Clayton's Health Facts: Milk Thistle.

Clayton South, SPN (ISSA), is a recognized expert in the bodybuilding / fitness industry with over 150 bodybuilding, fitness and nutrition publications to his credit.

1. What are they and where do they come from?

Silybum marianum [Milk Thistle] is an herb that has been used for thousands of years to treat various ailments and afflictions. The herb is a tall, stocky, plant that grows fruit, and is native to the Mediterranean.

2. What does it do and what scientific studies give evidence to support this?

The fruit of the plant contains flavonolignands. These are responsible for the benefits of milk thistle. 1

Milk thistle has been used almost exclusively to enhance liver health. It is a very powerful antioxidant 2, and as such helps to remove toxic elements from the body. When the liver is damaged by alcohol consumption, steroid usage, pollutants, or any other environmental factor, milk thistle helps the liver to generate new liver cells. 3,4

It may also be helpful in reducing the risk of developing gallstones. 5 Its ability to cleanse the liver is well-documented in scientific literature. 6

3. Who needs it and what are some symptoms of deficiency?

Everyone can benefit from supplementing with milk thistle. Populations that may benefit most from the supplementation of milk thistle include: persons with hepatitis C, liver problems, or other long-term health problems, persons suffering or recovering from alcoholism, individuals looking to supplement with powerful antioxidant's and athletes looking to improve athletic performance and general health.

Because of milk thistle's ability to generate new liver cells, current or former alcoholics may benefit from its use. 7,8 Milk thistle has been shown to enhance liver recovery, and protect the liver from further damage resulting from alcohol abuse.

Health-conscious individuals may find that milk thistle improves their health by removing toxic substances and harmful oxidant's from the body. With the state of today's environment, almost everyone is exposed to pollutants on a daily basis. Milk thistle functions to protect the liver from harm by detoxifying the body.

Athletes and bodybuilders may benefit from the use of milk thistle. Athletes and bodybuilders typically use many nutritional supplements at one time, in order to boost performance. The use of a number of supplements at one time may produce synergism that results in enormous stress being placed upon the liver.

After a cycle of anabolic steroids, pro-hormones, thermogenics, or any other supplement, athletes may find it helpful to allow the body to rest from supplementation, while taking milk thistle to promote liver health.

Cycling supplements in an on-again-off-again manner, while using milk thistle in between, will ensure liver health and successful performance.

4. How much should be taken? Are there any side effects?

Side effects resulting from overdose can include: nausea, stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea and headaches. To avoid these complications it is recommended that label directions be followed at all times.

5. Where can I get it?

There are different brand names that manufacture supplemental milk thistle.

Written by writer, Clayton South.


1. Wagner H, Horhammer L, Munster R. The chemistry of silymarin (silybin), the active principle of the fruits of Silybum marianum (L.) Gaertn. Arzneim-Forsch Drug Res 1968;18:688-96.
2. Feher J, Lang I, Deak G, et al. Free radicals in tissue damage in liver diseases and therapeutic approach. Tokai J Exp Clin Med 1986;11:121-34.
3. Pizzorno, Joseph, ND; Murray, Michael T, Eds. Textbook of Natural Medicine, second ed. Churchill Livingstone, 1999.
4. Sonnenbichler J, Zetl I. Stimulating influence of a flavonolignan derivative on proliferation, RNA synthesis and protein synthesis in liver cells. In Assessment and Management of Hepatobiliary Disease, ed. L Okolicsanyi, G Csomos, G Crepaldi. Berlin: Springer-Verlag, 1987, 265-72.
5. Nassuato G, Iemmolo RM, Strazzabosco M, et al. Effect of silibinin on biliary lipid composition. Experimental and clinical study. J Hepatol 1991;12:290-5.
6. Tuchweber B, Sieck R, Trost W. Prevention by silibinin of phalloidin induced hepatotoxicity. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol 1979;51:265-75.
7. Salmi HA, Sama S. Effect of silymarin on chemical, functional and morphological alterations of the liver. Scand J Gastroenterol 1982;17:517-21.
8. Leng-Peschlow E. Alcohol-related liver diseases-use of Legalon?. Z Klin Med 1994;2:22-7.