Mother nature may hold the answer to whatever ails you. Take the milk thistle herb, also called Silybum marianum, which people have relied on for centuries to treat liver problems and related symptoms.

"There is good scientific evidence of the milk thistle herb's efficacy for conditions such as cirrhosis and chronic liver disease," says James Roza, a certified nutritionist and director of Product Development for Reliance Vitamin Company.

 Protecting the liver is just one of the many benefits that of the milk thistle herb. "There is also emerging science indicating that milk thistle may also be useful for a number of other ailments ranging from high cholesterol to possibly cancer," says Roza. "It is also quite commonly used as a detoxifier and has been used historically in Europe for mushroom poisoning."

Milk Thistle May Reduce Inflammation

The protective action of milk thistle supplements can be traced to a flavonoid known as Silymarin. "Silymarin's mode of action involves the down regulation of certain proteins in the liver and the inhibition of mast cell activity." Roza says. This action can help to reduce inflammation in the body and can also provide an antioxidant effect at the same time. In addition, the herb may repair damage to the liver by encouraging the growth of new cells.

Milk Thistle May Help Patients Tolerate Chemotherapy Better

Milk thistle herb may help to protect the liver from the effects of chemotherapy. For instance, scientists affiliated with Columbia University Medical Center looked at children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia who were undergoing chemotherapy and found that using this natural remedy helped them to better tolerate the effects of the chemotherapy drugs on their livers without suffering permanent damage or needing to lower their dosage. More research needs to be conducted to better understand whether these benefits can extend to many different types of cancer patients.

Shopping for Milk Thistle

You can find milk thistle supplements at most health food stores. Roza recommends checking labels to find one that's standardized up to 80 percent silymarin and is also extracted directly from the seeds of the milk thistle plants.

Milk thistle supplements are usually taken two to three times a day for best results, but always check with your doctor before you try it for yourself. It's worth noting that milk thistle supplements can cause some other medications to stay in the user's body longer, which could be a concern for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

James Roza reviewed this article.


Ladas et al. "A randomized, controlled, double-blind, pilot study of milk thistle for the treatment of hepatotoxicity in childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). Cancer 116 (2) ( Jan 2010): 506-513 . Web. 7 April 2013.

Roza, James. Certified nutritionist. Director of Product Development, Reliance Vitamin Company. Email interview. 5 April 2013.

University of Maryland Medical Center. "Milk thistle." 3 April 2011. Web. 6 April 2013.