Medicinal Plants

Milk Thistle (Silybum Marianum)

Milk thistle, or Silybum Marianum, is a commonly used herbal medicine in the management of several disorders. Milk thistle is a weed, which grows commonly in California and other parts of the world having a warm climate. The extract of this herb is used to reap its cell regenerating benefits.

It possesses potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It helps to detoxify the body, especially the blood and liver. Milk thistle is considered a hepatoprotective herb. It helps in the management of liver disorders by protecting it against the effect of toxins.

It stimulates the enzyme formation, increases the bile production, decreases inflammation, and soothes the mucous membranes. It acts as a cholagogue agent and increases the flow of bile from the gallbladder. The demulcent action of this herb helps to soothe the mucus membranes in the body affected due to the inflammatory changes. It also acts as a galactagogue and promotes the flow of milk.

It can be used in the treatment of cancer. The use of Milk Thistle is also beneficial in the management of hepatitis.

Phytochemistry (Chemical Composition)

Milk thistle contains several phytochemicals such as flavonolignans, silybinin, silymarin, isosilibinin, betaine, silymarin, silychristin, and silydianin. It also offers a rich source of flavonoids.

A traditional milk thistle extract obtained from its seeds contains approximately 4 to 6% of silymarin. It is a complex mixture of several polyphenolic molecules that includes seven flavonolignans (isosilybin A, isosilybin B, silybin A, silybin B, isosilychristin, silychristin, and silydianin) and a flavonoid (taxifolin). The milk thistle extract consists of 20 to 35% of fatty acids including linoleic acid.

Milk thistle also contains other important nutrients such as vitamin E and vitamin C. It also contains a high amount of lipophilic compounds that act as a bioflavonoid antioxidant.

Milk Thistle Benefits and Uses

Milk Thistle is commonly used in the treatment of liver disorders. It can help in the management of cirrhosis of liver and hepatitis. The use of this herb is recommended for the patients suffering from cancer.

Liver Cirrhosis

Milk Thistle can be used in the management of several liver disorders such as cirrhosis. It acts as a hepatoprotective agent and prevents damage to the liver cells.

Cirrhosis is a chronic liver condition that develops due to the formation of a scar tissue in the liver, which replaces the normal, healthy hepatic tissues. It occurs due to the damage to the healthy hepatic cells over a long period of time. The common causes of this condition are chronic alcoholism and prolonged exposure to toxins. It may also occur due to the inflammation of the liver following bacterial or viral hepatitis, and the use of hepatotoxic medications.

The scar tissue reduces the ability of the liver to function optimally and makes the organ hard and lumpy. As the disease progresses, hepatic failure may set in.

The common symptoms of cirrhosis include jaundice or yellowish discoloration of the skin, recurrent episodes of nausea and vomiting, pain in the abdomen, constipation or diarrhea, and loss of appetite. There may also be an enlargement of the liver in the initial stages of cirrhosis. However, as the disease progresses the liver shrinks in size.

Milk Thistle helps to treat cirrhosis by acting as an anti-inflammatory and hepatoprotective agent. It relieves the symptoms of this disease and prevents its progression. Milk thistle can also be used to prevent the complications of cirrhosis such as hepatic failure, and liver carcinoma.

How Does Milk Thistle Work in cirrhosis?

Milk Thistle possesses hepatoprotective properties. It protects the liver cells against the damage caused due to chronic alcoholism and toxins. The active complex of this herb is a lipophilic extract obtained from the seeds of the plant. It is composed of 3 isomer flavonolignans including silybin, silychristin, and silydianin that are collectively called Silymarin.

Silymarin acts as an antioxidant and reduces the free radical production in the body. It also inhibits lipid peroxidation. This helps to prevent the oxidative degradation of the lipids thus preventing the damage to the hepatic cells. It also helps to inhibit the free radical chain reaction mechanism.

These actions of Milk Thistle help in preventing the progress of cirrhosis. Silymarin in Milk Thistle also produces an antifibrotic activity. This helps to prevent the scarring within the liver tissues. This action is beneficial in the prevention of cirrhosis.

Milk Thistle also acts as a toxin blockade agent and inhibits the binding of toxins to the cell membrane receptors on the hepatic cells. This action offers protection to the liver cells from the effect of toxins in the body.

Additionally, Milk Thistle can also help to reduce the risk of diseases that can lead to cirrhosis such as alcoholic hepatitis, viral hepatitis, and toxin-induced liver diseases.

It acts as a powerful detoxifier and helps to rebuild the liver cells. It removes the harmful toxins from the body, which are processed through the liver. It is effective at reversing the damaging effects of pesticides in our food supply, and heavy metals in the water supply, thus preventing the occurrence of cirrhosis.

Research studies for the use of Milk Thistle in Cirrhosis

The beneficial effect of Milk Thistle in the management of Cirrhosis was investigated during research. A trial was conducted on the patients with alcoholic or nonalcoholic cirrhosis. The patients were administered Milk Thistle. The trial showed that this herb could improve the survival rate of the patients suffering from this disease. (1)


Milk Thistle is commonly used in the management of infective and inflammatory disorders of the liver such as hepatitis. It can be used to treat viral hepatitis caused due to hepatitis A, B, and C viruses. It can also help to reduce the symptoms of bacterial hepatitis. Patients suffering from alcoholic hepatitis can also benefit from the use of this herb.

How Does Milk Thistle Work in Hepatitis?

Milk Thistle helps in the management of infective hepatitis by producing an antibacterial and antiviral action. It helps to destroy the bacteria and viruses responsible for causing the infections.

It also acts as an antioxidant and prevents the free radical damage to this organ. Milk thistle can reduce the effect of toxins and alcohol on the liver. This helps to reduce their risk of alcoholic hepatitis. The hepatoprotective effect of this herb is beneficial in preventing damage to the liver caused due to the side effects of some medications and additives and preservatives in the food.

It stimulates the enzyme formation in the liver thus restoring its normal functions. It also increases the bile production and regulates the activities of the liver and gall bladder. It produces an anti-inflammatory action, which helps to promote the healing of the damaged hepatic tissues.

Research studies for the use of Milk Thistle in Hepatitis

Research conducted to investigate the effect of Milk Thistle in the management of hepatitis has shown encouraging results.

It was found that Silymarin obtained from Milk Thistle could improve the liver functions in the patients infected with the hepatitis C virus. The study was aimed at assessing the efficacy and safety of this herb in the management of hepatitis C. The effects of this herb on the serum hepatitis C virus RNA, liver fibrosis and serum aminotransferases (AST, ALT) levels were evaluated. The overall well-being of the patients suffering from this disease following the administration of Milk Thistle was also assessed.

The study was conducted on 55 patients diagnosed with hepatitis C. The participants were administered 630 mg of Silymarin per day for 24 weeks.

The results of this study showed a statistically significant difference in the mean ALT and AST levels before and after the treatment. At the end of the research, nine patients were tested negative for HCV-RNA. An improvement in the liver fibrosis markers was also noticed. A positive change in the overall quality of the life of patients was also observed. There was also an improvement in the serum aminotransferases (AST, ALT), and serum HCV-RNA titer.

This study indicated that the use of Milk Thistle could be beneficial in the management of hepatitis C. (2)

Milk thistle for Cancer

The use of Milk Thistle can be beneficial in the management of cancer. It can reduce the progress of cancer. Milk Thistle has been found to improve the chances of recovery of the patients suffering from this disease. It helps in treating the cancer of the breast, ovaries, liver, colon, and the bladder. It can also be used to reduce the risk of melanoma, which is a form of skin cancer.

Milk Thistle can reduce the growth and spread of cancer. It can also prevent the multiplication of the abnormal cancer cells. A regular use of this herb in conjunction with the conventional modes of treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy is recommended to ensure complete recovery of the patients. It can also help to prevent cancer by detoxifying blood and eliminating the carcinogenic agent from the body.

How Does Milk Thistle Work in Cancer?

Milk Thistle helps in treating cancer by producing a cytoprotective activity. This action of Milk Thistle can be attributed to the presence of silybin in it. The cytoprotective action is related to the antioxidative or radical-scavenging effect produced by this herb. It also causes specific receptor interaction and induces modulation of certain cell-signaling pathways such as NF-kappa B. It can cause suppression of the IGF-receptor signaling and EGFR-MAPK/ERK1/2 signaling.

Silymarin present in Milk Thistle possesses anti-angiogenic property. It prevents the formation of new blood vessels in the tumor mass. This results in the starvation of the abnormal cancer cells as the supply of oxygen and nutrients to them is affected. This results in an inability of the cancer cells to survive thus leading to their destruction.

The anti-angiogenic activity of this herb is evident in the human umbilical vein endothelial cells in a dose-dependent manner. It works by decreasing the secretion of vascular endothelial growth factor and matrix metalloproteinase-2.

Milk Thistle can also be used as an adjuvant treatment along with the use of chemotherapeutic agents. It acts as a hepatoprotective agent and prevents damage to the healthy hepatic cells against the oxidative stress induced by the chemotherapeutic agents.

Research studies for the use of Milk Thistle in Cancer

The anti-cancer potential of Milk Thistle was evaluated during research. The study was focused on investigating the usefulness of Milk Thistle in the management of hepatocellular carcinoma. The efficacy of Silibin present in this herb against the human hepatocellular carcinoma cells was studied.

The effect of Silibinin on the growth, apoptosis, cytotoxicity, and cell cycle progression was examined in two HCC cell lines, Hep3B (hepatitis B virus positive with p53 mutated) and HepG2 (hepatitis B virus negative with p53 intact). The cell cycle effect of Silibinin was assessed by in-bead kinase and immunoblotting assays at the molecular level.

The results of this study indicated that Silibinin could strongly inhibit the growth of HepG2 and Hep3B cells. It was also found to exert a relatively stronger cytotoxic effect on the Hep3B cells that was associated with the induction of apoptosis.

The G1 arrest was found to be induced in the HepG2. Silibinin also caused G1 and G2-M arrest in the Hep3B cells. In Hep3B cells, the protein level of G2-M regulators was reduced. Silibinin strongly inhibited CDC2, CDK2, and CDK4 kinase activity in the cancer cells.

These results confirmed the biological efficacy of Milk Thistle that could help in the treatment of hepatocellular carcinoma. (3)

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Dr. Jagdev Singh

Dr. Jagdev Singh is a qualified Ayurvedic Practitioner and Herbalist with B.A.M.S. and M. Sc. in Medicinal Plants. He has a wealth of experience in using Ayurveda to treat patients, including the use of herbal medicine and personalized Ayurvedic diets. His passion for spreading accurate and scientific information about Ayurveda and Medicinal Plants led him to create Ayur Times, a trusted resource for those seeking reliable information on the topic. Through his dedicated work, Dr. Singh has helped thousands of patients find relief and improve their health with Ayurveda and Herbal Medicine.

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