Silybum marianum or milk thistle is the most studied plant in the treatment of liver disease. Its seeds contain active ingredients that are used against liver disease.

The active complex of milk thistle is a lipophilic extract of the seeds and is composed of three flavonolignan isomers (silybin, silyodianin, and silycristin) known collectively as silymarin.

Silybin is a component with the highest degree of biological activity and constitutes 50%-70% of silymarin. It has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antifibrotic, immunomodulatory, and hepatoprotective effects. 

Due to its antioxidant properties, it blocks or prevents lipid peroxidation, which is responsible for the destruction of cell membranes and plays a role in the removal of free radicals (reactive oxygen species that damage cellular structures). It also improves the outcomes of liver disease caused by oxidative damage.

The use of milk thistle seeds as a liver protector dates back to the first century. Antioxidant activity is one of the important factors for hepatoprotection. Antihepatotoxic potential: Silymarin protects liver cells from many hepatotoxins (chemicals capable of causing liver damage) in humans and animals.  

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The anti-inflammatory effects of silibin go beyond inhibition of reactive oxygen species-dependent mechanisms that act as pro-inflammatory agents. It hinders the inflammatory processio through inhibition of neutrophil migration and inhibition of Kuppfer cells.  

It also inhibits the formation of prostaglandin- and leukotriene-type inflammatory mediators and inhibits histamine release from basophils. Thus, milk thistle seeds may possess anti-allergic and anti-asthmatic activities. 

Long-term administration of silymarin improves immunity by increasing T lymphocytes, interleukins, and reducing all types of immunoglobulins. Silymarin may be useful in the development of therapeutic adjuvants where immunosuppression is required, including autoimmune and infectious diseases.

In addition, silymarin reduces phospholipid synthesis in the liver, neutralizing ethanol-induced inhibition of phospholipid synthesis. Finally, silymarin significantly inhibits hepatic lipid peroxidation and can reduce triglyceride synthesis in the liver.

Abenavoli, L., Capasso, R., Milic, N., & Capasso, F. (2010). Milk thistle in liver diseases: past, present, future. Phytotherapy Research24(10), 1423-1432. Hackett, E. S., Twedt, D. C., & Gustafson, D. L. (2013). Milk thistle and its derivative compounds: a review of opportunities for treatment of liver disease. Journal of veterinary internal medicine27(1), 10-16. Bhattacharya, S. (2011). Phytotherapeutic properties of milk thistle seeds: An overview. J Adv Pharm Educ Res1, 69-79. Jacobs, B. P., Dennehy, C., Ramirez, G., Sapp, J., & Lawrence, V. A. (2002). Milk thistle for the treatment of liver disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis. The American journal of medicine113(6), 506-515.

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