Milk Thistle Benefits: Amazing Regenerator of Hepatic Cells

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One of the many milk thistle benefits include the regeneration of hepatic cells. The prickles of thistles are defenses protecting a valuable medicinal treasure. Many people, however, dismiss these plants, thinking these are rough vegetables only fit for donkeys.

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Hence, this plant is given the name donkey thistle in many Latin countries, despite its doubtless medicinal properties.

milk thistle benefits
Milk thistle benefits

Indeed, donkeys eat thistles. But “intelligent” humans took many years to discover the milk thistle benefits, something those humble animals know by instinct. Many people would be surprised when learning that a powerful substance against liver disorders is extracted from this thistle: Silymarin, which makes up several pharmaceutical preparations.

A legend says that the white stains on this thistle’s leaves are drops of milk fallen from the Virgin Mary’s breast when she hid her Son from Herod’s persecution. On this basis, Middle Age physicians recommended this plant for increasing milk production in breastfeeding women.

Late scientific developments, which made it possible to know many plants’ chemical composition, allowed physicians to surrender many popular myths about plants. Hence, we can currently use medicinal herbs in a more effective, steady manner than before.

Scientific Facts

  • Scientific synonyms: Carduus marianus L
  • Synonyms: Saint Mary’s thistle
  • French: Chardon Marie
  • Spanish: Cardo mariano
  • Habitat: Typical Mediterranean species which also grows in Great Britain and North America, in dry, rocky soils
  • Description: Plant of prickly appearance, growing up two meters high, of the Compositae family, with large, thorny, white-stained leaves, its flower heads are pink or purple, and the fruits are hard, dark-colored
  • Parts used: The fruits (seeds), the leaves, and the root

Milk Thistle Benefits

Milk thistle seeds spread all over a table
Milk thistle benefits: The fruits of the milk thistle render a substance called silymarin, which can regenerate hepatic cells. This substance forms part of many pharmaceutical medicines.

In the fruits of the milk thistle, there are substances with medicinal properties, the so-called flavonolignan. Dr. Coll (of the Pharmacognosis and Pharmacodynamics Laboratory of Barcelona’s Pharmacy College) points out that these complex substances are formed by a flavonoid (taxifolin) and a phenolpropanic molecule (coniferilic alcohol). The mixture of several types (isomers) of flavonolignans is called silymarin.

Silymarin is responsible for one of the many milk thistle benefits. It stimulates regeneration of hepatic cells damaged by toxic substances such as ethyl alcohol or carbon tetrachloride and phalloidine, a substance in the Amanita phalloides, the most poisonous of all mushrooms.

Silymarin stimulates protein synthesis in hepatic cells, and it has essential anti-inflammatory properties on the mesenchyme (supporting fiber tissue) of the liver.

Hence, milk thistle is highly recommended in the following cases:

  • Fatty degeneration of the liver, both caused by alcohol or by other toxic substances.
  • Inflammation of the liver caused by medicines, such as those with anti-inflammatory, tuberculostatic, anovulatory, or psychological effects.
  • Poisoning with hepatotoxic substances, such as carbon tetrachloride, organic-phosphoric insecticides, and mushrooms of the genus Amanita (Amanita phalloides, Amanita verna, Amanita virosa).
  • Acute viral hepatitis, chronic hepatitis, alcoholic hepatitis (liver inflammation caused by alcoholic beverage consumption.
  • Hepatic insufficiency or congestion, with or without jaundice.
  • Hepatic cirrhosis

In all these cases, silymarin stimulates the regeneration of damaged liver cells and restores their normal functions. However, this plant does not entirely heal cirrhosis, nor any other treatment, if necrosis has already occurred. Nonetheless, even in the most severe cases, an improvement is expected.

The FRUITS of the milk thistle and in less proportion, its leaves and root, contain other active substances (biogenic amines, essential oil, albuminoid substances, and tannin), which could explain its balancing action on the autonomic nervous system that controls the tone of blood vessels. Therefore, the plant is successfully used in the cases of:

  • Migraines and neuralgias
  • Exhaustion and asthenia
  • Kinetosis (nausea and vomiting when traveling): drink herbal tea before departing.
  • Allergic reactions: hay fever, asthma, nettle rash

Top Rated Milk Thistle Supplements

Milk Thistle Herbs

Preparation and Use

milk thistle benefits and side effects
Milk thistle benefits
  1. Salads: Young leaves without prickles and flower hearts (like artichokes) can be eaten raw, as Sahara Bedouins do. These are exquisite meals.
  2. Infusion or decoction: With 30-50 g of mashed or ground fruits per liter of water, some leaves or roots can be added. Drink from three to five cups daily. The dosage can be exceeded with no risk since milk thistle has no toxic side effects.
  3. Dry extract: The recommended dose is 0.5-1 g, three times daily.


  • George D. Pamplona-Roger, M.D. “Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants.” George D. Pamplona-Roger, M.D. Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants. Ed. Francesc X. Gelabert. Vols. 1 San Fernando de Henares: Editorial Safeliz, 2000. 395,396. Print.

Last update on 2023-09-30 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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