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Milk Thistle for OCD: Examining the Potential Benefits

Living with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) can be really hard, especially if your treatments are ineffective or riddled with side effects. OCD is a common anxiety condition that involves unwanted, unrealistic, unstoppable intrusive thoughts, fears, urges, visions, and emotions (obsessions) and/or repetitive and ritualistic behaviors (compulsions). People who struggle with this condition typically enter into an OCD cycle or loop consisting of stress/anxiety – obsessions – compulsions.

There are also many different types of OCD, ranging from relationship OCD to meta OCD. The first line of treatment normally involves psychotherapy, medications, natural remedies, and/or self-help tools. But, although these are the first line of treatments for OCD, sometimes they do not work (i.e., treatment-resistant OCD) and another treatment approach is needed.

Over the past decade, natural remedies have skyrocketed in popularity, especially for mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, and even OCD. One such natural remedy that has become popular over time is milk thistle. Milk thistle is a flowery herb (a plant with white veins on its large prickly leaves) that is native to the Mediterranean.

Although it has recently been recognized as an alternative treatment for a variety of conditions and ailments, it has been used for medicinal purposes for centuries. If standard OCD treatments have not worked for you, milk thistle may be the OCD help you have been looking for. But, first, it is important to explore the benefits and side effects of using this herb for OCD. In this article, you will learn about milk thistle and how it could be beneficial for you.


How is OCD Treated?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is usually treated with psychotherapy first. The most common OCD therapy involves cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure-response and prevention (ERP) therapy. However, other psychotherapies can be added to a treatment plan if other issues (i.e., relationship issues, trauma, substance abuse, addiction, etc.) are present. When psychotherapy alone is ineffective, medications are often added to the mix. The most common medications prescribed for OCD are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)

Luvox, Paxil, Zoloft, and Prozac are the most common SSRI antidepressants prescribed for OCD. When SSRIs are ineffective, serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), tricyclic antidepressants, monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), or antipsychotics may replace, or be combined with them. When most, if not all medications are unsafe or ineffective for OCD, this is termed “treatment-resistant OCD.” In this case, alternative treatments involving natural remedies, like milk thistle, are tried.

Why Are OCD Sufferers Turning to Natural Remedies?

The #1 reason OCD sufferers are turning to natural remedies, like CBD, vitamins, marijuana, and milk thistle is because they do not have the same side effects as standard, prescription-based OCD medications. 

Although most OCD medications on the market are affordable, most come with gnarly side effects and complications, such as sexual issues (i.e., low libido or sex drive, erectile dysfunction (ED), etc.), drowsiness, dry “cotton” mouth, weight gain, insomnia, “jitters,” nausea, diarrhea, dizziness, headaches, or blurry vision.

Nearly 50% of OCD sufferers are forced to stop taking their prescription OCD medications due to adverse effects. Why is this important? Well, this statistic means that approximately 1 million of the 2-3 million people with OCD quit their medications (i.e., SSRIs) because of complications. For some, these adverse effects are too much to bear. 

For instance, Prozac (fluoxetine), a common SSRI antidepressant, used to boost serotonin in the brain and boost OCD, is quite affordable (approximately $16-18 for 21 pills), however, this medication can trigger a host of side effects that simply are not palpable for some OCD sufferers. This is why many individuals, who are fed up with obsessions and compulsions, turn to self-help tools and natural remedies to combat their OCD symptoms.

What is Milk Thistle?

Milk thistle is an herbal plant that has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. This herb can be transformed into pill/capsule form, raw form, powder, tea, topical cream, or liquid extract. One of the main properties extracted from the seeds of milk thistle is silymarin. Some experts believe that silymarin can reduce or “cure” a variety of ailments or conditions, including OCD. 

Milk thistle is most commonly used for liver conditions – i.e., liver damage caused by toxins, alcohol, illegal drugs, “mushroom” poisoning, chemotherapy, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, chronic inflammatory liver disease, cirrhosis of the liver, or chronic hepatitis. However, keep in mind that although natural remedies, like milk thistle, have fewer side effects, some people who use this herb for OCD may experience adverse effects, such as nausea, bloating, diarrhea, and/or itching, although this is rare.

Milk thistle may also interact with other medications and herbs, such as medications used to treat high cholesterol, hypertension (high blood pressure), infections, and insomnia. This herb can also lower glucose levels (blood sugar), so people who have diabetes should consult with their doctors before taking it. Milk thistle could cause your blood sugar to drop too low if left unmonitored.

What Forms of Milk Thistle Are Available For Consumption?

Milk thistle can usually be found in health food stores and vitamin shops like Whole Foods, Sprouts, Trader Joe’s, The Vitamin Shoppe, and GNC. According to supporters, milk thistle seed has “calming” properties that are ideal for OCD. Keep in mind, however, that there is no “standard dose” of milk thistle for OCD, so it is best to start out with a low dosage and gradually increase the dosage until you find one that works for you. 

Experts advise limiting milk thistle tea consumption to 6 cups (600 mg) daily. Milk thistle cream can also “heal” skin damage caused by radiation by placing it directly on the skin. Moreover, milk thistle leaves and seeds can be added to salads as an added vegetable. Lastly, milk thistle seeds can be toasted and used as a healthy alternative to ground coffee.

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Can Milk Thistle Help OCD?

Milk thistle contains silymarin, an antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties that could be beneficial for OCD. Researchers have found that people with OCD have higher than normal levels of inflammation in the brain. Milk thistle is believed to lower these levels, thereby reducing OCD symptoms.

This natural remedy has also been beneficial for other health conditions and ailments, such as high cholesterol and blood pressure, along with menopause symptoms (i.e., hot flashes, mood swings, weight gain, and vaginal dryness) liver health, asthma, type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance, neurological disorders (i.e., dementia, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s disease), and gallbladder issues. 

Studies also suggest that good overall health can help reduce OCD symptoms, so the healthier the person is, the lower the severity of their OCD symptoms. The antioxidant properties in milk thistle can also help mental health conditions like OCD by removing toxins from the body and helping it ward off infections and diseases. According to some researchers, OCD may be caused by environmental triggers like toxins, infections, or diseases.

Is Milk Thistle Safe?

Yes, experts suggest that milk thistle is relatively safe for the general population, even when taken for years.

Does Milk Thistle Have Side Effects?

Yes, it does.

Similar to most medicines, herbs, and vitamins, milk thistle does come with possible side effects, albeit this is rare. 

According to the National Cancer Institute, milk thistle, in general, has fewer side effects than standard OCD medications.

When side effects occur they usually are mild and take the form of the following:

  • Loose stools
  • Upset stomach
  • Minor nosebleeds
  • Bloating
  • Mild nausea
  • Mild heartburn
  • Mild allergic reaction (this only occurs with high doses)
  • Increased liver enzymes
  • Increased bilirubin in the body

Note: Not much is known about drug interactions between milk thistle and other medications, vitamins, supplements, or herbs. Therefore, it is important to consult your doctor before adding this natural remedy to your OCD treatment plan.

How Much Milk Thistle Is Needed For OCD?

Experts recommend that OCD sufferers take 200-400 mg of milk thistle (divided into two or three doses) daily for symptom relief.

What Does the Research Say?

According to a 2010 study, milk thistle (600 mg) may be just as effective as SSRI antidepressants (30 mg) like Prozac (fluoxetine) for the treatment of OCD when taken daily. Researchers also found that milk thistle can prevent or reduce oxidative stress in the body.

Studies indicate that oxidative stress may be a leading cause in some neurological and mental health conditions like attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Alzheimer’s disease, anxiety, depression, and OCD. Milk thistle may improve cognition and degenerative neurological conditions by reducing oxidative stress and “calming” the affected brain regions.

According to researchers, milk thistle may help stimulate and strengthen a person’s immune system. More specifically, it could reduce chronic inflammation in the brain and help you ward off infections, diseases, toxins, and viruses. More specifically, they found that silymarin, the active ingredient in milk thistle, can “quiet” or suppress an overactive immune system, thereby reducing OCD symptoms or lowering the risk of developing the disorder.

Similarly, both a 2002 study and a 2016 study found that milk thistle extracts can improve immunity in people. However, more research is needed to fully determine milk thistle’s short-term and long-term benefits when it comes to OCD.

Is There Anything I Should Know Before Taking Milk Thistle for OCD?

Yes, there are some things you should do before using this natural remedy for your condition. 

Listed below are some things you should know before taking milk thistle for OCD: 

  • Milk thistle seed and extract are generally safe for most people when taken by mouth. However, it may cause diarrhea, nausea, flatulence (gas), bloating, a loss of appetite, and/or headaches.
  • Milk thistle cream may be safe when small amounts are applied to the skin in brief spurts.
  • It is unknown if milk thistle is safe for pregnant or breastfeeding women with OCD. So, it is best to avoid use.
  • Milk thistle may be safe for children who are at least 1 year old for up to 9 months (when orally consumed).

Milk thistle may cause an allergic reaction in OCD sufferers, who are sensitive to ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigolds, daisies, etc. If you have allergies, consult your doctor or allergist before taking milk thistle for OCD.

Final Thoughts

The general consensus is that milk thistle is safe and effective for most people, including those with mental health conditions like OCD. The magic ingredient is silymarin, an antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties.

Another benefit of milk thistle is that it can be combined with other alternative treatments, natural remedies, and self-help tools, such as mindfulness, crystal therapy, probiotics, St. John’s Wort, hypnosis, art therapy, essential oils, acupuncture, and/or an online OCD treatment program, like Impulse Therapy.

Although more research is needed to unearth the wide range of OCD benefits linked to milk thistle, early results suggest that this natural remedy may be a viable treatment option for OCD sufferers who have been unable to receive complete relief from standard OCD treatments like psychotherapy and/or medications. Milk thistle can be purchased at health food stores or online.


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DR. R. Y. Langham

Dr. R. Y. Langham has a B.A. in English, an M.M.F.T in Marriage and Family Therapy (Psychology), and a Ph.D. in Family Psychology. She is currently a medical, health & wellness contributor, copywriter, and psychological consultant

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