Milk thistle for IBS symptoms can be a really helpful option for many people.
While most research regarding the use of milk thistle and gut health is indirect, there are many reasons that it can help you feel better.
In this post, learn about how milk thistle may help with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), liver issues, and much more.
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Table of Contents
What is milk thistle?
Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) is a plant that is a member of the aster family. It is also known as silymarin. These plants include daisies, artichokes, common thistles, and kiwi as well. Silymarin has been used for thousands of years as a liver remedy, a gallbladder remedy, and even used to support kidney health.
Rich in antioxidants, milk thistle helps protect many tissues in the body. Its most well-known antioxidant is called silybin.
Traditionally used for mood swings and depression, some research shows that milk thistle supports brain health and memory as well [R].
Fascinatingly, milk thistle even has sun-protective effects from harmful UV rays, may be protective for kidneys, reduces diabetes symptoms, and improves cholesterol. It may even help prevent certain kinds of cancers and heart disease [R, R, R].
Another interesting fact about milk thistle is that it may reduce the toxicity of accidentally ingested death cap mushrooms [R].
It is easy to use milk thistle as well because it is readily available as a tea, in herbal tinctures, or in supplement forms. The most highly rated by thousands of people is Bronson Milk Thistle + Dandelion Root.
Overview of IBS symptoms
Irritable bowel syndrome is characterized by symptoms of having bowel movements that are slow to pass, difficult to pass, gas, and infrequent bowel movements.
IBS can also cause diarrhea as well, or symptoms of diarrhea alternating with constipation symptoms.
One way to help care for your IBS symptoms is by choosing herbs that help reduce inflammation like milk thistle.
Milk thistle for IBS
For example, the liver is responsible for making bile, which helps the gut absorb fat, vitamins, and minerals, and even remove toxins from the body.
Milk thistle IBS benefits because of its antioxidant functions.
It is also well-known to support both gallbladder and liver function. So most people who take milk thistle also reap the benefits of improved digestion and reduced IBS symptoms too.
While there is no direct research about IBS and milk thistle, countless people feel better from their bouts of IBS when taking milk thistle. Milk thistle helps many people reduce gas and bloating as well.
It may reduce IBS symptoms by balancing the microbiome too [R].
Does milk thistle make you poop more?
Like many herbal remedies, milk thistle can help make the bowels more regular. Many people who take milk thistle supplements or drink milk thistle tea are rewarded with better bowel regularity.
Milk thistle also helps to improve antioxidant levels and reduce inflammation in the intestines according to early research [R].
Does milk thistle help diarrhea?
While no research specifically has looked at the benefits of milk thistle for diarrhea, many people report improved bowel regularity when using this herbal remedy.
Many people also say their stomachs feel better with less acid reflux and indigestion. Silymarin may even help reduce gas and bloating according to reviewers.
Other herbs for IBS diarrhea include licorice root, blackberry leaves, and red raspberry leaves.
Milk thistle for liver health
A healthy liver is critical for a healthy digestive system and to cleanse the body of toxins. Milk thistle is a common home remedy for liver health.
There is also a striking amount of research that supports the use of milk thistle in preventing and treating certain kinds of liver diseases. It may even reduce the formation of fibroids and liver fibrosis [R, R].
Many people report that their liver pain is reduced by using milk thistle as well.
8 clinical research studies found that milk thistle improves liver function tests in people suffering from non-alcoholic fatty liver disease according to a recent meta-analysis study [R]. People with diabetes also have improvements in their liver function tests as well. These tests include AST, SGOT, and SGPT liver tests [R].
People suffering from alcoholic liver disease may also benefit from milk thistle. Most studies show that liver enzymes improve when using milk thistle. It may even improve survival from end-stage liver disease [R].
Another reason that milk thistle helps liver function is that it helps improve blood sugar levels and reduce triglyceride levels in the blood [R].
Milk thistle helps cholesterol levels
Milk thistle health benefits also extend to heart benefits and cholesterol levels.
It is one of the natural remedies that is also proven by clinical research studies. One recent study found that milk thistle reduced LDL cholesterol levels while significantly improving good cholesterol (HDL) [R].
Not surprisingly, it also reduces blood levels of fat in the blood called triglycerides.
Milk thistle helps with diabetes
One of the reasons that milk thistle helps so many things is that it is so rich in antioxidants.
Taking milk thistle may reduce your blood sugar levels, and insulin levels, and reduce insulin resistance if you have Type 2 diabetes [R].
For example, a review study with over 1300 people concluded that milk thistle reduced hemoglobin A1C levels. It also reduced insulin levels, reduced insulin resistance, and improved cholesterol levels in people with diabetes mellitus [R].
In fact, milk thistle reduces hemoglobin A1C by almost 2 points overall in this study.
Milk thistle improves blood antioxidant levels in people with diabetes, including glutathione and superoxide dismutase levels [R].
When combined with a healthy diet, milk thistle undoubtedly has a huge impact on reducing the symptoms of diabetes.
Milk thistle for PCOS
One of the reasons people struggle with PCOS or polycystic ovarian syndrome is because their bodies can mount an excessive inflammatory response. Milk thistle is a great remedy for inflammation.
Herbal medicines like milk thistle can also help reduce symptoms of PCOS. This is because it has beneficial effects on blood glucose levels. Its antioxidant effects also help increase fertility rates [R].
Some research even shows that herbal medicines like milk thistle help improve hormone levels in people with PCOS symptoms [R].
However, milk thistle doesn’t seem to result in weight loss.
Milk thistle for skin and hair
Antioxidant-rich herbs like milk thistle can help support healthy hair too. Protecting the hair from sun damage may help your hair. It also reduces inflammation in the body as well.
While no research has specifically looked at the benefits of milk thistle for healthy hair growth, it certainly can’t hurt.
Milk thistle for menopause
Women going through menopause often struggle with hot flashes and many other symptoms like brain fog, fatigue, and weight gain.
Luckily, milk thistle also helps reduce hot flashes symptoms in women who are struggling with these symptoms [R].
Milk thistle for brain health
Anything that helps reduce the ravages of diabetes likely also helps the brain, and milk thistle is no exception. Early research shows that milk thistle has neuroprotective effects and may stimulate nerve growth [R].
Silymarin reduces the development of amyloid-beta plaques. These plaques are seen as part of the cause of Alzheimer’s disease as well [R]. Milk thistle even dampens the genes that cause the production of these plaques.
People with Alzheimer’s disease have low levels of a compound called acetylcholine. Milk thistle may help increase acetylcholine in the brain [R].
Not surprisingly, milk thistle also protects the brain by reducing the damage of oxidative stress and reducing inflammation of nerves as well.
Milk thistle for IBS reviews
Milk thistle reviews are overwhelmingly positive for so many aspects of health.
Many reviewers state that milk thistle is great for liver detox, improving liver function, reducing PCOS, and constipation, and even reducing water retention. Liver enzymes are improved and even normalized by many as well.
Others report a complete resolution of their digestive and constipation issues. Yet it even helps some people who have diarrhea feel more confident in leaving the house. This is due to a reduction in diarrhea.
Skin and hair benefits are often reported as a side benefit of taking milk thistle. Some people also have a resolution of their dry skin.
Still, others state that their gallbladder function gets better. Improved energy and mental clarity can be another side benefit of silymarin.
Many report how easy it is to use it because it is available in so many forms such as tinctures, teas, extracts, powders, and capsules.
It is important to note that reviewers also state that milk thistle must be combined with other healthy lifestyle habits, such as stopping alcohol, eating well, and exercising.
Milk thistle side effects
Using milk thistle is overall very safe and research even shows it is safe during pregnancy and lactation.
However, people who have allergies to thistles, daisies, artichokes, or kiwis may have sensitivity to milk thistles as well. If you suspect you are allergic or sensitive to milk thistle you should avoid it.
Generally speaking, milk thistle likely helps reduce airway inflammation because of its antioxidant effects on the lungs, so it is usually safe for most people [R].
Some people experience a mild laxative effect when using milk thistle, but reviewers predominantly state that their gut function improves rather than worsens [R].
If you are on prescription medications, make sure to ask your doctor or healthcare provider before supplementing milk thistle.
Summary of milk thistle for IBS and health
Milk thistle is a traditional herb that has been used for thousands of years and research now proves that it also has powerful health benefits.
Its use for IBS is helpful for so many people. Silymarin may help the whole body because it reduces inflammation, is rich in antioxidants, helps liver function, and has profound benefits for people who have diabetes.
Good for skin, hair, brain function, and hormonal issues, milk thistle is an herb that you may want to try.
The information on this website is for informational purposes only and should not be used as medical advice. Always consult with your healthcare provider, preferably a healthcare provider with extensive training in food and nutrition, before changing your health regimen.
Heidi Moretti, MS, RD is The Healthy RD. A registered dietitian for 23 years as well as a book author of the new book Gut Fix and The Whole Body Guide to Gut Health, Heidi has a passion for functional nutrition and natural medicine. She has researched supplements and natural medicine throughout her career. One of her biggest loves is helping people gain function and vitality by tackling the root causes of illness.