Milk thistle is a flowering plant. Different parts of the plant are traditionally used as natural herbal treatments for a variety of health disorders. This is in part because of the powerful antioxidants it contains. It’s best known for its positive effect on liver health, but studies are looking into other possible benefits too. But you should always talk to your doctor before taking any supplements. Keep reading to learn all the ways researchers think milk thistle may be able to help improve your health.

Researchers think that milk thistle may be able to help treat liver conditions. An animal study from 2016 found that silymarin, an antioxidant that’s extracted from milk thistle, has potential in treating liver diseases and preventing liver damage. This could be because of its beneficial antioxidants and its ability to reduce inflammation.

Early research shows that milk thistle can help support healthy weight loss. Mice that were fed a high-fat diet to induce obesity lost weight after taking silymarin that was extracted from milk thistle.

Milk thistle extract’s ability to inhibit inflammation may also be helpful in treating allergic asthma. A 2012 animal study demonstrated that another helpful component of milk thistle known as silibinin had a protective effect against airway inflammation. Silibinin is a flavonoid, a type of nutrient found in plants. Silibinin also reduced harmful substances from forming in the fluid of the lungs.

Insulin resistance can lead to type 2 diabetes. A 2016 study on mice showed that silymarin extracted from milk thistle had a positive effect on insulin levels. This is thought to be because of its anti-inflammatory properties.

Milk thistle has a cholesterol-lowering effect. A study from 2006 found that cholesterol levels were lowered in people taking milk thistle to treat diabetes. Low cholesterol levels have a positive effect on the heart. It also lessens your chance of having a stroke, and you may have more energy.

Milk thistle has preventive and therapeutic potential to fight types of cancer classified as epithelial cancer. Research has shown that silibinin can help inhibit the growth and proliferation of colorectal cancer cells. Silibinin has also been shown to inhibit the growth of tumors in mice.

Milk thistle is thought to support immunity and stimulate your neurons. Research from 2002 found that milk thistle has a positive effect on the immune system. It has the potential to increase immunity to certain diseases. Another animal study from 2016 showed that milk thistle has a positive effect on immunity.

Milk thistle has shown promise in its potential to benefit your skin. An animal study from 2015 found that milk thistle applied topically had a positive effect on inflammatory skin disorders. A 2013 laboratory test indicated that milk thistle has antioxidant activity that has anticancer and anti-aging potential. It’s suggested that the antioxidants in milk thistle can defend skin from free radical damage. Further tests are needed.

Researchers think milk thistle can have a positive effect on bone health, even helping to prevent bone loss. A 2013 animal study found milk thistle to be beneficial in preventing estrogen deficiency-induced bone loss. More studies are needed to research milk thistle’s potential in preventing bone loss and healing fractures.

Milk thistle has also been used to treat a variety of aging effects including cognitive decline. It may have a positive effect on the central nervous system. A 2015 animal study found that milk thistle improved resistance to oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is caused by an imbalance in free radicals and antioxidants and can contribute to Alzheimer’s disease.

Another animal study found that milk thistle helped learning and memory impairment. Further studies are warranted to research milk thistle’s potential in treating neurodegenerative diseases.

Carefully check the side effects and interactions of milk thistle before you start taking it. You should talk to your doctor for guidance. Milk thistle allergies are possible, especially in people who are allergic to other plants in its family. Always start with a small dose to see how your body reacts.

Herbs are not monitored by the Food and Drug Administration for quality or purity, so it’s important to purchase them from a reliable source.

Milk thistle can cause side effects. You should stop using it immediately if you experience any side effects after taking milk thistle. Talk to your doctor before taking milk thistle if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Do not take milk thistle if you have a hormone-sensitive condition.

Milk thistle may interact with the following:

  • medications processed by the liver
  • diabetes medications
  • agents that affect the blood or milk production
  • agents used for the skin
  • agents used for the heart, stomach, or intestines
  • alcohol
  • amiodarone
  • anti-anxiety agents
  • anti-inflammatories
  • anticancer agents
  • antiretrovirals
  • antivirals
  • cholesterol-lowering medications
  • estrogen
  • fertility agents
  • glucuronidated agents
  • hormonal agents
  • impotence agents
  • irinotecan (Camptosar)
  • losartan
  • penicillin
  • phenytoin (Dilantin, Phenytek)
  • p-glycoprotein modulators
  • rapamycin (Rapamune)
  • talinolol
  • other herbs and dietary supplements

Milk thistle is available as a capsule, powder, and liquid extract. The suggested dosage is a total of 420 mg per day. Each capsule should contain at least 70 percent silymarin. Carefully read any directions and dosages listed on the label of the specific brand that you buy. Dosages may vary. You can also drink up to six cups of milk thistle tea each day.