The therapeutic properties of the fruit are used mainly for the prevention and treatment of hepatic diseases. The most important are the detoxifying and hepatic parenchyma-protecting properties of sylimarin, a mixture of flavonoids contained in milk thistle fruit. Sylimarin tightens hepatocyte membranes, preventing toxins, such as alcohol (ethanol), harmful drug ingredients, pesticides or environmental pollutions from entering. Even in the case of life-threatening poisoning by death cap mushroom, extract from milk thistle used as IV infusion may neutralise the toxins contained in the mushroom (phalloidin, amanitin) and save the patient’s life.
Milk thistle fruit are able to stimulate hepatocyte regeneration. Therefore even damaged hepatic cells may regenerate. Milk thistle also stimulates the generation of new hepatocytes. Therefore the herb is successfully used following liver damage caused by harmful substances, as well as complementary therapy of viral and chronic hepatitis and hepatic cirrhosis.
Sylimarin is a cholagogue. It is administered during a convalescence period following jaundice, to prevent chronic hepatitis or acute yellow atrophy of the liver.
Recent studies have demonstrated that sylimarin also has a favourable effect on renal parenchyma, especially that some toxic agents are partially eliminated with urine.
Preparations based on milk thistle seed are administered for indigestion, achlorhydria, lack of appetite, flatulence and belching.
Alcohol or aqueous extracts (decoctions) of milk thistle fruit present a more broad scope of effects than sylimarin alone. They strengthen blood vessel walls, cause a slight contraction of smooth muscles in vessel walls and a mild increase in blood pressure. They are effective for various internal bleedings and menstruation. They are used in cases of blood spiting, haematuria, nose bleeds, large intestine bleeding, haemorrhoids, some uterine bleeding and extended menstruation.6
Milk thistle fruit is occasionally used for migraine-type headaches, low blood pressure and tendency for sea sickness or car sickness.6
A leaf infusion is recommended for pneumonia and pleuritis, leucorrhoea, urolithiasis, following jaundice and hydrops.5
Milk thistle root has a cholagogic, diuretic and strengthening effect.5