Advances in the use of milk thistle (Silybum marianum)

Integr Cancer Ther. 2007 Jun;6(2):104-9. doi: 10.1177/1534735407301632.


Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) is an herbal supplement used to treat liver and biliary disorders. Silymarin, a mixture of flavanoid complexes, is the active component that protects liver and kidney cells from toxic effects of drugs, including chemotherapy. Although milk thistle has not significantly altered the course of chronic liver disease, it has reduced liver enzyme levels and demonstrated anti-inflammatory and T cell-modulating effects. There is strong preclinical evidence for silymarin's hepatoprotective and anticarcinogenic effects, including inhibition of cancer cell growth in human prostate, skin, breast, and cervical cells. Milk thistle is considered safe and well-tolerated, with gastrointestinal upset, a mild laxative effect, and rare allergic reaction being the only adverse events reported when taken within the recommended dose range. More clinical trials of rigorous methodology, using standardized and well-defined products and dosages, are needed to evaluate the potential of silymarin against liver toxicity, chronic liver disease, and human cancers.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study
  • Review
  • Comment

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Phytotherapy / adverse effects
  • Phytotherapy / trends*
  • Plant Preparations / adverse effects
  • Plant Preparations / therapeutic use*
  • Silybum marianum* / adverse effects
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic
  • Plant Preparations