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Medicinal plant milk thistle: ideal for the liver and gall bladder

Even in ancient times, milk thistle was known for its effect on the liver and gastrointestinal tract. Even today, it is still one of the most popular medicinal plants in Europe.

Table of contents:
  1. What is milk thistle anyway?
  2. What are the active ingredients of milk thistle? Effects of milk thistle: What is milk thistle good for?
  3. Liver health: How can you additionally support the liver? How should you take milk thistle?
  4. What do you need to bear in mind when taking milk thistle?

What is milk thistle anyway?

Milk thistle (Latin: Silybum marianum) is a plant from the Asteraceae family, which is mainly native to the Mediterranean region. It is also known as thunder thistle, fever thistle or lady's thistle. The active ingredients contained mainly in the seeds of the purple-flowering thistle are said to benefit the liver in particular.

What are the active ingredients of milk thistle? The main active ingredient in milk thistle is the flavonoid complex silymarin. Flavonoids are secondary plant substances that are antioxidants and also have various other important properties. Silymarin includes the four most important flavonolignan isomers silibinin, isosilibinin, silychristin and silydianin as well as other flavonoids and polyphenols. The most biologically active flavonoid is silibinin (also known as silybin). Approximately half of the silymarin complex consists of silibinin.

Effects of milk thistle: What is milk thistle good for? Milk thistle is a real all-rounder. The medicinal plant has positive effects on fungal poisoning, diabetes, various cancers, digestive and skin problems. However, the effect of milk thistle on the liver and bile has been particularly well researched.

Milk thistle: effect on the liver

Various studies show a positive effect of milk thistle on various liver diseases. The active complex silymarin contained in milk thistle is therefore already being used. Areas of application include hepatitis C, non-alcoholic fatty liver, liver cirrhosis and liver diseases caused by alcohol, drugs or toxins. Liver diseases have increased enormously in recent years, especially non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which is now the most common liver disease worldwide. Fatty liver disease is caused by the accumulation of excess fat in the liver, which can lead to severe liver disease in many people. It is often associated with overweight/obesity, type 2 diabetes, malnutrition and high blood pressure.

Silymarin protects the liver

The liver-protective effects of silymarin are due to its antioxidant, regenerative, choleretic and anti-inflammatory properties, among other things. For example, silymarin inhibits the activity of the transcription factor NF-κB, which is important for inflammatory processes, cell growth and apoptosis. Silymarin also has antioxidant properties and thus reduces oxidative stress by rendering free radicals harmless.

Studies show that silymarin has an effect on the liver cell membrane by stabilizing it and thus protecting it from external damage. At the same time, this leads to faster regeneration of the liver and the formation of new liver cells. Silymarin can also support the liver in its detoxification function.

In a study by Anushiravani et al., patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease showed significant improvements in liver values after just three months of treatment with silymarin, without any side effects. Silymarin administration in patients with chronic hepatitis C infection also led to a reduction in symptoms and thus to an improved quality of life.

A study by Ferenci et al. shows the effect of silymarin on patients with liver cirrhosis. Around half of the test subjects with cirrhosis were treated with silymarin for around 24 months, while the other half received a placebo. The observation period was about 4 years. During this period, there were almost twice as many liver-related deaths in the placebo group. The 4-year survival rate was therefore significantly higher in the silymarin group. The study also shows that silymarin can also help in more advanced stages of liver disease. Nevertheless, treatment should be started as early as possible, as the liver's regeneration potential is still high.

Milk thistle: effect on the bile

As the liver and bile are closely connected, milk thistle also has positive effects on bile health. The gallbladder lies directly below the liver in an indentation. Both organs are connected by a bile duct. The bile produced in the liver passes through this duct into the gallbladder, which stores it.

Studies show that milk thistle promotes the formation of bile in the liver and also stimulates the emptying of the gallbladder. This in turn has a positive effect on fat digestion and therefore also on the gastrointestinal tract. Due to its antioxidant properties, thistle is also used to treat gallbladder inflammation. The bile flow-promoting effect can be enhanced by taking turmeric, for example.

Liver health: How can you additionally support the liver? Healing a damaged liver takes time. You can support this not only by taking a milk thistle preparation, but also by taking the following liver-protective measures:

  • Avoid ready-made products, sugared drinks and sweets
  • Avoid animal products - only vegetable oils and protein sources (nuts, pulses, whole grains)
  • lots of vegetables and fruit (preferably low in fructose, such as berries)
  • Complex carbohydrates such as wholegrain products
  • Drink enough (calorie-free drinks such as water or unsweetened tea)
  • only three meals a day or intermittent fasting
  • Do not drink alcohol and do not smoke
  • Only take medication if you really need it
  • Be physically active and get plenty of exercise in your free time

However, please talk to your doctor if you have serious liver complaints or illnesses.

How should you take milk thistle? Milk thistle is available in various forms, from tea to high-dose extracts. However, when taking tea products, only a small amount of the silymarin gets into the tea, so although it can alleviate digestive problems, it has no effect on liver health.

It is therefore recommended to take milk thistle via high-dose extracts in capsule form, as the concentration of silymarin is highest here. An additional intake of dandelion and artichoke is also particularly effective, as these medicinal plants reinforce each other's effects. This is why dandelion and artichoke are also part of our combination preparation.

How much milk thistle daily?

To prevent diseases, 200 mg silymarin should be taken daily. You can achieve this with our milk thistle capsules with just one capsule per day. It is recommended to take milk thistle over a longer period of time, as the effect - depending on the reason for use - only sets in after 2-3 weeks.

What you need to bear in mind when taking milk thistle

Milk thistle products can have a slight laxative effect in individual cases and in high doses. Hypersensitivity reactions such as skin rashes can occur very rarely. If you are allergic to other composite plants such as arnica and camomile, you should refrain from taking milk thistle.

As milk thistle has an effect on the liver, medicines can be broken down more quickly. You should therefore consult your doctor or pharmacist before taking any medication.

Anushiravani A. et al. (2019) Treatment options for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease: a double-blinded randomized placebo-controlled trial. Eur J Gastroenterol Hepatol 31(5):613-617.
Federico A. et al. (2017) Silymarin/Silybin and Chronic Liver Disease: A Marriage of Many Years. Molecules 22,191.
Ferenci P. et al. (1989) Randomized controlled trial of silymarin treatment in patients with cirrhosis of the liver. J Hepatol. 9(1):105-113.
Gillessen A. and Schmidt H. (2020) Silymarin as Supportive Treatment in Liver Diseases: A Narrative Review. Adv Ther 37(4):1279-1301.
Hackett E. S. et al. (2012) Milk Thistle and Its Derivative Compounds: A Review of Opportunities for Treatment of Liver Disease. J Vet Intern Med 27:10-16.
Kazazis C. E. et al. (2014) The therapeutic potential of milk thistle in diabetes. Rev Diabet Stud 11(2):167-74.
Tighe S. P. et al. (2020) Chronic Liver Disease and Silymarin: A Biochemical and Clinical Review. J Clin Transl Hepatol 8(4):454-458.