What is Milk Thistle Good for? Top 5 Benefits

What is Milk Thistle Good for? Top 5 Benefits

It's an acclaimed herb and one of our favourites, and Milk Thistle is an essential ingredient in our best-selling Debloat & Detox, but why is Milk Thistle talked about so much and what does it do? Let us explain. 

What is Milk Thistle?

Milk Thistle is a herb native to Europe, with purple flowers which are used in natural medicines. Milk Thistle's active compound is a 'flavonoid' called 'silymarin' which influences a number of biological pathways within the body. 

What's your diet missing? Find out in your free Diet Profile

What is Milk Thistle used for?

Milk Thistle is used for a variety of reasons in the human body and one of its great benefits is its versatility.

1. Detoxification

Milk Thistle supports the detoxification abilities of the liver and protects the liver from dangerous toxins that may cause damage to liver cells. Silymarin, the active ingredient in Milk Thistle, supports the production of 'glutathione' which is the body's major detoxification enzyme.

Research has shown silymarin also helps to control the permeability of liver cells, helping to prevent toxins from entering the liver cells and causing damage.  

2. Liver disease 

There is extensive research on the use of Milk Thistle for liver diseases such as 'cirrhosis of the liver' and 'non-alcoholic fatty liver disease'. Research has shown silymarin to stimulate liver regeneration, inhibiting the formation of fibroblasts (which cause cirrhosis), and having an anti-inflammatory affect. 

3. Digestion

There are a number of benefits for digestion from Milk Thistle. Firstly, it stimulates the production of digestive juices including stomach acid and bile, contributing towards the effective breakdown of foods.

Milk Thistle also supports effective gastrointestinal movement, helping your body move food along at an appropriate pace which keeps the gut flora in check and bloating at bay. Silymarin is extensively metabolised in the intestines by gut bacteria and may promote gastrointestinal health. Read the latest gut health research which includes findings on IBS causes and symptoms.

Our overall health is only as good as our gut health and the levels of nutrients our body absorbs from foods we eat, and which the body relies on for biological processes. Good digestion is much more important than most people think and a helping hand from Milk Thistle goes a long way to improving digestion! Learn more in 'How to improve digestion naturally'.

4. Mental health

As Milk Thistle influences digestion, it also has an indirect effect on the gut-brain axis. The gut-brain axis is the intricate interconnection between gut health and mental health. Neurotransmitters and hormones such as serotonin originate from the gut, travelling to the brain where it influences our mood, motivation and appetite. A healthy mind starts with a healthy gut, for which Milk Thistle can be a great benefit. You may also enjoy 'How to look after your gut through your diet'. 

5. Immunity

Research has shown Silymarin from Milk Thistle to be 'immuno-modulatory' and anti-inflammatory, and may be of use to those who have autoimmune conditions and inflammatory diseases. 

There is also a strong link between gut health and immunity. When food is digested properly and digestion is supported, the bacteria in the gut can be optimised. This optimisation of gut bacteria has a direct impact on our immunity and the body’s ability to fight disease. The proper function of the immune system is also reliant on the body's ability to detoxify appropriately - toxic build-up can decrease the function of the immune system.

Your diet plays a big role in your immune health - learn more in our blog '8 immunity boosting foods'.

Milk Thistle side effects

There are few side effects to taking milk thistle, however some people have reported experiencing nausea and bloating.

WebMD reports that people who are allergic to certain plants such as artichokes, ragweed, daisies and chrysanthemums are more likely to also be allergic to milk thistle. There is little research around the safety of milk thistle for pregnant or breastfeeding women so it’s best to avoid it under these circumstances. If you are taking medication, particularly those that are metabolised by the liver, you should consult your GP before taking the herb as it could interact with these drugs and cause side effects.

How can Milk Thistle be taken?

Milk Thistle can be taken in a supplement or as a tea, however it is incredibly bitter in tea and the levels of silymarin can't be guaranteed.

When is the best time to take Milk Thistle?

Milk thistle can be taken either in the morning or at night and can even be consumed on an empty stomach. However, taking milk thistle after a meal can help your stomach to digest it and is especially beneficial if you have a sensitive liver.

How much Milk Thistle should you take per day?

Whilst there is no standardised recommended intake for milk thistle, it’s safe to take in moderation. Taking Milk Thistle in supplemental form can guarantee you gain the right level of the active component silymarin, however if you are taking a Milk Thistle supplement, ensure it has the optimal level of silymarin of around 80mg which is the important component - lots of Milk Thistle supplements contain negligible levels of silymarin. Unless silymarin is shown separately on the nutritional table of your Milk Thistle supplement, it means it doesn't contain it. Taking Milk Thistle in combination with other nutrients may also enhance its benefits within the body.

You might enjoy reading these next:

Shop our range of vegan vitamins and supplements.

Want to hear more from our nutritionists? Sign up to our email newsletter for insights and exclusive offers: