As of 2014, there have not been enough studies to definitively prove that milk thistle provides legitimate health benefits, but preliminary studies suggest that milk thistle may be useful for treating hepatitis, cirrhosis and diabetes. Milk thistle may also be useful for encouraging a healthy liver and promoting bile flow.
Milk thistle is often used as a hangover cure because it is believed that it helps to eliminate toxins in the organs after drinking a substantial amount of alcohol. The extract of the milk thistle plant can also be used to prevent the growth of certain types of fungi.
Other health benefits that are still speculative include milk thistle's ability to lower cholesterol, reduce cell damage from cancer treatments and slow down the reproduction of cervical, prostate and breast cancer cells. Milk thistle may also be an effective natural way to treat or prevent Alzheimer's disease.
Numerous side effects are associated with milk thistle, including itchiness, headaches and indigestion. Sexual dysfunction, diarrhea, pain in joints, gas and heartburn are uncommon side effects. People with diabetes should only use milk thistle under professional medical supervision, as it may lower blood sugar levels. A doctor should always be consulted before using any untested supplements.