Everything You Need To Know About Milk Thistle

Milk Thistle

If you’re a regular here on or you’ve read some of my articles elsewhere, you know I’m not big on “detox supplements”.  Most of them are just over-hyped nonsense, but Milk Thistle is one supplement which may actually be deserving of such a title…

In this article, we’ll talk about

  • What Milk Thistle Is
  • The Benefits Milk Thistle Has To Offer
  • Proper Dosing

And a whole lot more.

So, if you’re ready to learn how this unique herb can potentially help you, let’s dive right in!

What Is Milk Thistle?

Milk Thistle Flower

Milk Thistle is an herb (Silybum Marianum) which is indigenous to parts of the Mediterranean.  It’s been used for literally thousands of years by the people native to that region and those who traded with them.

Although science has now uncovered a ton of benefits associated with Milk Thistle, the ancients who used this unique herb were well aware of it’s potential.

As far back as 40-90 AD, there has been mention of the “healing powers” of Milk Thistle, but modern science has only just started to uncover the benefits associated with this wonderful herb.

Milk Thistle contains a few active chemicals that are unique, including:

  • Silybinin
  • Isosilybinin
  • Silydianin
  • Silychristin
  • Taxifolin

With the exception of Taxifolin, you’ll often see these chemicals collectively referred to a Silymarin.

For example, most Milk Thistle supplements say something like “standardized for 80% Silymarin“.  This isn’t one chemical.  It’s actually a bunch of chemicals.

Since they’re all unique to Milk Thistle though, they get grouped together.  Just remember, when you see/hear Silymarin, it’s actually a few different chemical compounds, not one.

Why Do People Use Milk Thistle Supplements?

Milk Thistle Supplements

Mostly, Milk Thistle is used for detoxification, healing, and general anti-oxidant purposes.  It’s sold as a both a stand-alone supplement and combined with other ingredients in liver support and general health supplements.

Whether you’re someone who doesn’t like conventional medicine and prefers herbal alternatives or a bodybuilder looking to reduce toxicity from oral steroids, you can potentially benefit from Milk Thistle.

It’s versatility is matched only by other herbal supplements like Ashwagandha, so the list of potential benefits is ever-expanding.  So far though, a few benefits have been established.

What Are The Proven Benefits Of Milk Thistle?

Milk Thistle Benefits

When it comes to traditional medicine, Milk Thistle is one of the most widely used herbal supplements there is.  Still, saying an herb has “healing properties” isn’t very specific.  What does the research actually say about what Milk Thistle is capable of?

Milk Thistle Improves Liver Health

Any discussion about detoxification will usually by centered around the Liver.  Most people are aware that the Livers primary function is to rid the body of toxins and harmful compounds which way threaten our health.

Consequently, that’s where a lot of the research on Milk Thistle has focused.

Research has shown that the Silymarin in Milk Thistle can activate RNA and DNA protein synthesis in the liver.  This appears to be the fundamental mechanism underlying it’s ability to reverse liver damage on a cellular level.

Traditionally, Milk Thistle was used to protect against toxins such as Amanitin, a lethal chemical present in the Death Cap mushroom.

While there are no scientific studies investigating whether or not Milk Thistle can reduce toxicity specifically from Amanitin, a 2008 meta-analysis concluded that it is “reasonable to employ silymarin as a supportive element” in instances of toxicity.

The compounds found in Milk Thistle have also proven effective in treating toxicity from MicrocystinAcetaminophen, and alcohol.

It makes sense to stack Milk Thistle with other liver health supplements like TUDCA and N-Acetylcysteine (NAC).

Milk Thistle is definitely a useful liver detoxification agent and is one of the few compounds that can actually help repair damage after damage has already been done, as opposed to merely helping prevent it.

Milk Thistle Promotes Healthier Skin

These days, it’s hard to even find a skin-care products that doesn’t claim it contains “antioxidant” or “essential vitamin and minerals” to help “repair and restore” your skin.

Truth be told, most of this is just marketing BS.  While it is true that certain vitamins and minerals can help protect our skin, most of the ingredients in skin-care products have never actually been put to the test.

Milk Thistle, on the other hand, may actually help.

A recent study found that a combination of Silymarin (form Milk Thistle), NAC, and Selenium reduced inflammation and improved skin health in subjects with bad acne.

The preliminary research supports the use of Milk Thistle as a skin-repairing agent.  More studies–preferably just on Milk Thistle–would nice though!

Milk Thistle May Help Mothers Lactate

Milk Thistle has long been believed to help nursing mothers produce Milk.  This belief actually dates back a couple thousand years but, as it turns out, it’s not just a myth.

Milk Thistle supplementation has actually been shown to increase Milk production by an average of 85% after 60 days.

Although only one study has looked at this directly, the results are hard to ignore and they supports the pre-existing notion that Silymarin is an effective galactagogue.

This probably isn’t important to most people, but it shows the versatility of Milk Thistle.  It’s not just a liver-detox supplement.  The effects are far-reaching throughout the body.

Milk Thistle May Have Anti-Obesity Benefits

While no studies have actually looked at how Milk Thistle supplementation influences fat mass or weight-loss, some preliminary studies have shown that Silymarin has anti-obesity effects on the cellular level.

How it works remains a mystery, but it appears to have something to do with GLUT4, a protein involved in transporting Glucose into fat cells.

Silymarin may work by competing against Glucose for the same transport (via GLUT4) into fat cells.

Whether or not this really works in an actual human, however, remains to be determined.

It’s much too early to call Milk Thistle a “fat-loss supplement” or anything like that, but it does appear to have some anti-obesity properties that need to be further explored.

Milk Thistle Dosing

Milk Thistle Dosing

The most prominent issue, when it comes to Milk Thistle supplements, is a matter of dosing.  It’s not about how much actual Milk Thistle you’re getting.  It’s about how much Silymarin (active components) you’re getting.

You could be taking 1-3 grams of Milk Thistle extract a day, but if it wasn’t:

  • Grown properly
  • Harvested properly
  • Processed properly

Then you may not be getting enough Silymarin to even matter.  If you’re using Milk Thistle as a general health supplement or to protect against liver injury/toxins, you want to take at least 300-600mg of Silymarin per day.

So, if you’re Milk Thistle extract is standardized for 80% Silymarin, you would need to take 400-800mg/day.

Does Milk Thistle Have Side Effects?

At standard doses, Milk Thistle is entirely safe.  Not only has it been used for thousands of years throughout traditional medicine, but no adverse effects have been reported throughout all the scientific studies.

Of course, it’s possible to have an adverse reaction to any herbal supplement and Milk Thistle is no exception.  If you’re allergic to something in Milk Thistle, for example, you could experience some sort of nausea or headache from taking it.

As with any herbal supplement, it’s usually a good idea to consult with your doctor prior to use.  Milk Thistle has a great reputation as a safe, reliable supplement, but everyone is different.

The Best Milk Thistle Supplements

Unfortunately, not all Milk Thistle supplements are created equal.  You want to make sure you’re getting a quality extract with the necessary levels of Silymarin and related compounds.  Silymarin content is key.

You want to select a Milk Thistle supplement that clearly states the amount of Silymarin.  If you take a look at the label, does it just say “Milk Thistle”?  Or does it say something like “Milk Thistle Extract – Standardized For 80% Silymarin”.

Sometimes they get even more specific and talk about the individual compounds, but you just want to make sure you’re getting the right dose of total Silymarin.

Don’t use a Milk Thistle supplement that isn’t standardized for Silymarin.  If it doesn’t say, it’s probably trash.

The Bottom Line

Milk Thistle is one of the few herbal supplements that is actually deserving of its reputation as a detoxification and healing agent.  The components of Milk Thistle, often referred to as Silymarin, can help protect against toxins, repair damaged cells, and support the health of various organs (not just the liver) and tissues throughout the body.

Most “detox” supplements are bogus, but Milk Thistle isn’t one of them!

Have anything to share about Milk Thistle?  Question maybe?  Comment below…

I’m Matt Theis, founder of SuppWithThat, Momentum Nutrition, and Singular Sport. I created SWT to separate the science from the hype and publish accurate, research-based information on supplements. If you like what I have to say here, feel free to check out my supplements at and

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