When it comes to liver health, TUDCA and milk thistle are two of the more popular supplements in contention for consumption. Despite some similarities, the two have different origins and have different roles in the body, considering the overall scheme of things. As such, both compounds also have differing effects on users.

In this article, we’ll delve deeper into how TUDCA and milk thistle impact liver health and what their other benefits are.

What Is TUDCA?

TUDCA, a.k.a Tauroursodeoxycholic Acid, is a water-soluble bile acid that naturally occurs in the body. This compound is not to be confused with bile salts like UDCA, which is the most common form. However, the creation of the latter involves the former. As UDCA metabolizes in the lower intestine, taurine is bound to it to create TUDCA [1].

As a bile acid, it plays an important role in ensuring the body functions well. From eliminating waste to aiding in digestion, TUDCA supports the body in various ways. Thus, it’s a popular ingredient in many supplements.

Here are some of the top benefits of TUDCA supplements.

TUDCA Supplement Benefits

1. Liver Health

The most well-known impact of TUDCA relates to liver health. Several studies support the claim that it helps protect and improve the liver. For instance, a study found that 750 mg of TUDCA lowered liver enzymes after six months in participants with liver cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) and high liver enzymes [2].

In addition, liver cirrhosis, caused by alcohol, fat accumulation, or hepatitis C, is thought to be treated by TUDCA, according to research [3]. Another study also shows that TUDCA supplementation can be used to treat bile flow blockages [4].

The therapy for the removal of gallstones is another liver-related illness that may also be treated through the use of TUDCA, paired with a low cholesterol diet [5]. However, only a few may respond to the mentioned treatment.

2. Neurodegenerative Disorders

Neurological diseases can hinder the overall functions of the body, and research suggests TUDCA may help in treating some of them. Based on a study done with rats, TUDCA showed promise by protecting against a toxin that causes Huntington’s Disease [6]. Although a trial involving humans still needs to be conducted, at least the potential exists.

Other neuro-related disorders that may also be managed through the consumption of TUDCA include Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s Disease, Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS), and stroke. However, in some cases, more studies need to be done.

3. Other Benefits

The consumption of TUDCA also has other benefits, including bile secretion in the body. Therefore, TUDCA supplements may improve digestion.

Also, diabetes and insulin resistance are other illnesses being studied concerning the compound. Another focal point for TUDCA research is how it may be able to treat retinal issues or improve eye health.

However, the data is still limited regarding some of the benefits mentioned. 

What Is Milk Thistle?

Known as a herbal remedy, milk thistle has active compounds called silymarin. Those compounds have anti-inflammatory properties, antioxidants, and antivirals [7]. It grows in Mediterranean countries and is most commonly associated as a treatment option for liver-related diseases. But, it goes beyond that, which is why it’s a popular supplement ingredient.

Here are some of the top benefits of using milk thistle supplements.

Milk Thistle Supplement Benefits

1. Liver Protection

One of milk thistle’s most popular usages is treating liver diseases. A study shows that taking milk thistle supplements may improve liver function. It can also reduce inflammation and limit damage to the liver [8].

Furthermore, research suggests that the herb may extend the life of those dealing with liver cirrhosis caused by alcoholic liver disease [9]. milk thistle has also been used to treat other liver ailments such as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, alcoholic liver diseases, and hepatitis [10].

However, a conclusive outcome requires more trials as the results are inconsistent. Further, there is still much to learn about the optimal dosages and duration of treatment. Also, everything may differ based on specific liver diseases, so be reminded to take precautions when taking the supplements.

2. Age-Related Neurological Conditions

Thanks to its antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties, milk thistle is a popular remedy for those experiencing a decline in brain functions. In fact, this herb has been used as a traditional treatment for Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer’s [11].

In addition, according to animal studies, silymarin protects brain cells from oxidative damage. As such, it may also prevent mental decline. Although, no current studies or trials involve human participants. So, to reduce the risks, it’s better to consult a healthcare professional if you want to use milk thistle supplements

3. Other Benefits

Aside from the aforementioned diseases, some data suggest milk thistle can be a remedy for other disorders or ailments. An example is the protection of bones or the prevention of bone loss.

Moreover, it may improve breast milk production for lactating mothers. Besides that, some studies indicate that the antioxidants in milk thistle may be helpful for cancer treatment.

Plus, it may also even be useful in treating acne, lowering blood sugar levels, and improving allergic asthma symptoms. Although, be mindful because some of the data are from animal studies while others are from limited human trials.

Side Effects: TUDCA vs. Milk Thistle

TUDCA supplements are generally safe to take; the only side effect reported is diarrhea. Although, it only happens when a user consumes more than 1,500 mg of TUDCA [12].

milk thistle has more reported side effects such as nausea, heartburn, mild allergic reaction, and upset stomach [13]. But the good news is that these side effects are rare occurrences.

Additionally, both compounds are not recommended for pregnant women due to the lack of data.

Which Is Better, Milk Thistle or TUDCA?

Based on the research, there are overlapping benefits between milk thistle and TUDCA. As to which one is better, the answers may vary depending on the users. 

Each individual’s reaction is different, and some may be more accustomed to TUDCA, while others may react more positively to milk thistle.

Additionally, since both substances may have a significant impact on the body’s overall health, it’s best to consult a doctor or healthcare professional to guide you. This can lower the risks of side effects and interactions, especially if you take other medications.

Bottom Line: 

The primary use of TUDCA and milk thistle is to treat liver-related illnesses. The former is a natural compound produced by the body, while the latter is an herb. They also offer other benefits, such as helping to manage the decline of neurological functions. However, research is still ongoing and needs to further investigate the extent of their impact, but the results are promising.

Disclaimer: This article is only a guide. It does not substitute the advice given by your own healthcare professional. Before making any health-related decision, consult your healthcare professional.

Editorial References And Fact-Checking 

  • Pardue, M. T., & Allen, R. S. (2018). Neuroprotective strategies for retinal disease. Progress in retinal and eye research, 65, 50–76. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.preteyeres.2018.02.002
  • Invernizzi, P., Setchell, K. D., Crosignani, A., Battezzati, P. M., Larghi, A., O’Connell, N. C., & Podda, M. (1999). Differences in the metabolism and disposition of ursodeoxycholic acid and of its taurine-conjugated species in patients with primary biliary cirrhosis. Hepatology (Baltimore, Md.), 29(2), 320–327. https://doi.org/10.1002/hep.510290220
  • Pan, X. L., Zhao, L., Li, L., Li, A. H., Ye, J., Yang, L., Xu, K. S., & Hou, X. H. (2013). Efficacy and safety of tauroursodeoxycholic acid in the treatment of liver cirrhosis: a double-blind randomized controlled trial. Journal of Huazhong University of Science and Technology. Medical sciences = Hua zhong ke ji da xue xue bao. Yi xue Ying De wen ban = Huazhong keji daxue xuebao. Yixue Yingdewen ban, 33(2), 189–194. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11596-013-1095-x
  • Amaral, J. D., Viana, R. J., Ramalho, R. M., Steer, C. J., & Rodrigues, C. M. (2009). Bile acids: regulation of apoptosis by ursodeoxycholic acid. Journal of lipid research, 50(9), 1721–1734. https://doi.org/10.1194/jlr.R900011-JLR200
  • Kupfer, R. M., Maudgal, D. P., & Northfield, T. C. (1982). Gallstone dissolution rate during chenic acid therapy. Effect of bedtime administration plus low cholesterol diet. Digestive diseases and sciences, 27(11), 1025–1029. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01391750
  • Keene, C. D., Rodrigues, C. M., Eich, T., Linehan-Stieers, C., Abt, A., Kren, B. T., Steer, C. J., & Low, W. C. (2001). A bile acid protects against motor and cognitive deficits and reduces striatal degeneration in the 3-nitropropionic acid model of Huntington’s disease. Experimental neurology, 171(2), 351–360. https://doi.org/10.1006/exnr.2001.7755
  • Kim, M. S., Ong, M., & Qu, X. (2016). Optimal management for alcoholic liver disease: Conventional medications, natural therapy or combination?. World journal of gastroenterology, 22(1), 8–23. https://doi.org/10.3748/wjg.v22.i1.8
  • Polachi, N., Bai, G., Li, T., Chu, Y., Wang, X., Li, S., Gu, N., Wu, J., Li, W., Zhang, Y., Zhou, S., Sun, H., & Liu, C. (2016). Modulatory effects of silibinin in various cell signaling pathways against liver disorders and cancer – A comprehensive review. European journal of medicinal chemistry, 123, 577–595. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ejmech.2016.07.070
  • Vargas-Mendoza, N., Madrigal-Santillán, E., Morales-González, A., Esquivel-Soto, J., Esquivel-Chirino, C., García-Luna Y González-Rubio, M., Gayosso-de-Lucio, J. A., & Morales-González, J. A. (2014). Hepatoprotective effect of silymarin. World journal of hepatology, 6(3), 144–149. https://doi.org/10.4254/wjh.v6.i3.144
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Beatriz is an exceptional freelance medical writer. This is a craft she has been honing since her university years. Beatriz also has experience writing content in the health and wellness field, which she is extremely passionate about. She aims to help her readers understand their health and wellness deeper and make better health-related decisions. LinkedIn