Precise mechanisms of action specific to different etiologies and stages of liver disease need explication. Further mechanistic investigations are needed and should be considered before, or in concert with, studies of clinical effectiveness. More information is needed about effectiveness of milk thistle for severe acute ingestion of hepatotoxins, such as occupational exposures, acetaminophen overdose, and amanita poisoning. It is expected to be available in winter At that time, printed copies may be obtained free of charge from the AHRQ Publications Clearinghouse by calling When available online, the Evidence Report will be at http: Number 21, September Turn recording back on.
National Center for Biotechnology Information , U. Show details Rockville MD: Current as of Overview This evidence report details a systematic review summarizing clinical studies of milk thistle in humans. Reporting the Evidence Specifically, the report addresses 10 questions regarding whether milk thistle supplements when compared with no supplement, placebo, other oral supplements, or drugs: Selection Criteria Preliminary selection criteria regarding efficacy were reports on liver disease and clinical and physiologic outcomes from randomized controlled trials RCTs in humans comparing milk thistle with placebo, no milk thistle, or another active agent.
Data Collection and Analysis Abstractors physicians, methodologists, pharmacists, and a nurse independently abstracted data from trials; a nurse and physician abstracted data about adverse effects. Findings Mechanisms of Action Evidence exists that milk thistle may be hepatoprotective through a number of mechanisms: Preparations of Milk Thistle The largest producer of milk thistle is Madaus Germany , which makes an extract of concentrated silymarin. Fourteen were randomized, blinded, placebo-controlled studies of milk thistle's effectiveness in a variety of liver diseases.
In one additional placebo-controlled trial, blinding or randomization was not clear, and one placebo-controlled study was a cohort study with a placebo comparison group. Seventeen additional trials used nonplacebo controls; two other trials studied milk thistle as prophylaxis in patients with no known liver disease who were starting potentially hepatotoxic drugs. The identified studies addressed alcohol-related liver disease, toxin-induced liver disease, and viral liver disease. No studies were found that evaluated milk thistle for cholestatic liver disease or primary hepatic malignancy hepatocellular carcinoma, cholangiocarcinoma.
7 Science-Based Benefits of Milk Thistle
There were problems in assessing the evidence because of incomplete information about multiple methodologic issues, including etiology and severity of liver disease, study design, subject characteristics, and potential confounders. It is difficult to say if the lack of information reflects poor scientific quality of study methods or poor reporting quality or both. Detailed data evaluation and syntheses were limited to the 16 placebo-controlled studies.
Distribution of durations of therapy across trials was wide 7 days to 2 years , inconsistent, and sometimes not given. Outcome measures varied among studies, as did duration of therapy and the followup for which outcome measures were reported. Among six studies of milk thistle and chronic alcoholic liver disease, four reported significant improvement in at least one measurement of liver function i. Available data were insufficient to sort six studies into specific etiologic categories; these were grouped as chronic liver disease of mixed etiologies.
In three of the six studies that reported multiple outcome measures, at least one outcome measure improved significantly with milk thistle compared with placebo, but there were no differences between milk thistle and placebo for one or more of the other outcome measures in each study. Two studies indicated a possible survival benefit.
Milk Thistle Benefits: Detox the Liver & Boost Glutathione
Three placebo-controlled studies evaluated milk thistle for viral hepatitis. The one acute viral hepatitis study reported latest outcome measures at 28 days and showed significant improvement in aspartate aminotransferase and bilirubin. The two studies of chronic viral hepatitis differed markedly in duration of therapy 7 days and 1 year.
Further research on humans is needed to identify what benefits a person can expect from applying milk thistle to their skin. High cholesterol can lead to problems with heart health and increase a person's chance of stroke. A study suggests milk thistle may play an important role keeping cholesterol levels down. It found that cholesterol levels were lower in people taking milk thistle to treat diabetes than those taking a placebo.
Initial animal research conducted in found that silymarin caused weight loss in mice that were fed a diet intended to cause weight gain. This suggests milk thistle may be beneficial for those looking to lose weight.
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More research into the effects of milk thistle on weight loss in humans is needed to confirm this, however. A study on mice found milk thistle extract helped to reduce insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is a problem for people with type 2 diabetes. Although this research suggests milk thistle could play a role in diabetes management, more research is needed to confirm whether milk thistle reduces insulin resistance and supports diabetes management.
The active ingredient in milk thistle can help to reduce inflammation. A study found that silymarin helped to protect against inflammation in the airways of mice with allergic asthma. Milk thistle may help to stop the spread of certain types of cancer. A review found that milk thistle extract inhibited the growth of cancerous cells in colorectal cancer. Milk thistle may play an essential role in supporting bone health. A study found that milk thistle helped to prevent bone loss. The study looked specifically at bone loss caused by a deficiency in estrogen.
It is not yet clear whether milk thistle is equally beneficial for bone loss with a different cause. Further studies are needed before it is safe to conclude that milk thistle supports bone health in humans. A study found that milk thistle increased resistance to oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is a potential cause of Alzheimer's disease. In this way, milk thistle may help improve cognition and treat degenerative conditions that affect the mind.
More research on humans is needed to confirm the effects of milk thistle on cognition. A study on an animal model found that milk thistle extract improved the immunity when consumed.
An older study found that milk thistle extract had a positive effect on immune response in humans. More studies with human participants are needed before scientists can say with certainty that milk thistle boosts a person's immune system. Milk thistle is available as a supplement from many health food stores. There is no standard dose of milk thistle, so it is best to read the dosage suggested on the packaging.
Milk thistle is also available as a tea. If drinking milk thistle tea, it is best to limit intake to 6 cups a day.
For this reason, it is important to buy milk thistle from reputable retailers. As with any natural remedy, people should discuss using milk thistle with a doctor before taking it. Milk thistle may interact with some medications. This is of particular concern if a person is already receiving treatment for liver conditions. Milk thistle has a range of potential health benefits due to its active ingredient, silymarin, which is an antioxidant.
More research needs to be carried out before a definitive list of milk thistle benefits can be confirmed. That said, it is a healthful supplement that may be worth trying alongside conventional treatments.
10 potential health benefits of milk thistle
It is always a good idea to speak to a healthcare professional before starting to use milk thistle or any other supplement, as it may interact with other medications or conditions. Article last reviewed by Wed 20 December All references are available in the References tab. Milk thistle in liver diseases: Past, present, future [Abstract]. Phytotherapy Research , 24 10 , — Silibinin attenuates allergic airway inflammation in mice. The liver is actually our largest internal organ and is responsible for performing a number of essential detoxifying functions.
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The condition of our blood throughout our whole body is mostly reliant on the health of our liver. The liver helps remove toxicity and harmful substances from our blood, aids in hormone production, detoxifies the body, releases glucose into the bloodstream in order to give our body steady energy and releases bile into our small intestine so fat can be absorbed from foods.
You can see why liver problems and poor liver function can create so many problems! Milk thistle has been historically used for various liver diseases, including: Milk thistle seeds are a high source of the antioxidant flavonoid called silymarin, which is actually composed of several other active compounds known as flavolignans.
In , after reviewing numerous studies involving milk thistle therapeutic treatments, researchers at the University of Minnesota found that:. About 50 percent to 70 percent of the silymarin molecules present within milk thistle are the type called silybin, also known as silibinin.
This antioxidant stimulates protein synthesis and changes the outside layer of healthy cells, keeping them protected from damage and mutation. National Library of Medicine considers milk thistle to be a powerful anti-inflammatory. Something important to keep in mind, however, is that existing studies on possible heart benefits of milk thistle have only been done involving people with diabetes, who tend to have high cholesterol levels. The valuable effect of antioxidants found in milk thistle has been reported in experimental and clinical studies to help decrease blood sugar levels in insulin-resistant patients.
One study conducted by the Department of Pharmacology at the Institute of Medicinal Plants found that when diabetic patients were given silymarin extract over a four-month period, their fasting blood glucose and insulin levels improved significantly compared to patients receiving a placebo. This is likely true because the liver is partly responsible for regulating hormones, including the release of insulin into the bloodstream. Insulin is responsible for managing blood glucose sugar levels in the blood, which is especially important for those with diabetes.
The liver is a major digestive organ, helping process nutrients and toxins that enter our body through foods, water and air. Gallstones are formed when cholesterol and other matter within your bile bind together. This is problematic because they can become more solid and become lodged in the inner lining of your gallbladder. This applies to both the surface of your skin and your organs, as antioxidants can protect your body from chronic disease. Although the research on this topic is limited, an animal study published in Photochemistry and Photobiology found that silymarin protected the skin of mice that were to UV-induced oxidative stress and reduced leukocytes that promote an inflammatory response.
Glutathione is found naturally in the human body, as well as in some plants, mushrooms , fungi and algae. One of the biggest milk thistle benefits is that it preserves glutathione, which has been suggested in lab and animal studies. Milk thistle strengthens the liver cell walls, buffering them from invading toxins, and supports liver regeneration and glutathione formation. The amount of active ingredients can vary widely depending on the different preparation methods used and the brand. Currently, there are several different milk thistle products available on the market, all recommending different doses.
How much milk thistle should you take? There is no nationally standardized milk thistle supplement dosing at this time, but most people do best consuming between 20— milligrams daily.