Silybum marianum (Milk thistle)
Silybum marianum (Milk thistle)
Silybum marianum, also commonly known as milk thistle, is a biennial plant native to the Mediterranean region 1. It has distinctive purple flowers and its leaves are white-veined, oblong with spiky edges. Milk Thistle extract has a high amount of silymarin, which has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects 1. Traditionally, Silybum marianum has been used to treat liver and gallbladder disorders, promote breast milk production, and protect the liver from amanita phalloides mushroom poisoning 2.
The active ingredient of Silybum marianum is silymarin, found in the highest concentrations in the fruit portion of the plant. Silymarin is composed of three isomeric flavanolignans namely silybin, silydianin and silychristin 3. The seeds of silymarin also contain betaine, trimethylglycine, essential fatty acids, proteins, essential amino acids, and minerals, which may contribute to silymarin’s liver protective effect 1.
Published Health Benefits
1. Liver Health
Research has shown that extract from Silybum marianum is highly beneficial in protecting the liver from damage due to alcoholic liver disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, hepatitis and even liver cancers. The active ingredient in milk thistle, silymarin, acts as an antioxidant, reducing free radical production, enhancing liver detoxification and reducing liver inflammation 4.
2. Age-Related Decline in Brain Functions
Silymarin has shown benefits in Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and cerebral ischemia. Its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties provide neuroprotective effects and prevent oxidative damage to the brain cells, thereby helping to prevent the decline in brain function as we age 4.
3. Blood Sugar Control in Type 2 Diabetes
Research has shown that adults with Type 2 diabetes who regularly take silymarin experience a significant reduction in their fasting sugar level and HbA1C level. Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of silymarin also demonstrated beneficial effects on several diabetic complications like nerves damage and kidney disease 5.
Silymarin may have anti-neoplastic effects that could limit the growth and spread of certain types of cancer cells in patients such as prostate, ovaries, lung, breast, and bladder cancer 4.
5. Breast Milk Production
One clinical study found that lactating women taking 420mg of silymarin for 63 days produced 64% more milk than those taking a placebo. This study concluded that silymarin is safe and effective to enhance the milk production in lactating mothers 4,6.
6. Bone Health
Silybum marianum has been shown to increase bone mineral density (metric to measure bone health). Silybum marianum triggers the body to produce more new bone and at the same time prevents it from dissolving the old bone as quickly in the right balance 7.
1. Apostol, L., Lorga, C. S., Cucu, S., Mustățea, G., & Moșoiu, C. (2017). Nutrient composition of partially defatted milk thistle seeds. Scientific Bulletin Series F Biotechnologies, 21, 165-169. http://biotechnologyjournal.usamv.ro/pdf/2017/Art28.pdf
2. Porwal, O., Mohammed-Ameen, M. S., Anwer, E. T., Uthirapathy, S., Ahamad, J., & Tahsin, A. (2019). Silybum marianum (Milk Thistle): Review on Its chemistry, morphology, ethno medical uses, phytochemistry and pharmacological activities. Journal of Drug Delivery and Therapeutics, 9(5), 199-206. doi: 10.22270/jddt.v9i5.3666
3. Das, S., Sukhes, M., & Damodaran, V. (2008). Medicinal properties of milk thistle with special reference to silymarin– an overview. Natural Product Radiance, 7, 182-192. http://nopr.niscair.res.in/bitstream/123456789/5665/1/NPR%207(2)%20182-192.pdf
4. Valková, V. (2020). Milk thistle (Silybum marianum): a valuable medicinal plant with several therapeutic purposes. Journal of Microbiology, Biotechnology and Food Sciences, 9(4), 836-843. doi: 10.15414/jmbfs.2020.9.4.836-843
5. Voroneanu, L., Nistor, I., Dumea, R., Apetrii, M., & Covic, A. (2016). Silymarin in type 2 diabetes mellitus: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Journal of Diabetes Research, 1-10. doi: 10.1155/2016/5147468
6. Di Pierro, F., Callegari, A., Carotenuto, D., & Tapia, M. M. (2008). Clinical efficacy, safety and tolerability of BIO-C (micronized Silymarin) as a galactagogue. Acta Biomed, 9(3), 205-210.
7. Kim, J-L, Kim, Y-H, Kang, M-K, Gong, J-H, Han, S-J, & Kang, Y-H. (2013). Antiosteoclastic activity of milk thistle extract after ovariectomy to suppress estrogen deficiency-induced osteoporosis. BioMed Research International, 1-11. doi: 10.1155/2013/919374