Silymarin is the extract of Silybum marianum, or milk thistle, and its major active compound is silybin, which has a remarkable biological effect. It is used in different liver disorders, particularly chronic liver diseases, cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma, because of its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antifibrotic power. Indeed, the anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory effect of silymarin is oriented towards the reduction of virus-related liver damages through inflammatory cascade softening and immune system modulation. It also has a direct antiviral effect associated with its intravenous administration in hepatitis C virus infection. With respect to alcohol abuse, silymarin is able to increase cellular vitality and to reduce both lipid peroxidation and cellular necrosis. Furthermore, silymarin/silybin use has important biological effects in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. These substances antagonize the progression of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, by intervening in various therapeutic targets: oxidative stress, insulin resistance, liver fat accumulation and mitochondrial dysfunction. Silymarin is also used in liver cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma that represent common end stages of different hepatopathies by modulating different molecular patterns. Therefore, the aim of this review is to examine scientific studies concerning the effects derived from silymarin/silybin use in chronic liver diseases, cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma.
Keywords: alcoholic liver disease; antioxidants; hepatocellular carcinoma; non-alcoholic fatty liver disease; silybin; silymarin; viral hepatitis.