It’s funny how herbs slowly gain popularity.  Herbalists have been using Milk Thistle for liver health years, but recently I have noticed people who may not never dream of taking a tincture or a herbal tea, telling me they use milk thistle for the “morning after”.

Now as a Naturopath, I am not too keen on using a herb to treat a symptom.  Much better to stop the liver getting into a state where it needs some help!  On the upside it is nice to see a herb being recognised for ONE of the things it can do.

The Active in Milk Thistle is Silybin

Milk thistle is a powerful herb and its active, Silybin has many actions.  It is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory.  In the liver it reduces the inflammatory response and modulates the immune response.   Where there is alcohol abuse it has been shown to increase cellular vitality and reduce cellular damage. It can also help with aspects of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, liver cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma[1].  I should stress here, it is not a cure, but can support the liver in these different diseases.

Helps with surgery

Due to its effect on the liver, milk thistle is useful if you are facing surgery.  Start it some weeks before the operation, stop a few days before surgery and then retake post- surgery.  This will help the liver clear the anaesthetic and provide a speedier recovery from that groggy post-op feeling.

Combats Poison

Silybin has other activity other than regenerating the liver.  It can reduce cholesterol, improve the skin, help immunity and, it is said that if taken intravenously within 48 hours of eating poisonous mushrooms it can prevent fatal poisoning from liver damage[2].  I haven’t tried that one!

May be useful in osteoporosis

Recent research has shown it to have a positive effect on counteracting osteoporosis.  Admittedly these studies are still mice studies, but silybin has been shown to have as positive an effect as oestrogen in preventing bone loss in post-menopausal women[3], [4].

One word of caution, due to its action on the liver, milk thistle may interact with some medication, so if you are on medication, please consult your herbalist and doctor!  For more information contact us at

[1] Frederico et al, Silymarin/Silybin and Chronic Liver Disease: A Marriage of Many Years, Molecules 2017, 22(2), 191; doi:10.3390/molecules22020191

[2] McIntyre, Anne, The Complete Herbal Tutor, Octopus Publishing Group, 2010

[3] Fozi et al, Milk thistle: a future potential anti-osteoporotic and fracture healing agent. Curr Drug Targets. 2013 Dec;14(14):1659-66.

[4] Kim et al, Antiosteoclastic activity of milk thistle extract after ovariectomy to suppress estrogen deficiency-induced osteoporosis, tSend to

Biomed Res Int. 2013;2013:919374. doi: 10.1155/2013/919374. Epub 2013 May 28.

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