Review of Clinical Trials Evaluating Safety and Efficacy of Milk Thistle (Silybum Marianum [L.] Gaertn.)

Summary: Trials in both healthy and cancer patients have shown Milk Thistle protects the liver against toxins, helps control chronic liver disease, is well tolerated with few and infrequent side effects or toxicity. The trials also suggest MT may provide anti-cancer, antidiabetic and cardio protective effects.

Tamayo C, Diamond S. Review of clinical trials evaluating safety and efficacy of milk thistle (Silybum marianum [L.] Gaertn.). Integr Cancer Ther. 2007;6(2):146‐157. doi:10.1177/1534735407301942


Milk thistle extracts have been used as traditional herbal remedies for almost 2000 years. The extracts are still widely used to protect the liver against toxins and to control chronic liver diseases. Recent experimental and clinical studies suggest that milk thistle extracts also have anticancer, antidiabetic, and cardioprotective effects. This article reviews clinical trials of milk thistle conducted in the past 5 years including pharmacokinetic and toxicity studies, herb-drug interactions, and other safety issues. Several trials have studied the effects of milk thistle for patients with liver diseases, cancer, hepatitis C, HIV, diabetes, and hypercholesterolemia. Promising results have been reported in the protective effect of milk thistle in certain types of cancer, and ongoing trials will provide more evidence about this effect. In addition, new established doses and improvement on the quality and standardization of this herb will provide the much-awaited evidence about the efficacy of milk thistle in the treatment of liver diseases. Milk thistle extracts are known to be safe and well tolerated, and toxic or adverse effects observed in the reviewed clinical trials seem to be minimal. The future of milk thistle research is promising, and high-quality randomized clinical trials on milk thistle versus placebo may be needed to further demonstrate the safety and efficacy of this herb.