What is Milk Thistle?

Milk thistle is an herb that has been used for centuries to treat a variety of liver and digestive disorders. The active ingredient in milk thistle is silymarin, which is a flavonoid that acts as an antioxidant. Silymarin is thought to protect the liver by preventing toxins from entering the cells and stimulating protein synthesis.

Milk thistle is most commonly used to treat liver conditions such as hepatitis, cirrhosis, and jaundice. It is also sometimes used to treat gallbladder disorders and digestive problems such as indigestion and heartburn. Milk thistle is available in supplements as capsules, tablets, tinctures, and teas.

Health Benefits

Research on the health benefits of milk thistle is ongoing, but there is some evidence to suggest that it may be effective in treating certain liver and digestive disorders.

For example, one study found that milk thistle was effective in reducing liver damage caused by alcohol consumption. Other studies have shown that milk thistle may help protect the liver from toxins and reduce inflammation.

Milk thistle is also sometimes used as a natural treatment for indigestion and heartburn. In one study, people with indigestion who took milk thistle supplements reported reduced symptoms such as bloating, gas, and stomach pain.

Side Effects and Safety

Milk thistle is generally considered safe when taken in recommended doses. However, it can cause some side effects, such as diarrhea, nausea, and bloating.

It is important to note that milk thistle may interact with certain medications, so it is always best to speak with a healthcare provider before taking this herb.

When used in large amounts, milk thistle may also cause liver damage. Therefore, it is important to only take the recommended dose and not exceed the maximum limit of 1 gram per day. Milk thistle is not recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding women.

Mechanism of Action

The active ingredient in milk thistle is silymarin, which is a flavonoid that acts as an antioxidant. Silymarin is thought to protect the liver by preventing toxins from entering the cells and stimulating protein synthesis.

Silymarin is also thought to have anti-inflammatory and anticancer properties. However, more research is needed to confirm these potential health benefits.

Dosage and Preparation

Milk thistle is available in supplements as capsules, tablets, tinctures, and teas. The recommended dose depends on the form of milk thistle you are taking.

For example, the typical dose for capsules or tablets is 200-400 milligrams (mg) three times per day. For tinctures, the recommended dose is 1-2 ml three times per day. And for teas, the recommended dose is 1-2 grams of dried herb steeped in 8 ounces of boiling water for 10 minutes.

It is important to speak with a healthcare provider before taking milk thistle to ensure you are taking the correct dose. Milk thistle is not recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding women.

Interactions

Milk thistle may interact with certain medications, such as blood thinners, diabetes medications, and chemotherapy drugs. Therefore, it is always best to speak with a healthcare provider before taking this herb.

Some medications that may interact with milk thistle include:

Blood thinners: Milk thistle may increase the effects of blood thinners such as warfarin (Coumadin).

Diabetes medications: Milk thistle may lower blood sugar levels. If you take diabetes medication, you may need to adjust your dose if you start taking milk thistle.

Chemotherapy drugs: Milk thistle may reduce the effectiveness of some chemotherapy drugs. Therefore, it is important to speak with your doctor if you are undergoing chemotherapy and considering taking milk thistle.

Pharmacokinetics

Milk thistle is absorbed quickly from the gut and reaches peak levels in the blood within 1-2 hours. The active ingredient in milk thistle, silymarin, is then metabolized by the liver and excreted in the urine.

The half-life of silymarin is about 2-3 hours, which means it takes about 6-9 hours for the body to eliminate half of the drug. Therefore, milk thistle should be taken multiple times throughout the day to maintain consistent blood levels.