How to take milk thistle

Treatment with milk thistle: duration, quantity, type of supplement or seeds, etc.

What is milk thistle and what is it taken for?

Milk thistle (Silybum marianum (L.) Gaertn.) is a medicinal plant that is used not only in herbal medicine, but also in conventional medicine, due to its properties as a powerful liver regenerator.

milk thistle
Photo of milk thistle, medicinal plant for the liver

The main doubts that arise when wanting to use this plant are resolved below: How should this plant be taken? How long should the treatment last? Are infusions good? How are the seeds taken? What is the best milk thistle supplement, or which ones are recommended?

Milk thistle uses

Milk thistle supplements are used in many medical therapies (in conventional medicine), such as:
  • Adjuvant in the treatment of cancer
  • Treatment of high blood sugar and diabetes
  • Liver diseases (cirrhosis, fatty liver, hepatitis, etc.)
  • Obesity and metabolic syndrome (high bad cholesterol, high triglycerides)
  • People who have to take many medications (to protect the liver) and as an antidote to poisons. It is a very useful aid to help the liver when taking many medications, for example chemotherapy.

How should this plant be taken?

To obtain the benefits of milk thistle, you have to look for preparations that contain its active ingredient, which is called silymarin.

Silymarin is found in the seeds of the plant and in supplements or medicinal preparations of milk thistle extract (tinctures, tablets, etc.).

Types of commercial preparations with milk thistle

In the market we can find the following preparations with milk thistle:

  • Milk thistle supplements containing at least 200 mg of silymarin: The best option.
  • Milk thistle supplements (unspecified amount of silymarin): May be a good or bad option. There are many types of milk thistle supplements and some are not very concentrated in silymarin (active ingredient). For this reason, you should look on the label for the amount of principle it has.
  • Milk thistle tincture: Depends on the purpose. It can be used in healthy people, but tinctures are contraindicated in alcoholism, when taking medications, in case of alcoholic liver and in all liver diseases, due to their alcohol content.
  • Ground milk thistle seeds: This can be a good option. Crushing makes it easier to assimilate the active ingredients of the seeds. In any case, it should be kept refrigerated and consumed within a few months, as the omega 3 content deteriorates over time. It can be interesting as an ingredient in detox-type diets, but if a treatment is to be carried out, more concentrated silymarin preparations should be sought.
  • Whole seeds: Not recommended. They are impractical to use, since the seeds are very hard and cannot be chewed.
  • Milk thistle leaves: Not recommended. The medicinal part of the plant are the seeds. The leaves are only diuretic, they do not have hepatoprotective effects.
  • Infusions of leaves and/or seeds: Not recommended. The active ingredients of the plant are not soluble, so it is not possible to extract them through infusions.

What dosage is recommended for milk thistle?

The amount or dose of milk thistle that should be taken is measured in milligrams (mg) of silymarin, which is its active ingredient:

As a reference dose, in medical treatments, a dose of 5.1 mg of silymarin per kg of weight per day is usually used. A 60 kg person could take, for example, 300 mg per day. In some specific treatments, higher doses can be used:

  • In patients with diabetes and alcoholic liver cirrhosis, the administration of 600 mg of silymarin daily for 6 months produced a significant reduction in fasting flucose and decreased mean daily glucose levels from the second month of treatment, without hypoglycemia. (Milk thistle for diabetes)
  • Other doses used were 140 mg of silymarin 3 times a day for 6 months to treat type 2 diabetes and high sugar damage to the body. Another similar study used 200 mg of silymarin, 3 times a day.
  • It appears described in the medical literature that its efficacy as an antidote to the poison of Amanita phaloides has been proven to prevent the toxins of this fungus from destroying the liver. (Dose of 20-50mg of silymarin per kg of weight)

When is it best to take the supplement?

Naturopathic doctors consider that milk thistle is best taken at night, one hour after dinner (early dinner), because it is during the sleeping hours when the liver has its maximum purifying tasks of the organism. This is how many conventional medications also work, such as statins, which are better taken at night because they have a greater effect (the enzyme on which they act is more active at night).

On the other hand, there would be no problem taking it in the afternoon, or even one capsule in the morning and one in the evening.

How long should the treatment last?

Milk thistle supplements have no toxicity or adverse effects at recommended doses. Milk thistle treatments have been shown to be safe even when carried out for as long as 41 weeks.

The plant can produce adverse reactions in high doses (higher than recommended).

*More information: Milk thistle toxicity

What is the best milk thistle supplement, or which ones are recommended?

It is recommended to look for those supplements that guarantee a minimum content of active ingredient (in milk thistle it is silymarin) and that this content is clearly stated on the label.

There is a big difference in quality between supplements, since legally, to prepare a milk thistle nutritional supplement, it would be enough to crush the seeds, put them in capsules and label the product with the name of the plant.

Supplement labels should be read to see if they are good for you. Although the consumer understands little about this subject, there is something very basic that must be requested, and that is to indicate how much active ingredient it contains per tablet or dose.

How to buy a milk thistle supplement

When purchasing a milk thistle supplement, expect it to contain a minimum of 100 mg of silymarin per tablet or dose. It does not work: “100 mg of pure milk thistle” or “rich in silymarin”, or similar. It has to be 100 mg of active ingredient (silymarin) per tablet, pill or capsule.

Sheet on how to take milk thistle. Supplements must clearly indicate on their label how much silymarin (the active ingredient in milk thistle) they contain per tablet.

Where can these supplements be purchased?

Milk thistle supplements can be found in pharmacies, parapharmacies and specialized dietary stores, since they are marketed as food supplements.

punto rojo More information on milk thistle

This article was endorsed by Elisenda Carballido - Dietitian nutritionist. Postgraduate in Phytotherapy and master in Nutrition and Metabolism.
Written by Editorial Botanical-online team in charge of content writing

13 August, 2022

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