Is milk thistle good for the liver?

Kate Harris
Trainee Herbalist, Reflexologist, Yoga Teacher, Writer & Product Trainer

06 December 2021

Is milk thistle good for the liver?

Milk thistle's reputation as a liver tonic is supported by research showing that milk thistle protects liver cells from chemical damage. Milk thistle also supports liver function by enhancing bile production, promoting liver cell generation, and by offering antioxidant support.

How does milk thistle help the liver?

Research shows that many phytochemicals in milk thistle have a protective effect on liver cells. While it's important to remember that each of the phytochemicals in a plant play an important role in providing their health benefits, the most studied of the phytochemicals in milk thistle is silymarin. Silymarin has been shown to reverse the effects of toxins on the liver and protect liver cells from their damaging impact. (1)

The silymarin content of milk thistle causes it to act like an antioxidant. It also raises levels of glutathione (a powerful antioxidant) in the body. (2)

Antioxidants are important for our health. They counteract the damage that free radicals have on our cells by neutralizing them. This helps our body maintain an oxidative-anti oxidative balance. Long-term oxidative imbalance contributes to aging. It may also play a role in the development of chronic illness. Keeping oxidant balance is especially important for the liver, because this organ processes various compounds that produce free radicals.

Why is the liver so important for health?

Your liver's health (or lack thereof) impacts your health quite dramatically. This important organ has such a wide range of functions that our health suffers if our liver is unhappy. Alfred Vogel spoke about the liver as being the regulator of your health. The health pioneer concluded that you are only as healthy as your liver.

Let's look at some of the liver's functions to better understand why it's such an important organ:

  • Helps your body fight infection by removing bacteria from the blood
  • Breaks down nutrients from food to produce energy
  • Creates cholesterol for hormone production and tissue healing
  • Produces bile, a compound needed to digest fat and to absorb fat-soluble vitamins
  • Removes toxic substances we consume from our environment.

How to take milk thistle?

Similar to artichoke, the head of the milk thistle plant is used as food. However, the seeds of milk thistle are the most commonly used part for medicinal purposes. The seeds are made into liquid drops, dried for use as tea, or in capsule and tablet format. Always follow the manufacturer's guidelines on dosage.

Safety considerations

Milk thistle is well tolerated and there are no known side effects or drug interactions.

Who needs liver support?

If you:

  • are on long term medication
  • eat a diet rich in refined carbohydrates (sugar, bread, pasta)
  • drink alcohol or coffee
  • smoke cigarettes

It's likely that your liver needs extra support.

Women going through menopause or suffering from PMS will benefit from extra liver support.

Even if you don't fall into the above categories, supporting your liver is a wise choice. Remember that we are exposed to thousands of environmental toxins on a daily basis whether they are inhaled, ingested, or applied to our skin. The liver is the major organ responsible for dealing with this. To reduce this toxic load:

  • Eat a diet full of nutrient-dense, unprocessed foods
  • Improve gut health and fitness
  • Supplement with milk thistle

Look after your liver and your liver will look after you!


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