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Herbs at a Glance
Milk Thistle

September 2005


Introduction

This fact sheet provides basic information about the herb milk thistle -- common names, uses, potential side effects, and resources for more information. Milk thistle is a plant that is native to the Mediterranean region. It has been used for thousands of years as a remedy for a variety of ailments, especially liver problems.

Common Names -- milk thistle, Mary thistle, holy thistle. Milk thistle is sometimes called silymarin, which is actually a mixture of the herb's active components, including silybinin (also called silibinin or silybin).

Latin Name -- Silybum marianum


What It Is Used For

Milk thistle is believed to have protective effects on the liver and improve its function. It is typically used to treat liver cirrhosis, chronic hepatitis (liver inflammation), and gallbladder disorders. Treatment claims also include:


How It Is Used

Milk thistle is a flowering herb. Silymarin, which can be extracted from the seeds (fruit), is believed to be the biologically active part of the herb. The seeds are used to prepare capsules containing powdered herb or seed; extracts; and infusions (strong teas).


What the Science Says

Herbs at a Glance: Milk Thistle


Side Effects and Cautions


Sources

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Milk Thistle: Effects on Liver Disease and Cirrhosis and Clinical Adverse Effects. Evidence Report/Technology Assessment no. 21. Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality; 2000. 01-E024.

Milk thistle (Silybum marianum). In: Coates P, Blackman M, Cragg G, et al., eds. Encyclopedia of Dietary Supplements. New York, NY: Marcel Dekker; 2005:467-482. Accessed at Dekker Encyclopedias Web site on August 22, 2005.

Milk thistle. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. Accessed on August 22, 2005.

Milk thistle (Silybum marianum), silymarin. Natural Standard Database Web site. Accessed on August 22, 2005.

Milk thistle fruit. In: Blumenthal M, Goldberg A, Brinckman J, eds. Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs. Newton, MA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2000:257-263.

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Hepatitis C and Complementary and Alternative Medicine: 2003 Update. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine Web site. Accessed on August 22, 2005.


For More Information

Visit the NCCAM Web site and view:

NCCAM Clearinghouse
Toll-free in the U.S.: 1-888-644-6226
TTY (for deaf and hard-of-hearing callers): 1-866-464-3615
E-mail: info@nccam.nih.gov

CAM on PubMed
Web site: nccam.nih.gov/camonpubmed/

NIH Office of Dietary Supplements
Web site: ods.od.nih.gov




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