• Milk Thistle Extract Chemical Components and Functions
  • Milk thistle is native to the Mediterranean region. It is now found throughout the world. This stout thistle usually grows in dry, sunny areas. The spiny stems branch at the top, and reach a height of 5 - 10 feet. The leaves are wide, with white blotches or veins. Milk thistle gets its name from the milky white sap that comes from the leaves when they are crushed. The flowers are red purple. The small, hard skinned fruit is brown, spotted, and shiny. Milk thistle spreads quickly (it is considered a weed in some parts of the world), and it matures quickly, in less than a year.

    Milk Thistle Extract Chemical Components 

    Traditional milk thistle extract is made from the seeds, which contain approximately 4–6% silymarin. The extract consists of about 65–80% silymarin (a flavonolignan complex) and 20–35% fatty acids, including linoleic acid. Silymarin is a complex mixture of polyphenolic molecules, including seven closely related flavonolignans (silybin A, silybin B, isosilybin A, isosilybin B, silychristin, isosilychristin, silydianin) and one flavonoid (taxifolin). Silibinin, a semipurified fraction of silymarin, is primarily a mixture of 2 diastereoisomers, silybin A and silybin B, in a roughly 1: 1 ratio. In clinical trials silymarin has typically been administered in amounts ranging from 420–480 mg per day in two to three divided doses. However higher doses have been studied, such as 600 mg daily in the treatment of type II diabetes and 600 or 1200 mg daily in patients chronically infected with hepatitis C virus. An optimal dosage for milk thistle preparations has not been established. Milk thistle, along with dandelion and other extracts are often referred to as hangover cures as the bitter tincture helps organs rid toxins after heavy drinking.

    Milk thistle extract

    Milk Thistle Extract Functions:

    Liver disease from alcohol Milk thistle is often suggested as a treatment for alcoholic hepatitis and alcoholic cirrhosis. But scientific studies show mixed results. Most studies show milk thistle improves liver function and increases survival in people with cirrhosis or chronic hepatitis. But problems in the design of the studies (such as small numbers of participants and differences in dosing and duration of milk thistle therapy) make it hard to draw any real conclusions.

    Viral hepatitis

    Milk thistle is widely used in the treatment of viral hepatitis (particularly hepatitis C). However, studies show mixed results. Some found improvements in liver function, while others did not. In one study of 16 patients who didn't respond to interferon and ribavirin therapy, milk thistle significantly reduced the viral load of hepatitis C. In 7 of the subjects the virus decreased to undetectable levels after 14 days of therapy.

    Mushroom poisoning

    Based on traditional use, milk thistle has been used as an emergency antidote to poisoning by deathcap mushroom (Amanita phalloides). Animal studies have found that milk thistle extract completely counteracts the toxic effects of the mushroom when given within 10 minutes of ingestion. If given within 24 hours, it significantly reduces the risk of liver damage and death.


    Early laboratory studies also suggest that silymarin and other active substances in milk thistle may have anticancer effects. These substances appear to stop cancer cells from dividing and reproducing, shorten their lifespan, and reduce blood supply to tumors. Some studies suggest silymarin may favorably supplement sunscreen protection and may help reduce the risk of skin cancer. More studies are needed, however, to show whether milk thistle has any effects in the body (not just in test tubes).

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