Published online Mar 27, 2014. doi: 10.4254/wjh.v6.i3.144
Revised: January 27, 2014
Accepted: February 20, 2014
Published online: March 27, 2014
The use of medicinal plants in treating illnesses has been reported since ancestral times. In the case of hepatic diseases, several species such as Silybum marianum, Phyllanthus niruri, and Panus giganteus (Berk.) have been shown to ameliorate hepatic lesions. Silymarin is a natural compound derived from the species Silybum marianum, which is commonly known as Milk thistle. This plant contains at least seven flavoligands and the flavonoid taxifolin. The hepatoprotective and antioxidant activity of silymarin is caused by its ability to inhibit the free radicals that are produced from the metabolism of toxic substances such as ethanol, acetaminophen, and carbon tetrachloride. The generation of free radicals is known to damage cellular membranes and cause lipoperoxidation. Silymarin enhances hepatic glutathione and may contribute to the antioxidant defense of the liver. It has also been shown that silymarin increases protein synthesis in hepatocytes by stimulating RNA polymerase I activity. A previous study on humans reported that silymarin treatment caused a slight increase in the survival of patients with cirrhotic alcoholism compared with untreated controls.
Core tip: One of the mechanisms of liver damage caused by alcohol is the generation of free radicals formed by the metabolism of this xenobiotic. Silymarin is an antioxidant that protects the liver from the free radical damage produced by alcohol metabolism. Silymarin is the most used natural compound for the treatment of hepatic diseases worldwide due to its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-fibrotic activities. Silymarin functions by stabilizing biological membranes and increasing protein synthesis.