What are the properties of milk thistle?

Benefits of milk thistle for the liver

The liver is a hugely important organ, that metabolises several macronutrients and contributes to immune system functions by eliminating toxic substances from the body1. Certain chemical or organic compounds can cause liver damage, known as hepatotoxicity2. In this article we reveal the benefits of milk thistle, a plant that can help with liver problems, helping it to maintain its normal functions.

Characteristics of milk thistle

Milk thistle, or cardus marianus (Silybum marianum (L.) Gaertn.) is an annual or biannual herbaceous plant native to Mediterranean basin countries, and to regions extending from Asia to India and Siberia3. This plant grows to a height of over three metres and has striking pinkish-purple flowers. The leaves and the flowers of milk thistle are covered with prickles3. It gets its name ‘milk thistle’ because of the white marks that cover its leaves.

Milk thistle is cultivated in several countries because of the properties it is traditionally believed to possess3. The flowers and other parts of the plant are consumed as infusions or milled to treat a range of ailments. In this article, we explain all the benefits this plant can provide to our health.

Beneficial effects of milk thistle

Silymarin, an active plant compound with antioxidant properties4 is extracted from milk thistle seeds together with other compounds that exert different actions5. The plant of Milk thistle contains flavonolignans, which are similar in structure to flavonoids, including silibinin or silybin. Silybin is the main active component of silymarin5. Other compounds found in the milk thistle seed extract are isosilybin, silychristin and silydianin.

milk thistle tablets

The properties associated with this Mediterranean plant include its silymarin-rich content. Milk thistle supports liver health while also helping to protect it5,6.

Scientific studies have found that silymarin can offer protection thanks to its antioxidant action4,7. It has been suggested that silymarin’s possible mechanisms of action for protection involve blocking and adjusting membrane transporters and cell nuclei6.

Other studies have found that the milk thistle plant helps to protect the liver6, because it contains active compounds such as silybin. Silybin causes intracellular oxidative free radicals to increase the activity of the superoxide dismutase enzyme and of peroxidase, which are responsible for eliminating certain toxins5.

Trials have found that consuming milk thistle is beneficial in liver disorders caused by alcohol consumption reducing problems associated with these ailments and making it less likely that other associated ailments will emerge7.

How to take milk thistle

Milk thistle seeds are the main source of silymarin and silybin4. However, these compounds are poorly soluble in water and have low bioavailability, so it is important to follow the instructions on the label when taking them. It is also important to choose a product of proven quality, for example one containing standardised extracts tested using appropriate techniques8.

On Anastore’s website we offer a food supplement that contains milk thistle seed extract. This is a premium quality product containing 80% silymarin and 30% silybin and isosilybin, tested through specific techniques to guarantee the product’s purity.

It is also free from allergens (under Regulation (EU) No. 1169/2011) and free from genetically modified organisms. This milk thistle seed extract is produced in a laboratory that complies with Good Manufacturing Practices standards, guaranteeing a high product quality.

Does milk thistle have any contraindications?

Consuming milk thistle is generally considered well tolerated8. The recommended dose of Anastore’s product is one capsule per day at mealtimes, However, it is not recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding women.


  1. Trefts et al. (2018). The liver. Current Biology. 27(21): R1147–R1151.
  2. Lopez & Hendrickson (2014). Toxin-induced hepatic injury. Emergency Medicine Clinics of North America. 32(1):103-25.
  3. Flora of North America Editorial Committee. "Silybum marianum". New York and Oxford – via eFloras.org, Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, MO & Harvard University Herbaria, Cambridge, MA. Vol. 19, 20 and 21 Page 157, 164.
  4. Extracted from the EFSA health claims application list, under evaluation (ID 2641).
  5. Kostek et al. (2012). Silibinin and its hepatoprotective action from the perspective of a toxicologist. Przegl Lek. 69(8):541-3.
  6. Extracted from the EFSA health claims application list, under evaluation (ID 4141).
  7. Davis-Searles et al. (2005). Milk Thistle and Prostate Cancer: Differential Effects of Pure Flavonolignans from Silybum marianum on Antiproliferative End Points in Human Prostate Carcinoma Cells. Cancer Research. 65 (10):4448-57
  8. Karimi et al. (2011). “Silymarin”, a Promising Pharmacological Agent for Treatment of Diseases. Iranian Journal of Basic Medical Sciences. 14(4): 308–317.
  9. Di Costanzo & Angelico (2019). Formulation Strategies for Enhancing the Bioavailability of Silymarin: The State of the Art. Molecules. 2019 Jun; 24(11): 2155..

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