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Milk Thistle -ˈthis-əl

By Melissa G. Marko, PhD, Senior Clinical Scientist, Nestle Nutrition
Ara DerMarderosian, PhD, Professor Emeritus of Biology and Pharmacognosy, University of the Sciences

The main active ingredient, silymarin, is found in the seeds of this prickly leafed, purple-flowered plant.

Medicinal claims

Milk thistle is claimed to protect the liver from damage by viruses, toxic substances (such as alcohol and the toxins from death cap mushrooms), and certain drugs (such as acetaminophen). Thus, people take milk thistle to prevent and treat mushroom poisoning and other liver disorders, such as cirrhosis and hepatitis C. Well-designed scientific studies do not show that milk thistle significantly benefits people with a liver disorder.

Milk thistle also may improve blood sugar control in people with type 2 diabetes.

Possible side effects

Brief stomach upset and mild allergies but no serious side effects have been reported.

Women who have hormone-sensitive conditions (such as breast, uterine, or ovarian cancer, endometriosis, or uterine fibroids) should avoid the above-ground parts of milk thistle.

Possible drug interactions

Milk thistle may intensify the effects of drugs that decrease blood sugar levels (hypoglycemic drugs) and may interfere with drugs used to treat HIV infection (such as indinavir or saquinavir).

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