milk thistle
Julie Hambleton
Julie Hambleton
June 22, 2023 ·  4 min read

5 Science-Backed Benefits of Milk Thistle

Milk thistle, also known as Silybum marianum, is a flowering herb that has been used for centuries as a natural remedy for a variety of health conditions. The active ingredient in milk thistle is called silymarin, which has been shown to have powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. In recent years, several studies have suggested that milk thistle may have a range of health benefits, including fighting inflammation, diabetes, OCD, and even showing promise for cancer.

The Science-Backed Benefits of Milk Thistle

Milk Thistle is an herb native to southeastern Europe and Asia, but it is now grown in many places around the world. The plant is pretty unassuming; it looks like a dandelion with white flowers growing in a cluster at the top of its stem. Milk thistle has long been used in traditional medicine for a variety of ailments, including liver disease and jaundice. In fact, the earliest known reference to milk thistle can be found in ancient Greek texts. (1)

The active ingredient in milk thistle is called silymarin. It’s a flavonoid complex that has antioxidant properties, which means it can protect your cells from damage by free radicals and oxidative stress. There are many claims on the internet about what Milk Thistle can do for your health. These are those that are actually backed by science.

Fighting Inflammation

Inflammation is a natural response of the body’s immune system to injury or infection. However, chronic inflammation can lead to a range of health problems, including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Milk thistle has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce inflammation in the body. In fact, a study found that milk thistle extract was able to reduce inflammation in patients with osteoarthritis. It does this by inhibiting the inflammatory response and cartilage matrix degradation characteristic of this disease. (2)

May Help in Managing Diabetes

Diabetes is a chronic condition that affects millions of people worldwide. Milk thistle has been shown to positively affect blood sugar levels, making it a potential natural remedy for managing diabetes. A study found that milk thistle showed beneficial effects for diabetic neuropathy, diabetic nephropathy, and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, mainly by means of its antioxidant properties. There have been some animal studies that show the herb has potential to help lower blood sugar but more research is needed. (3)

Read: 9 Foods That Support Liver Function

May Help with OCD

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition characterized by recurrent, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and/or repetitive behaviors (compulsions). The disorder can cause severe anxiety, stress, and problems with daily functioning. There have been several studies that show milk thistle may be helpful for managing OCD. A study found that the herb helped reduce symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder in mice. The researchers noted that further research is needed to determine if milk thistle also works in humans with this condition. (4)

Has Anti-Cancer Properties

Cancer is a complex and devastating disease that doesn’t have a one-treatment-fits-all possibility. Milk thistle has been shown to have anti-cancer properties. Researchers have found that the herb may inhibit the growth of tumors involved in gastrointestinal cancer. Some studies also show that Milk Thistle can help with some of the side effects of cancer treatments, such as radiodermatitis (sore, inflamed skin) following radiotherapy in breast cancer patients. More research is needed to understand the full effects of Milk Thistle on different types of cancer. (5, 6)

Read: The 3 Types of Tea That the Longest-Living People on the Planet Drink Most (one is milk thistle)

Liver Disease

Milk Thistle has been used in herbal medicine to treat liver disease for centuries. It may be helpful for people with mild to moderate liver damage, including hepatitis B and C and alcoholic liver disease. Milk Thistle may also help prevent further damage to the liver by preventing free radicals from damaging cells. (7)

Are all of the claims valid?

While some evidence suggests that milk thistle may have health benefits, it is important to note that more research is required in almost all cases. Additionally, some of the studies that have been conducted on milk thistle have been small and limited in scope. Therefore, more research is needed to fully understand the potential health benefits of milk thistle.

The Bottom Line

Milk thistle is a natural remedy that has been used for centuries to treat a variety of health conditions. While some evidence suggests that it may have health benefits, more research is needed to fully understand its potential. If you are considering using milk thistle as a natural remedy, be sure to talk to your healthcare provider first to determine if it is safe for you to use.

Keep Reading: 5 Early Signs of Liver Damage You Should Look Our For


  1. Milk Thistle.” PK Diet. Steven Foster. 2000.
  2. Silibinin protects against osteoarthritis through inhibiting the inflammatory response and cartilage matrix degradation in vitro and in vivo.” NCBI. Wenhao Zheng, et al. November 2017.
  3. The Therapeutic Potential of Milk Thistle in Diabetes.” NCBI. Christos E. Kazazis, et al. 2014.
  4. Nutritional and herbal supplements in the treatment of obsessive compulsive disorder.” NCBI. Canan Kuygun Karcı and Gonca Gül Celik. March 2020.
  5. Silymarin (milk thistle extract) as a therapeutic agent in gastrointestinal cancer.” NCBI. Maryam Fallah, et al. October 2021.
  6. Milk thistle and cancer.” Cancer Research UK
  7. Milk Thistle.” Examine