With so much misinformation about milk thistle out there it is important to focus on the known benefits along with potential risks. The scientific name of milk thistle is Silymarin Marianum and it is a member of the daisy family. People wonder if they should be taking milk thistle on a daily basis and for most the answer is likely no.
- Milk thistle was originally used to help milk production in lactating women, which is where the name comes from.
- Evidence does exist that milk thistle may be hepatoprotective (liver protective) by limiting entry of liver toxins into liver cells and stimulating liver regeneration.
- Possible benefit has been shown in patients with alcoholic and non-alcoholic liver disease, with improvement in their liver blood tests (AST/ALT) in those folks taking milk thistle.
- In mice, protection has been shown from skin diseases associated with sun, and kidney protection in diabetic mice given milk thistle has been reported.
- In a recent 8 week trial on people with Obsessive-Compulsive disorder comparing 600 mg of milk thistle to fluoxetine 30 mg per day showed no difference.
- In a recent study on children receiving chemotherapy for acute leukemia, the use of milk thistle resulted in reduced liver toxicity.
- It is not safe for everyone to take milk thistle on a daily basis along with other medications. Many commonly prescribed medications interact with milk thistle including: losartan, warfarin, flagyl, carvedilol, and several other diabetes and cholesterol medications.
- It is important to know there isn’t one specific type of milk thistle preparation or a recommended dose that everyone should be taking. This is largely because herbal preparations in the United States are essentially unregulated so there is no “one tablet fits all.”
- While some improvement in blood liver tests have been seen in those taking milk thistle, mortality or progression to cirrhosis has never been shown to be significantly improved by milk thistle.
- In humans, there is no evidence yet that milk thistle benefits skin diseases, skin cancer and psoriasis, or improves kidney function in diabetics.
Effort is underway to study the effects of milk thistle on cholesterol, heart disease, and diabetes but the evidence isn’t there yet for people to be taking this on a regular basis. Stay tuned.
- Dr O.