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Five Reasons Milk Thistle Benefits Your Liver and Kidneys

Written by Portland Clinic of Natural Health on March 7, 2023

Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) is a herbaceous plant used for centuries for its medicinal properties, particularly hepatoprotective and nephroprotective effects. The active compound in milk thistle is silymarin, a complex of flavonolignans including silybin, silydianin, and silychristin. Silymarin has been extensively studied for its therapeutic benefits. Several studies show that milk thistle benefits liver and kidney diseases because of the flavonolignans. Milk thistle is an effective treatment. (1) This article will discuss five reasons milk thistle is nephroprotective and hepatoprotective.

1. Antioxidant properties

Milk thistle contains powerful antioxidants that help to protect the liver and kidneys from damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules that can cause oxidative stress and damage cells. Milk thistle benefits us because of the antioxidants which help to neutralize free radicals and prevent oxidative stress. Silymarin has been shown to increase the activity of antioxidant enzymes in the liver and kidneys, including superoxide dismutase (SOD), catalase (CAT), and glutathione peroxidase (GPx), which help to protect against oxidative stress. (2)

2. Anti-inflammatory properties

Milk thistle also has anti-inflammatory properties that help to protect the liver and kidneys from inflammation. Inflammation is a natural response to injury or infection, but chronic inflammation can lead to tissue damage and contribute to developing liver and kidney diseases. Silymarin has been shown to inhibit the production of inflammatory cytokines and reduce inflammation in the liver and kidneys. (3)

3. Regeneration of liver and kidney cells

The regeneration of liver and kidney cells in mouse models is one more milk thistle benefit. Silymarin has been shown to increase the production of new liver and kidney cells and improve the function of existing cells. In addition, silymarin offers protection against cell death caused by toxins and other harmful substances. (4)

4. Protection against toxic substances

Protection against the toxic effects of drugs, alcohol, and other harmful substances has been shown on the liver and kidneys—another milk thistle benefit. Silymarin has been shown to inhibit the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and lipid peroxidation, which can damage liver and kidney cells. In addition, silymarin has been shown to enhance the activity of detoxifying enzymes in the liver and kidneys, which help to eliminate harmful substances from the body. (5, 6, 7)

5. Prevention of kidney and liver diseases

The final milk thistle benefit to discuss is that it has been shown to prevent kidney and liver disease development. Silymarin is shown to protect against developing liver cirrhosis, liver fibrosis, and liver cancer. In addition, silymarin has been shown to prevent the development of kidney damage caused by diabetes and hypertension. (8)


In conclusion, milk thistle is an effective treatment for liver and kidney diseases due to its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, regenerative, and protective properties. Silymarin, the active compound in milk thistle, has been extensively studied and shows that it is a safe and effective treatment for liver and kidney diseases. Milk thistle can be taken as a supplement or consumed as a tea, and it is a natural and affordable option for those seeking to protect and improve the health of their liver and kidneys.

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  1. Bijak M. Silybin, a Major Bioactive Component of Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum L. Gaernt.)-Chemistry, Bioavailability, and Metabolism. Molecules. 2017 Nov 10;22(11):1942. doi: 10.3390/molecules22111942. PMID: 29125572; PMCID: PMC6150307.
  2. Surai PF. Silymarin as a Natural Antioxidant: An Overview of the Current Evidence and Perspectives. Antioxidants (Basel). 2015 Mar 20;4(1):204-47. doi: 10.3390/antiox4010204. PMID: 26785346; PMCID: PMC4665566.
  3. Lovelace ES, Wagoner J, MacDonald J, Bammler T, Bruckner J, Brownell J, Beyer RP, Zink EM, Kim YM, Kyle JE, Webb-Robertson BJ, Waters KM, Metz TO, Farin F, Oberlies NH, Polyak SJ. Silymarin Suppresses Cellular Inflammation By Inducing Reparative Stress Signaling. J Nat Prod. 2015 Aug 28;78(8):1990-2000. doi: 10.1021/acs.jnatprod.5b00288. Epub 2015 Jul 17. PMID: 26186142; PMCID: PMC4703094.
  4. Milić N, Milosević N, Suvajdzić L, Zarkov M, Abenavoli L. New therapeutic potentials of milk thistle (Silybum marianum). Nat Prod Commun. 2013 Dec;8(12):1801-10. PMID: 24555302.
  5. Abenavoli L, Capasso R, Milic N, Capasso F. Milk thistle in liver diseases: past, present, future. Phytother Res. 2010 Oct;24(10):1423-32. doi: 10.1002/ptr.3207. PMID: 20564545.
  6. Chtourou Y, Garoui E, Boudawara T, Zeghal N. Therapeutic efficacy of silymarin from milk thistle in reducing manganese-induced hepatic damage and apoptosis in rats. Hum Exp Toxicol. 2013 Jan;32(1):70-81. doi: 10.1177/0960327112455674. Epub 2012 Aug 16. PMID: 22899727.
  7. Karimi G, Vahabzadeh M, Lari P, Rashedinia M, Moshiri M. "Silymarin", a promising pharmacological agent for treatment of diseases. Iran J Basic Med Sci. 2011 Jul;14(4):308-17. PMID: 23492971; PMCID: PMC3586829.
  8. Mulrow C, Lawrence V, Jacobs B, Dennehy C, Sapp J, Ramirez G, Aguilar C, Montgomery K, Morbidoni L, Arterburn JM, Chiquette E, Harris M, Mullins D, Vickers A, Flora K. Milk thistle: effects on liver disease and cirrhosis and clinical adverse effects. Evid Rep Technol Assess (Summ). 2000;(21):1-3. PMID: 11262867; PMCID: PMC4781343.

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