Protect against harmful toxins, balance hormones and boost skin health
Milk thistle, also known as St Mary’s Thistle or Silybum marianum, is a magnificent herb with many medicinal benefits.
With its distinctive purple flower surrounded by spikes and leaves, milk thistle is used predominantly to support the liver and gallbladder; however, it’s also effective for cleansing the blood, regulating hormones and improving skin health.
Discover the health benefits of milk thistle and 5 ways milk thistle supports liver health.
Health benefits of Milk Thistle
The Milk thistle plant contains a group of compounds called silymarin that are known to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, hepatoprotective (ability to protect the liver) and anti-viral properties.
To use milk thistle therapeutically (to make a herbal liquid extract or capsules), the silymarin is extracted from the seeds of the milk thistle plant.
The health benefits of milk thistle include:
- Shields the liver from the damage of modern-day living including toxins in foods and the environment. Keep reading to find out how milk thistle specifically supports liver health.
- Promotes healthy skin through its blood cleansing and antioxidant action. Milk thistle can be helpful for those experiencing acne, eczema and psoriasis.
- Supports thyroid function and metabolism via its action on the liver. The liver plays a role in converting the thyroid hormone (T4) to its active form T3, and also transporting thyroid hormones around the body. If the liver isn’t functionally properly, thyroid health can be negatively impacted.
- Helps maintain hormone balance by clearing excess hormones out of the body via the liver. Many women tend to have excess oestrogen circulating around their body which can imbalance the progesterone/oestrogen ratio and cause hormonal issues such as PMS, irregular periods and hormonal acne. This build-up of oestrogen is linked poor liver clearance/ detoxification and exposure to xenoestrogens (chemicals that exert oestrogen-like effects). Learn more about xenoestrogens and hormonal imbalance.
- Promotes breast milk production. Milk thistle is a galactagogue herb, meaning it increases lactation. It is thought that the plant oestrogens in milk thistle stimulate prolactin, the hormone involved in breast milk production.
- Anti-cancer and chemo-preventative properties. Some of the compounds in silymarin have shown anti-cancer activity and the ability to kill cancer cells. Silymarin has also shown promising results to reduce the risk of and delay the development of certain cancers. 
- Protects the brain from free radical damage due to its high antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. With its neuroprotective effect, milk thistle has been used traditionally to support those with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Studies have shown it may be effective in reducing the amyloid plaques that build up due to ageing and are linked to Alzheimer’s. 
How Milk Thistle helps the liver
- Increases bile production to improve digestion and the breakdown of fats. Bile also encourages bowel movements so milk thistle can help with constipation and sluggish bowels.
- Protects liver cell membranes (the protective barrier surrounding cells) to stop toxins from entering cells and causing damage. Milk thistle is also known to neutralise toxic substances that break through cell walls.
- Regenerates liver cells by stimulating the production of proteins that make liver cells and increasing cell division. Milk thistle has been used successfully for alcoholic liver disease, chronic hepatitis and toxin-induced liver diseases.
- Detoxifies the liver from harmful substances including alcohol, drugs, caffeine, pollution, heavy metals and chemicals in food, household products and personal care items.
- Promotes the release of SOD (superoxide dismutase), a powerful antioxidant that is effective in scavenging the free radicals caused by alcohol in the liver.
How to use Milk Thistle
Milk thistle can be taken as a herbal tea, liquid extract/ tincture, a herbal infusion (using a powder) or in capsule form.
Due to its ability to accelerate liver detoxification, milk thistle can clear drugs out of the body quickly. So, if you are taking any form or medication or antibiotics, its advised that you consult with a qualified herbalist before taking milk thistle.
Milk thistle can have a powerful effect. Those who may have a compromised liver due to illness, drugs or alcoholic liver disease should only take milk thistle under the guidance of a qualified herbalist.
Improve liver function naturally
Milk thistle is an excellent herb for supporting liver health. It is also effective for skin conditions, balancing hormones and protecting the brain from free radical damage. You can take it as a tea, infusion or in supplemental form as a capsule. For a more therapeutic dose, milk thistle is best taken as a liquid extract or tincture.
To learn more about how you can use herbs to improve your health, take a look at CNM’s Herbs for Everyday Living short course.