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Is Milk Thistle Good for Psoriasis?

Medically reviewed by Zeba Faroqui, M.D.
Written by Joan Grossman
Posted on February 9, 2023

If you’ve wondered whether milk thistle can help with psoriasis symptoms, you’re not alone. Milk thistle is a common plant found around the world and sometimes goes by other names, such as variegated thistle, spotted thistle, St. Mary’s Thistle, and its botanical name, Silybum marianum.

MyPsoriasisTeam members have asked about psoriasis and milk thistle, and many wonder how it can help with their psoriasis. “I’m seeking information/advice/words of experience relating to the use of St. Mary’s Thistle,” wrote one member.

Milk thistle may provide some health benefits, including maintaining liver health and reducing inflammatory damage to skin cells. It can also have potential side effects, however, and can have undesirable interactions with certain medications. Always speak with your doctor before starting a new supplement.

Psoriasis and Milk Thistle

Psoriasis is a chronic (ongoing) skin disease caused by disorders in the immune system. In plaque psoriasis, the most common type of psoriasis, thick, scaly plaques develop, which are itchy and painful. During flare-ups, dry skin can crack and become susceptible to infection. Common treatment options include anti-inflammatory drugs such as methotrexate and biologic medications, along with topical (applied on the surface of the body) skin care.

People with psoriasis sometimes supplement treatment plans with herbal medicine and natural home remedies, such as aloe vera, turmeric, or milk thistle. Milk thistle is an herbal remedy and a dietary supplement that may be appropriate as a complementary treatment, but it should not be used as a substitute for your psoriasis treatment plan.

Why Is Milk Thistle Considered Medicinal?

Milk thistle has been used for centuries in the treatment of liver disorders. The active ingredients in milk thistle are a group of compounds known as silymarin, which have antioxidant properties. Antioxidants, which are also found in fruits and vegetables, help prevent damage to cells.

The active compounds in milk thistle are believed to have a range of medicinal properties that may protect against liver disease, cardiovascular disease, cancer, neurological disorders, and skin conditions. Despite the potential health benefits of these compounds, there is currently not a lot of evidence on how they should be used clinically to treat disease.

Milk Thistle and Liver Health

Some MyPsoriasisTeam members report taking milk thistle orally to support liver health and offset the side effects of drugs such as methotrexate, which can have an adverse (unwanted or harmful) effect on the liver. Milk thistle is sold as oral tablets, capsules, or liquid extract.

One member wrote, “EVERY medication has side effects. Unfortunately, that’s the way it is. :( I take milk thistle to protect my liver and probiotics for my stomach.”

“Your doctor will run routine blood tests to monitor your liver function,” another member said about their experience with methotrexate. “I also take milk thistle drops to further protect my liver.”

Some lab research and studies with animals have indicated that the compounds found in silymarin may prevent or improve liver disease. However, clinical trials with human participants are not conclusive about the benefits of milk thistle. That said, Mayo Clinic has determined that milk thistle is safe in general and may be beneficial for liver health.

In addition to being at risk of liver disease from methotrexate, people with psoriasis have higher rates of liver disorders than the general population.

Milk Thistle and Psoriasis Symptoms

Lab research has also examined the effectiveness of silymarin compounds for potential topical treatment of inflammatory skin conditions. Topical application of compounds found in milk thistle may help to reduce inflammatory damage to skin cells in diseases such as psoriasis. However, so far, there is little clinical data to support these findings. In one very small study, milk thistle capsules taken orally were shown to be effective in reducing symptoms of psoriasis.

Milk thistle is found in many over-the-counter (OTC) topical products for the skin. Two topical products with milk thistle are recommended by the National Psoriasis Foundation (NPF). Codex Beauty’s Antü Skin Barrier Serum and Codex Beauty’s Bia Exfoliating Wash have each received the NPF Seal of Recognition for products such as moisturizers, ointments, and cleansers that are considered safe and nonirritating for people with psoriasis.

Always test a new OTC topical product on a small area of affected skin to see if it works for you and whether you have any adverse reactions. Your dermatologist can answer your questions about topical treatment options with milk thistle.

Potential Risks of Milk Thistle

Milk thistle, like other herbal and dietary supplements, can cause side effects, particularly if taken in high doses. Taken orally, milk thistle has a risk of stomach upset, vomiting, and diarrhea. Allergic reactions to milk thistle can occur in people with allergies to other plants, such as ragweed or yarrow.

Milk thistle is not recommended for people with a history of breast cancer, prostate cancer, or other types of cancer related to hormones.

Because of milk thistle’s effect on liver enzymes, it may have adverse interactions with several medications, including:

  • Statin drugs for high cholesterol
  • Blood thinners
  • Anti-anxiety medications
  • Some cancer drugs
  • Allergy medications

Dietary supplements and natural products are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as food rather than drugs. That means these supplements don’t go through the same rigorous testing as drugs before being released to the public.

If you’re taking any supplements or are considering starting any new ones, speak with your doctor. They can warn you of any potential interactions with medications you’re taking.

Find Your Team

MyPsoriasisTeam is the social network for people with psoriasis and their loved ones. On MyPsoriasisTeam, more than 114,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with psoriasis.

Have you tried milk thistle for psoriasis? What advice have you gotten from your health care providers about milk thistle? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

Posted on February 9, 2023
All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.

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Zeba Faroqui, M.D. earned her medical degree from the SUNY Downstate College of Medicine. Learn more about her here
Joan Grossman is a freelance writer, filmmaker, and consultant based in Brooklyn, NY. Learn more about her here

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