The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not strictly regulate herbs and supplements. There is no guarantee of strength, purity or safety of products, and effects may vary. You should always read product labels. If you have a medical condition, or are taking other drugs, herbs, or supplements, you should speak with a qualified healthcare provider before starting a new therapy. Consult a healthcare provider immediately if you experience side effects.
People with allergies to plants in the aster family (Compositae, Asteraceae) or to daisies, artichokes, common thistle, kiwi, or to any of milk thistle's constituents (silibinin, silychistin, silydianin, silymonin, siliandrin) may have allergic reactions to milk thistle. Anaphylactic shock (a severe allergic reaction) from milk thistle tea or tablets has been reported in several patients. Overall, silymarin has a good safety record with rare case reports of gastrointestinal disturbances and allergic skin rashes published.
Side Effects and Warnings
Milk thistle appears to be well tolerated in recommended doses for up to six years. Some patients in studies have experienced stomach upset, headache, and itching. There are rare reports of appetite loss, gas, heartburn, diarrhea, joint pain, and impotence with milk thistle use. One person experienced sweating, nausea, stomach pain, diarrhea, vomiting, weakness, and collapse after taking milk thistle. This reaction may have been due to an allergic reaction, and improved after 24 hours. High liver enzyme levels in one person taking milk thistle returned to normal after the person stopped taking the herb.
In theory, milk thistle may lower blood sugar levels. Caution is advised in patients with diabetes or hypoglycemia, and in those taking drugs, herbs, or supplements that affect blood sugars. Serum glucose levels may need to be monitored by a healthcare provider, and medication adjustments may be necessary.
Theoretically, because milk thistle plant extract might have estrogenic effects, women with hormone sensitive conditions should avoid milk thistle above ground parts. Some of these conditions include breast, uterine, and ovarian cancer, endometriosis, and uterine fibroids. The more commonly used milk thistle seed extracts are not known to have estrogenic effects.
Exacerbation of hemochromatosis has been associated with ingestion of milk thistle.
Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
Milk thistle has been used historically to improve breast milk flow, and two brief studies of milk thistle in pregnant women reported no side effects. However, there is not enough scientific evidence to support the safe use of milk thistle during pregnancy or breastfeeding at this time.