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Milk Thistle and Blood Sugar Regulation

Chelsea Small OHSU Dietetic Intern

The CDC estimated that 1 in 3 adults in the U.S. will have type 2

diabetes in the year 2050

If not well managed, diabetes can cause damage to the eyes, kidneys,

and nerves
In addition to diet, exercise and weight loss, there is a growing interest

in the use of alternative medicine to help manage this disease

Milk thistle is an herb though to be beneficial to people with diabetes Age-Adjusted Prevalence of Diagnosed Diabetes Among U.S Adults

What is milk thistle?

A flowering herb related to the daisy and ragweed family
Native to Mediterranean countries Has been used for 2,000 years as an herbal remedy for a

variety of ailments, particularly liver and gall bladder problems

Current uses of milk thistle

Most well known for its use in alcoholic liver disease, cirrhosis,

and hepatitis
Multiple studies suggest possible benefits of milk thistle for

Silymarin is a flavanolignan that comes from the seeds of milk

thistle; it is the active component thought to have health benefits

Milk thistle seeds

Milk thistle and blood sugar

Several studies suggest that milk thistle,

combined with traditional treatment, can improve diabetes

Researchers suggest that milk thistle may

work by improving insulin resistance

The evidence supporting the use of milk thistle

to help lower blood sugar is good, but higher quality research is necessary before strong conclusions can be made

Use with caution

May cause hypoglycemia Can cause allergic reactions, which


tend to be more common among people who are allergic to plants in the same family
Although uncommon, some people

report various gastrointestinal side effects

Women who are breastfeeding or

pregnant should avoid using milk thistle

May cause side effects. Talk to your doctor before trying any herbal supplement

More reason for caution

As a flavanolignin, Silymarin is a phytoestrogen People with a history of hormone related cancers, including

breast, uterine, and prostate cancer, should not take milk thistle
Milk thistle may also interact with and decrease the

effectiveness of birth control pills as well as other medications


Can be potentially dangerous to

people, such as diabetics, prone to low blood sugar

Milk thistle may help lower blood sugar,

but should be taken with caution

More research is needed before a

recommendation can be made

Always tell patients to talk to their

doctor before taking an herbal supplement

Thank You

1. Milk Thistle. American Cancer Society. 2009; http://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatmentsandsideeffects/complementaryandal ternativemedicine/herbsvitaminsandminerals/milk-thistle 2. Hussain SA-R. Silymarin as an Adjunct to Glibenclamide Therapy Improves Long-Term and Postprandial Glycemic Control and Body Mass Index in Type 2 Diabetes. J Med Food. 2007;10(3):543547. doi:10.1089/jmf.2006.089.

3. Suksomboon N, Poolsup N, Boonkaew S, Suthisisang CC. Meta-analysis of the effect of herbal supplement on glycemic control in type 2 diabetes. J Ethnopharmacol. 2011;137(3):13281333. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2011.07.059.
4. Huseini HF, Larijani B, Heshmat R, et al. The efficacy of Silybum marianum (L.) Gaertn. (silymarin) in the treatment of type II diabetes: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, clinical trial. Phytother Res. 2006;20(12):10361039. doi:10.1002/ptr.1988. 5. Milk Thistle (Silybum Marianum). Mayo Clinic. 2013. http://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/milk-thistle/background/HRB20059806