Milk thistle is a member of the asteraceae family that includes sunflowers and marigolds. It was first cultivated in the Mediterranean region thousands of years ago and has long played a role in traditional medicine. In recent years milk thistle has been subjected to numerous clinical studies many of which have confirmed its wide-ranging health benefits.
Milk thistle is perhaps best known today for its ability to help treat a variety of liver conditions including cirrhosis, hepatitis and more. Although its benefits also extend to the brain, the heart and other parts of the body. Below is our list of the best milk thistle supplements currently on the market.
1. WiseCeutical Max Absorption Organic Milk Thistle
WiseCeutical Max Absorption milk thistle is certified organic, certified vegan and contains no genetically modified organisms (GMOs). It’s extremely pure and displays a high degree of bioavailability. WiseCeutical mixes their milk thistle with dandelion root which is rich in antioxidants that fight oxidative stress.
BioPerine is also added to the formulation which aids in absorption and provides a range of complementary benefits as well (1). WiseCeutical Max Absorption milk thistle is free of gluten, free of soy and delivered inside easy to digest veggie capsules. There are no artificial colors, flavors or fillers and each capsule contains 400 mg of pure organic milk thistle for liver, heart, bone and brain health.
2. aSquared Nutrition Milk Thistle Extract
aSquared Nutrition goes all in with their milk thistle supplement. Providing 1000 mg of highly potent milk thistle extract in each and every capsule. aSquared Milk Thistle is formulated to provide maximum benefits for liver health, heart health, bone health and more. The company suggests you take two capsules daily.
But if you’ve never taken milk thistle before we would recommend you start with a single capsule per day and see how your body accommodates it before ramping up to two daily capsules. That said, there are no additives present to muck things up and no genetically modified organisms. Each capsule is certified vegan safe and, like all aSquared supplements, is produced in their GMP facility here in the US.
3. LiverWell Liver Cleanse & Detox
LiverWell Liver Cleanse & Detox is just that; a comprehensive formula that uses milk thistle, selenium, N-acetyl cysteine and other ingredients to cleanse the liver of contaminants and ward off future damage. This is a well-considered formula that also contains a proprietary ingredient called Siliphos which is intended to increase the bioavailability of the milk thistle.
LiverWell also includes zinc which helps enhance a range of metabolic processes. And that selenium we mentioned earlier? It helps prevent cognitive decline, ward off cardiovascular disease and may even help ward off thyroid conditions, in addition to helping people undergoing kidney dialysis. While there’s no such thing as a magic health pill, LiverWell Cleanse & Detox with milk thistle does a pretty good imitation of one.
4. PureCo Organic Liver Cleanse Milk Thistle
Like LiverWell, PureCo takes a holistic approach to liver health with their Liver Cleanse Milk Thistle supplement. Each capsule contains 250 mg of pure milk thistle extract, as well as 200 mg of dandelion root extract and smaller amounts of yellow dock root and artichoke leaf. Yellow dock root is an anti-inflammatory and artichoke leaf is believed to stimulate the flow of bile from the liver, helping to facilitate efficient liver function (2).
PureCo Organic milk thistle is certified organic and contains no genetically modified organisms. It’s also gluten-free, free of artificial additives and preservatives and produced in the US in a GMP facility. Liver function is crucial to the proper functioning of all your other organs. PureCo Organic Liver Cleanse with milk thistle can help ensure your liver is in prime condition.
5. Puritan’s Pride Milk Thistle
Puritan’s Pride is one of the few big name supplement manufacturers on our list. And, as is usually the case with them, their Milk Thistle is potent and pure. Each capsule contains 250 mg of organic milk thistle with no artificial fillers, colors, flavors or other ingredients that could compromise effectiveness.
In addition, there are no genetically modified organisms, no soy or other common food allergens and all Puritan’s Pride supplements are manufactured in the US under the watchful eye of the USDA. Puritan’s Pride has been around for more than 40 years. In that time they’ve amassed a solid reputation for providing high quality supplements at affordable prices. Beware, however, that the gelatin used for the capsules is animal-derived. As such it’s not going to dovetail with the needs of vegans or vegetarians.
6. Dr. Danielle Organic Milk Thistle
Dr Danielle Organic Milk Thistle is another highly pure, highly potent milk thistle supplement. It’s produced from organic milk thistle and features the entire spectrum of milk thistle’s active ingredients. Beyond that there is nothing fancy here. No exotic herbs, no genetically modified organisms intended to dazzle.
No artificial flavors intended to make it more palatable. Just milk thistle extract in an easy to swallow gel cap. If we have an issue here it’s that while the company claims to use only organically grown milk thistle there is no organic certification. We have no reason to think the makers of this popular supplement are trying to mislead people. But we’d feel better if they’d get that certification and put any doubts to rest.
7. Jarrow Formulas Milk Thistle
Jarrow is the only other fairly big name on our list. That would be neither here nor there if the product wasn’t up to snuff. Which it is. Each capsule contains 150 mg of high potency milk thistle extract along with methylcellulose for the capsules and that’s it. The list of potentially problematic ingredients that aren’t in this supplement is actually much longer than the list of things that are.
There is no soy, gluten, wheat, dairy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish and no genetically modified organisms. We also appreciate the more modest dose. When combined with the simplicity of the formula it makes it a good choice for those just getting started with milk thistle. But really, anyone with liver issues will find something to like here.
8. Arazo Nutrition Liver Cleanse Detox & Repair Formula
Whereas Jarrow pares back the ingredient list to all but milk thistle and cellulose, Arzo Nutrition takes the opposite approach with their Liver Cleanse Detox & Repair Formula. This everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach might seem like overkill. But a quick examination of the ingredient list reveals there are few headscratchers and few superfluous entries intended to pad things out without producing any benefit. For instance, there is beet root, dandelion, alfalfa, yellow dock, ginger and more.
All of which are known to provide some direct or indirect benefit to liver health or to buttress the integrity of other metabolic processes. Of course the more ingredients the more potential issues. But none of those ingredients are man-made, genetically modified or known to produce serious side effects.
9. Australian Naturalcare Milk Thistle
Australian Naturalcare Milk Thistle is not exactly organic or vegan, but it is potent and should help you achieve a higher degree of liver health and associated benefits. While there is no gluten, wheat, yeast, fish, lactose, starch or sugar, there is crospovidone (an artificial ingredient used as a filler) macrogol 400 (an inert substance that acts as a laxative) and iron oxide yellow to provide color.
So it’s not going to win “all natural supplement of the year”. But if that kind of thing isn’t particularly important to you then you’ll likely find this product will help ensure robust liver health when taken regularly.
10. Rejuvica VitaLiver with Milk Thistle
The last of our milk thistle supplements is this one from Rejuvica. Their VitaLiver with Milk Thistle comes in liquid form and is dispensed using the included eye dropper. The formula includes a number of ingredients intended to bolster the liver-enhancing effects of milk thistle such dandelion root, chanca piedra and artichoke.
Yes, dosing with the eyedropper can get a bit hinky. But taking milk thistle in liquid form also means it will be absorbed much faster and more effectively. Made in a GMP facility right here in the US.
What is Milk Thistle?
Sometimes referred to as silymarin milk thistle is a member of the asteraceae family which includes sunflowers, daisies, chrysanthemums, dandelions, marigolds and more. Milk thistle typically has a spiny purple bloom. And while it was initially grown only in the Mediterranean countries it is now cultivated worldwide, mostly for its medicinal properties.
The common name of the plant is derived from the fact that crushing the leaves produces a milky-looking sap. It is this milky sap that is used in various forms to provide health benefits. Until recently these alleged benefits were largely dismissed by the scientific community. But numerous contemporary health studies are beginning to indicate that there is something to many of these claims.
What Are the Benefits of Taking Milk Thistle?
Milk thistle is known to provide a range of health benefits:
It Can Protect the Liver
When people speak of milk thistle benefits this is the one they typically mention most often. People with liver damage resulting from excessive alcohol consumption (3), fatty liver disease, hepatitis (4) and even those with certain types of liver cancer (5) may benefit from taking milk thistle as part of their overall therapy. In addition, it is thought to have more esoteric applications. Such as protecting the liver from damage caused by ingestion of the poisonous “death cap” mushroom.
There is also some evidence that people with alcohol-related cirrhosis of the liver may experience a modest extension of their life expectancy by taking milk thistle (6). Now, this is not to imply milk thistle alone is a magic pill for those with various liver conditions and diseases. But clinical evidence is beginning to pile up which bolsters the argument of traditional healers that milk thistle is powerful medicine.
It May Protect Against Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis is a degenerative bone disease characterized by bone loss. It typically is slow in developing and strikes women more often than men. Although men are not immune. The disease comes on so gradually that many people don’t know they suffer from it until they fall and break a bone. Milk thistle has shown in animal tests that it may be capable of providing a stimulative effect that promotes bone growth, density and strength (7).
The results of various studies have led physicians to use milk thistle as part of a comprehensive therapy designed to fend off bone loss. Particularly in postmenopausal women. Keep in mind however that as of this writing their have been no large scale human studies done to verify the efficacy of milk thistle as an osteoporosis therapy.
It Can Improve Heart Health
Milk thistle is rich in omega-3 and other beneficial fatty acids. These are considered important when it comes to maintaining a healthy heart (8). Omega-3s are known to both increase “good” cholesterol levels and reduce triglyceride levels. These effects help prevent occlusion (the partial or complete blockage of the coronary arteries). Omega-3 fatty acids like those in milk thistle are also known for their anti-inflammatory effects. Inflammation is believed to play a major role in the development of a whole host of conditions both minor and major (9).
It May Help Treat Acne
Some studies suggest that free radicals and the oxidative stress they create may play a role in the development of acne. Because milk thistle is rich in antioxidants it is believed it may have a role to play in mitigating the severity and frequency of acne outbreaks (10). Not enough research has been done to draw definitive conclusions. But there is enough evidence suggesting a role for milk thistle in acne treatment to warrant additional study.
It May be Useful in Treating Diabetes
Studies suggest milk thistle can play a role in improving insulin sensitivity. This can in turn reduce blood glucose levels in people with diabetes (11). Those studies noted among other things that milk thistle (silymarin) can reduce fasting blood glucose levels. They also indicated that the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of milk thistle may help stave off complications of diabetes, which are often as bad as the disease itself.
Promotes Healthier Skin
Much of the damage done to our skin over time is the result of oxidative stress caused by free radicals (12). Free radicals are atoms that are missing an electron and are therefore unstable. These unstable atoms roam the body looking for electrons they can steal from healthy cells. When they get them the once healthy cells die off. This causes a decline in collagen and elastin within the underlying layers of skin and the skin begins to sag and take on a weathered appearance. The only known way to fight free radicals is with antioxidants. And milk thistle is full of them.
May Help Treat Alzheimer’s and Other Cognitive Diseases
There is a growing body of clinical evidence to indicate that milk thistle can play a role in treating Alzheimer’s Disease and other neurodegenerative conditions (13). Evidence has been rolling in from both animal and human studies. The exact biochemical mechanisms by which milk thistle provides its benefits in this regard are complicated in the extreme. But suffice to say they all point to milk thistle being what scientists call a potentially effective ‘novel’ treatment.
Does Milk Thistle Work Quickly?
While milk thistle is typically absorbed pretty fast by the body you shouldn’t expect it to produce miracle results overnight. Not gonna happen. Over the course of a couple of months though, if you are diligent, you will probably start to see some degree of improvement to your damaged liver. Some studies (14) have used a 6 month window to judge the effectiveness of milk thistle therapy on damaged livers. Be patient.
What is the Proper Dosage?
Because milk thistle has, until recently, been largely ignored by the medical establishment accurate dosage levels for various conditions have not been properly established. Because of the low likelihood of severe side effects however, this is not necessarily a deal breaker. In general a cautious approach is usually the smartest approach. Start with a modest dose and gradually increase until you find a level that seems effective. If at any point you encounter side effects discontinue use and consult your doctor.
When it comes to commercially available supplements like the ones profiled above dosages tend to range between 200 or so milligrams and 1,000 milligrams. As is the case with most things the larger the dose the greater the odds of encountering side effects. So again, if you have no experience with milk thistle, a slow cautious approach is generally the wisest one.
What to Look for in a Milk Thistle Supplement?
In the US milk thistle is considered a dietary supplement, in spite of the growing body of evidence to support its medicinal applications. As a dietary supplement it is not subjected to the same level of regulatory scrutiny that medications are. As such, the quality of different supplements can vary greatly depending on who produced them.
We strove to select only the highest quality milk thistle supplements for our list. When possible we chose supplements that carry some form of official certification, whether that be USDA certification, an organic certification or things such as the supplement being produced in a Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) facility. GMP certification indicates there is at least a modicum of oversight regarding the manufacturing process. That goes a long way toward ensuring safety of the product (15).
Is Milk Thistle Safe?
For the most part milk thistle is considered safe for most people to consume. Where things might be a bit dodgy is with people who have allergies to marigold, ragweed, daisies, chamomile, yarrow or chrysanthemums. Those individuals should not use milk thistle unless and until they have discussed it with their doctor.
In addition, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding are also generally advised to avoid taking milk thistle. People who have a history of prostate cancer, breast cancer or uterine cancer should also avoid taking milk thistle. As should people taking:
- Hormone replacement therapy.
- Phenytoin sodium (commonly used to treat seizures).
- Birth control pills.
- Antipsychotic drugs.
Does Milk Thistle Produce any Side Effects?
While it is generally considered safe for most people milk thistle has also been known to produce certain side effects in a small number of people. Though such side effects are typically confined to people who suffer from the allergies we listed above. More potentially problematic than allergic reactions are negative drug interactions that may occur. If you are taking any of the following types of drugs it is advised that you do not take milk thistle;
- Blood thinners or anticoagulants.
- Anti-anxiety medications.
- High cholesterol medications.
- Allergy medicines.
- Certain types of cancer medication (ask your doctor).
- Essentially any drug that is mostly or entirely broken down by the liver.
The Bottom Line
Milk thistle is a traditional medicine that is proving its great worth in clinical trials worldwide. Once considered a kind of quaint folk remedy it is now being taken seriously as a possible treatment for everything from cirrhosis of the liver to Alzheimer’s Disease. The above milk thistle supplements represent the best you’ll find on the market today. Each is highly pure, produced by a reputable company and has a proven track record of effectiveness. If you have any questions or concerns about taking milk thistle make sure you discuss the matter with your doctor first. Especially if you are taking any of the medications listed above.