Focus On: Milk Thistle


Native to the Mediterranean region, milk thistle (Sily­bum marianum) is a flowering herb related to daisy and ragweed. The mature plant has white, milky streaks in the leaves and can grow to over six feet tall. Considered invasive in many places, it is also grown for its medicinal properties. It has been used as a medicinal plant for over 2,000 years.


The primary medicinal property of milk thistle comes from silymarin, which is extracted from the seeds. Milk thistle has long been considered helpful in treating liver conditions from inflammatory liver dis­ease to cirrhosis. Silymarin has also shown an ability to prevent cancer as well as induce cell death in tumors and to inhibit the prolifera­tion of cancer cells.

[ Recommended Dosages ]

The Mayo Clinic recommends varying doses depend­ing on the condition being treated. For example, for antioxidant effects, Mayo recommends 140 mg of si­lymarin three times daily (so a total 420-mg dose) for three weeks. For cirrhosis, Mayo recommends 160 to 800 mg daily divided between two or three doses for up to two years. For treatment of type 2 diabetes, 200 mg can be taken up to three times daily for four weeks to 12 months. Generally, a 200-mg daily dose would be considered therapeutic.

[ Warnings ]

Milk thistle has shown no toxicity at doses up to 1,500 mg a day. Some people gastrointestinal issues like bloating or upset stomach. People allergic to ragweed can experience an allergic reaction to milk thistle—if that occurs, stop taking it immediately. Milk thistle has a possible estrogenic effect, so women with hormone-dependent conditions like endometriosis, or breast, ovary, or uterine cancer should not take milk thistle. Men with prostate cancer should consult a physician before taking it.

[ Picks ]

Twinlab Silymarin, 70 mg, $9, 50 capsules, // Nature’s Way Milk Thistle Standardized, 175 mg, $17, 60 capsules, // Life Extension Silymarin, 100 mg, $9, 50 capsules, // Solgar Milk Thistle Herb Extract, 175 mg, $17, 60 vegetable capsules, // Country Life Gluten-Free Milk Thistle Extract, 200 mg, $20, 60 vegetable capsules,