Nutrition Made Simple


July 31 2021



Silymarin is also known as milk thistle, artichaut Sauvage, Mary thistle and silybin. Milk thistle is a plant predominantly found in the regions of Europe and was later introduced in North America. Nowadays there is the widespread presence of milk thistle throughout the United States, Africa, Australia and Asia. The medical preparations used are extracted from the plant parts which are above the ground and from the seeds. 

Milk thistle is mainly ingested orally and mainly used as a supplement to alleviate symptoms of liver disease, which often includes liver damage as a result of chemicals, chemotherapy or alcohol. It is also useful in liver damage which can occur as a result of Amanita mushroom food poisoning. Other conditions where silymarin is put into use are nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, chronic inflammatory liver disease, liver cirrhosis and chronic hepatitis. 

Direct application of milk thistle can be used to treat skin damage which can occur as a result of radiation exposure. Silymarin seeds can be roasted and consumed as a coffee replacement product.  The leaves and flowers of milk thistle are prepared as salads and they can also be substituted for spinach. 

Mechanism of action of silymarin:

Studies show the efficacy of silymarin in protecting the liver cells from the damage caused by harmful chemicals and drugs. The other beneficial properties of milk thistle include anti-diabetic, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity.

Effectiveness of silymarin in the treatment of the following conditions:

  • Diabetes: In combination with the standard protocol of treatment with antidiabetic medications, supplementing with milk thistle extract shows a decrease in the blood sugar levels in diabetics before the intake of food. It is also responsible for the decrease in average blood sugar levels in chronic diabetics. Milk thistle supplements should be used for a minimum of three months for the therapeutic effects to come into play. Specific milk thistle products commercially manufactured for this effect include Alvizia milk thistle capsules with 80 per cent silymarin content.
  • Dyspepsia: When used along with the recommended line of treatment for dyspepsia, milk thistle specially formulated for this condition is effective in reducing the severity of acid reflux, stomach pain, cramps, nausea and vomiting. 
  • Acne: Silymarin has been reported to lessen the severity of acne. However, this property of silymarin is still being studied.
  • Alcohol-related liver disease: Oral intake of milk thistle has shown the effectiveness of milk thistle in the treatment of liver disease in people who drink excessive amounts of alcohol. Milk thistle is beneficial in this condition as it improves liver function and reduces the risk of mortality.
  • Alzheimer’s disease: Studies have shown the efficacy of supplementing with milk thistle boots mental function in those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Mushroom poisoning: Research shows that intravenous and oral ingestion of silymarin extract rapidly lessens liver damage which may occur as a result of the side effects of Amanita phalloides mushroom poisoning also known as the death cap mushroom. 
  • Benign prostatic hyperplasia: Studies show the effectiveness of milk thistle in conjunction with selenium for six months exhibit a remarkable improvement in the symptoms of those men suffering from an enlarged prostate. 
  • Beta thalassemia: Beta-thalassemia is a blood disorder that affects and decreases the amount of protein in the blood. In children with this condition, the specified milk thistle extract when used regularly for about six to nine months along with the prescribed medications for beta-thalassemia can lead to the relief of symptoms. 
  • Liver cirrhosis: Studies show that milk thistle extract selectively improves the liver function in people suffering from liver cirrhosis or liver scarring and also reduces the risk of death in such patients.
  • Kidney damage which occurs as a result of chemotherapy has been studied to be reduced by taking milk thistle extract at least 24 hours before starting therapy.
  • Diabetic nephropathy: In people suffering from kidney disease as a long-standing effect of diabetes, supplementing with milk thistle extract in association with the prescribed medications for diabetic nephropathy may help in symptomatic relief. 
  • Hay fever: Studies show that supplements of milk thistle extracts by mouth in combination with anti-allergic medication such as cetirizine may reduce the onset of seasonal allergies.
  • Hepatitis: The swelling of the liver called hepatitis shows characteristic improvement by reducing the symptoms of hepatitis such as jaundice and dark urine when supplements of milk thistle extract are taken by mouth for at least four weeks.
  • Hypercholesterolemia: Supplementing milk thistle extract along with tree turmeric is effective in lowering the blood cholesterol levels because of the presence of chemicals called monacolins.
  • Hyperlipoproteinemia: Intake of silymarin is not much beneficial in lowering the lipid levels in people suffering from liver disease.
  • Infertility: Studies show that ingestion of milk thistle extract in combination with fertility hormone treatment may prove to be beneficial in women undergoing procedures such as in vitro fertilisation.
  • Supplements of milk thistle extract have known to reduce hot flashes in women suffering from menopausal symptoms.
  • In patients with multiple sclerosis, silymarin intake has been studied to show an improvement in mental function. 
  • Milk thistle supplements are known to cause a decrease in the occurrence of ulcers in the mouth which are formed as a result of radiation exposure.
  • Studies show the application of silymarin along with the prescribed medications for ulcerative colitis which is an inflammatory bowel disease, reduce the symptoms and help in preventing remission. 

Other conditions in which researchers are studying the application of silymarin are depression, gallbladder disorders, hangover, contrast-induced nephropathy, malaria, dysmenorrhea, spleen disorders, pleurisy etc. 

Side effects of silymarin use include nausea, diarrhoea, fullness, loss of appetite and headaches. 

This article is the sole opinion of the author and Alvizia Healthcare holds no responsibility for the content. *



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