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Ask your Pharmacist: Milk Thistle

Monday, 9th December, 2013 12:28pm
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Ask your Pharmacist: Milk Thistle
Ask your Pharmacist: Milk Thistle

Eamonn Brady is a pharmacist and the owner of Whelehans Pharmacy, Pearse St, Mullingar. If you have any health questions e-mail them to info@whelehans.ie


Is Milk Thistle effective as a detox? Is it safe to take?

CL, Mullingar


This is a good question for this time of year as people will soon be thinking about how to detox after the excesses of Christmas. Silymarin is the main active ingredient in milk thistle. Silymarin has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and this is thought to help the liver repair by growing new cells.

Conditions it’s traditionally used for

There are claims that milk thistle can treat liver and gall bladder problems and it is also traditionally known for help with indigestion, food poisoning and cancer prevention. The types of liver disease that milk thistle has been thought to help include jaundice, hepatitis, cirrhosis and toxin-induced liver damage (eg) damage from paracetamol overuse. Claims that milk thistle can prevent or ease symptoms of diabetes (by improving insulin resistance), cholesterol and cancer are unfounded. My opinion would be that while milk thistle may have a mild detoxing and a protective effect on the liver it is of no benefit to more serious liver conditions such a hepatitis and cirrhosis.


Like many natural medicines, there are not enough well designed and validated studies to prove effectiveness. There are a few studies that show that milk thistle is beneficial to the liver and acts as an effective detox. Most other studies show very little benefit.


Milk Thistle can interact with other medicines. You should ask your pharmacist or doctor before taking milk thistle. Milk thistle is safe for most people. Side effects are rare with upset stomach and mild diarrhoea being the most likely side effects. Rarer side effects can include rashes, headaches, heartburn and joint pain. Allergic reactions are rare but are still possible, especially in those already sensitive to plants in the same family as milk thistle including daisies, artichokes, kiwi, ragweeds and marigolds. Milk thistle may interact with some prescription medicines including blood thinners such as clopidogrel and warfarin, some anti-psychotic medication such as haloperidol, some anti-anxiety drugs such as diazepam and some cholesterol and cancer medication. Milk thistle can mimic the effects of oestrogen so should be avoided by some women prone to endometriosis or women suffering from breast, uterine or ovarian cancer. Milk thistle may reduce the effectiveness of oral contraceptives. Milk thistle should be avoided during pregnancy and breast feeding as its safety is not proven and is not recommended for children.

Disclaimer: Food Supplements should not be used as a substitute for a varied and balanced diet and healthy lifestyle.

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