The milk thistle plant commonly grows from 2 to 7 feet in height, with spiny leaves and reddish-purple, thistle-shaped flowers. It has also been called wild artichoke, holy thistle, and Mary thistle. Native to Europe, milk thistle has a long history of use as both a food and a medicine. At the turn of the twentieth century, English gardeners grew milk thistle to use its leaves like lettuce (after cutting off the spines), the stalks like asparagus, the roasted seeds like coffee, and the roots (soaked overnight) like oyster plant. The seeds and leaves of milk thistle were used for medicinal purposes as well, such as treating jaundice and increasing breast milk production.
German researchers in the 1960s were sufficiently impressed with the history and clinical effectiveness of milk thistle to begin examining it for active constituents. In 1986, Germany's Commission E approved an oral extract of milk thistle as a treatment for liver disease. However, the evidence that it really works remains incomplete and inconsistent.
What Is Milk Thistle Used for Today?
Based on the extensive folk use of milk thistle in cases of jaundice, European medical researchers began to investigate its medicinal effects. It is currently used to treat alcoholic hepatitis , liver cirrhosis , liver poisoning, and viral hepatitis , as well as to protect the liver in general from the effects of liver-toxic medications. However, despite this wide usage, there is no definitive evidence that it is effective.
What Is the Scientific Evidence for Milk Thistle?
Chronic Viral Hepatitis
The standard dosage of milk thistle is 200 mg 2 to 3 times a day of an extract standardized to contain 70% silymarin.
Warning : Considering the severe nature of liver disease, a doctor's supervision is essential. Also, do not inject milk thistle preparations that are designed for oral use!
Interactions You Should Know About
If you are taking:
- Medications that could damage the liver, such as acetaminophen, phenytoin (Dilantin), alcohol, and phenothiazines: Milk thistle might be protective for some of these drugs.
- Oral contraceptives : Milk thistle might reduce their effectiveness.
- Reviewer: EBSCO CAM Review Board
- Review Date: 09/2014 -
- Update Date: 09/18/2014 -