Allergic Reaction to Milk Thistle

Milk Thistle plant

Though an allergic reaction to milk thistle is uncommon, it does sometimes happen. The best way to prevent this from happening to you is to understand where milk thistle comes from, the important ingredients, and the possible side effects. Armed with this knowledge, you should be able to determine whether milk thistle is right for you.

About Milk Thistle

Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) is a member of the Asteraceae family and is native to the Mediterranean. The plant gets its name because its leaves have white spots that resembles drops of milk and also because the leaves contain a substance that has a milky sap texture and appearance. The leaves contain several points and are thorny while the stem is thick and smooth. The plant blooms in late spring or early summer and sports a large pinkish-purple flower. The seeds from the flower head are harvested to make milk thistle products.

What Is Milk Thistle Used For

Milk thistle contains an ingredient called silymarin that is used as an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. People with liver disease may be prescribed milk thistle because the chemicals in the extract, which are called flavonolignans, help stimulate the liver into growing new cells. Milk thistle also helps remove toxins from the liver through protein synthesis and is used to treat various liver ailments such as hepatitis, cirrhosis, and fatty liver disease. For people with liver cancer that are taking chemotherapy treatments, milk thistle may help protect against damage to the good cells within the liver. If you have indulged in too many alcoholic beverages, silymarin helps filter alcohol and may even prevent hangovers.

Amanita mushroom poisoning, though rare, is often deadly. If milk thistle is given within 48 hours of ingestion, the survival rate increases dramatically. When the silymarin is administered in conjunction with penicillin within the first day, survival rates are over 90 percent. Silymarin is also thought to reduce the growth of cancer cells in particular forms of cancer. Patients suffering from prostate cancer, breast cancer, or cervical cancer may benefit from taking milk thistle capsules. Though additional research is pending, initial studies indicate the ingredients in milk thistle may also help lower cholesterol levels of the "bad" LDL type and increase levels of the "good" HDL cholesterol.

Symptoms of an Allergic Reaction to Milk Thistle

Milk thistle may cause some of the same allergic reactions found when in contact with other members of the Asteraceae family such as ragweed, daisy, marigolds, and chrysanthemums. Those symptoms include the following and are due to the body's reaction:

  • Itching
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Congestion
  • Hives or rash
  • Trouble breathing


If you suspect you have had an allergic reaction to milk thistle, it is imperative you seek medical attention immediately. The most common treatment is an antihistamine and for the person to immediately stop taking all milk thistle products. Hives may be treated with an over-the-counter medication such as Benadryl. Treat rashes as you would poison ivy and apply calamine lotion or corticosteroid creams to relieve the itching. For severe reactions, your doctor may require you to carry an epinephrine pen which will allow you to inject yourself in the event you have significant trouble breathing. The epinephrine pen contains adrenaline to reduce your body's response to the allergen found in milk thistle.

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