We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What is Milk Thistle?

By Jane Harmon
Updated May 17, 2024
Our promise to you
WiseGeek is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At WiseGeek, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

Milk thistle is a common roadside plant characterized by prickly leaves and a tufted flowering top. It is related to the artichoke and has been used as a food throughout recorded history. Its use as a tonic for a variety of conditions dates back at least as far the fourth century BC. Pliny the Elder in the first century recommended the use of milk thistle to improve the flow of bile.

Milk thistle is currently being studied for effectiveness against a variety of liver and intestinal disorders. It shows the greatest promise in repairing and preventing liver damage such as results from chronic alcoholism or hepatitis. Milk thistle is most effective on less severe forms of liver damage, while cirrhosis, characterized by irreversible scarring, is not improved by the use of milk thistle.

The liver functions as a filter for the blood, processing and removing wastes and toxins. A damaged liver can repair itself to a certain extent, but some types of liver damage are irreversible. Milk thistle seeds contain the active component, silymarin, which is a powerful anti-oxidant. It helps the liver flush toxins and has been shown to repair damaged liver cells. Because the active ingredient of the milk thistle is in the seeds, milk thistle teas will not be able to extract enough of the ingredient to have any effects.

Extracts made from the milk thistle have been used as an antidote to poisoning by the deathcap mushroom, which contains toxin that attacks the liver. In studies using animals, milk thistle was completely effective against the poison if taken almost immediately; the longer the delay between ingesting the poison and taking the antidote, the more the liver was ultimately damaged.

The most promising use of milk thistle is its thus-far unproven anti-cancer effects. Milk thistle has been shown to retard the growth of certain forms of cancer grown in the laboratory; animal and human testing have yet to show results. But milk thistle has been used effectively against liver damage caused by certain of the chemotherapy drugs.

There are few known side effects of taking milk thistle, which has been used as a food for centuries, although a very few people may be severely allergic. Check with your doctor to be sure it is safe for you. Milk thistle may also reduce the effectiveness of certain AIDS/HIV drugs and should only be taken under doctor's supervision in these cases.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By Alchemy — On Nov 03, 2010

I honestly hate the milk thistle plant. It all stems from a horrible encounter with the plant. My parents always told me not to hang my arms out the car window, but I did anyway. I used to try to grab the grass by our house as we were pulling out of our driveway. Anyway, I grabbed a milk thistle plant by accident and got a handful of the most painful slivers. My hand hurt for weeks, and it was nearly impossible to get them all out.

Now I have to take milk thistle extract to detox my liver a few times a year, and it is the most disgustingly bitter taste imaginable. I almost feel like the plant is haunting me.

By sputnik — On Jun 06, 2009

There are also many other varieties of thistle, such as Scotch and Musk thistle. They are not looked upon favorably, and residents in certain communities, where thistle is not a native plant, are asked to eradicate it.

WiseGeek, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

WiseGeek, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.