Milk Thistle


Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum) is a plant species belonging to Asteraceae family. It has been known as one of the most effective herbs for liver cleansing and gall-bladder diseases. Its hepatoprotective and liver cleanser effect is medically approved and proved. Milk Thistle was awarded the ‘Herb of the Year’ in 2013 by the Herb Section of the Hungarian Society for Pharmaceutical Sciences.

The first records of the plant come from Pedanios Dioskorid (around 40-90 BC), a Greek military doctor who recommended it against snake bites. Its healing effects were known in the Middle Ages. It was already used as a liver cleanser during that time. Among the Indian tribes, it was also used for the treatment of Milk Thistle boils and other skin problems.


About the plant

It is a perennial plant belonging to Asteraceae family, which primarily grows in the Mediterranean areas of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East in the wild. It mostly occurs on pastures, meadows and along roads as its natural habitats. It is characterized by its lively purple-coloured, tubular flower with a characteristic spin on its 1.5-2 meter high. Its leaves are white marbled, and its yield is 6-7 mm long, with an achene on one end. This part of the plant is used for medical purposes, but in the folk medicine its leaf is also used.

Nowadays, it is a worldwide known herb produced in several countries. The crop of Milk Thistle is officially registered in the European Pharmacopoeia. In Hungary, it serves as a base for a number of medicines, herbal products and dietary supplements.


Its active ingredient

Its yield is the part of the plant for medical purposes, which contains 15 – 30% of fatty oil (linolenic acid and oleic acid), 20-30% protein. Of its active ingredients, the flavonolignan complex called silimarin should be highlighted, which is the most valuable ingredient and the yield and it is approximately 2-3% of the yield. It also contains steroids.


Its beneficial effects

Preparations made by the appropriate technology are used to prevent acute and chronic liver damage and to mitigate the potential for various causes.

Its highly valuable and safely used effect in the therapy supporting silimarin antioxidant, membrane protective and protein synthesis is backed by several clinical studies in addition to the experiences in its traditional use. Silimarin in Milk Thistle reacts with liver cell receptors; therefore it slows down the uptake of substances that have toxic effect on the liver. Certain degradable substances in the liver, alcohol consumption and some environmental poisons also induce reactive substances with oxygen content, so called free radicals and damage cells in an oxidative way. Due to the chemical structure of silimarin, it is able to bind free radicals that cause damage.

In the already damaged cells, silimarin enhances protein synthesis and normalizes phospholipids metabolism, thus stabilizes the cell membrane and prevents access to certain cells of the liver (e.g., killer gall bladder.

In the case of mushroom poisoning, the silimarin, which is the main active ingredient of Milk Thistle, is injected intravenously to the patient’s body by which mortality by poisoning can be reduced.·         Alcoholic liver disease (liver cirrhosis) improves liver function, including survival rates.·         It has a beneficial effect on liver function in viral hepatitis, which may mitigate liver damage as an additional treatment

Milk Thistle extract is most commonly used for the following conditions

acute or chronic hepatitis
treatment of liver cirrhosis
in case of excessive alcohol consumption
in case of liver damage caused by chemicals and medicines
as a treatment of fatty liver
in case of persistent drug consumption (helps in the removal of drug residues from the body).


Mahmood Bahmani, Hedayatollah Shirzad, Samira Rafieian, Mahmoud Rafieian-Kopaei (2015): Silybum marianum: Beyond Hepatoprotection. Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine Volume: 20 issue: 4, pp: 292-301.

Janice Post-White, Elena J. Ladas, Kara M. Kelly (2007): Advances in the Use of Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum). Integrative Cancer Therapies Vol 6, Issue 2, pp. 104 – 109.

Scott J. Brantley, Nicholas H. Oberlies, David J. Kroll and Mary F. Paine (2010): Two Flavonolignans from Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum) Inhibit CYP2C9-Mediated Warfarin Metabolism at Clinically Achievable Concentrations. Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics March 1, 2010, 332 (3) 1081-1087; DOI:

Bijak, M. (2017): Silybin, a Major Bioactive Component of Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum L. Gaernt.)—Chemistry, Bioavailability, and Metabolism. Molecules 2017, 22, 1942.

Csupor D. – Szendrei K.: Gyógynövénytár – Útmutató a korszerű gyógynövény-alkalmazáshoz, Budapest, 2012, Medicina Kiadó.