

Milk thistle is a medicinal plant of the Asteraceae family, known for its hepatoprotective, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and other beneficial properties. It is used for the treatment and prevention of liver diseases.

What dosage forms of milk thistle exist?

Milk thistle is available in the form of tablets, capsules, oils, tinctures, powders and teas. The choice of dosage form depends on the patient’s preferences and the doctor’s recommendations.

How long can you take milk thistle?

The duration of milk thistle depends on the purpose of use, the form of the drug and the individual characteristics of the body. Some forms of milk thistle can be taken in courses lasting from 2 to 4 weeks with interruptions, while others can be used for a long time without interruption. The doctor will determine the optimal duration of admission, taking into account all factors.

What medications can milk thistle interact with?

Milk thistle can interfere with the activity of certain medications, especially those metabolized in the liver. This may include anticonvulsants, anticoagulants, statins, and certain antibiotics. If you are taking medication, consult your doctor before using milk thistle to avoid possible interactions and negative health effects.

Is there a specificity of the use of milk thistle by men and women?

In general, the specifics of the use of milk thistle by men and women does not have significant differences, and medicinal properties have a positive effect on the health of both sexes. However, there are a few aspects to consider:

  • Pregnancy and lactation: there is insufficient data on the safety of milk thistle during this period, and the possible effect on hormonal balance or increased contractile activity of the uterus.

Does milk thistle help with weight loss?

Milk thistle can help normalize metabolism, maintain liver health, and lower blood cholesterol levels, which may be beneficial for weight loss. However, milk thistle itself is not a means for weight loss and should be used in combination with proper nutrition, physical activity and a healthy lifestyle.

Can milk thistle be used to cleanse the body of toxins?

Yes, milk thistle helps cleanse the body of toxins due to its antioxidant, detoxifying and anti-hepatotoxic properties. It supports normal liver function and improves detoxification processes in the body. However, for effective cleansing of the body, it is also recommended to follow the correct diet, drink enough water and avoid bad habits.

How to store milk thistle and its preparations?

Milk thistle and its preparations should be stored in a dry, cool and dark place, away from direct sunlight and heat sources. It is also necessary to pay attention to the shelf life of the drugs and comply with the storage conditions indicated on the package.

Where can I buy milk thistle and its preparations?

Milk thistle and its preparations can be purchased in pharmacies, specialized stores with medicinal herbs, as well as in online stores. When buying, pay attention to the manufacturer, quality certificates and shelf life of the product.


  1. WHO monographs on selected medicinal plants (2002) Fructus Silybi Mariae. Volume 2. World Health Organization, Geneva, p. 300–316 (
  2. Kren V., Walterova D. (2005) Silybin and silymarin — new effects and applications. Biomed. Pap. Med. Fac. Univ. Palacky Olomouc Czech Repub., 149(1): 29–41.
  3. European Union herbal monograph on Silybum marianum (L.) Gaertn., fructus. EMA/HMPC/294187/2013.
  4. Luper S. (1998) A review of plants used in the treatment of liver disease: part 1. Altern. Med. Rev., 3(6): 410–421.

Author: Natalia Kandybey, Candidate of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Quality Director of the Pharmaceutical Factory “Viola”