Silymarin: not just another antioxidant

J Basic Clin Physiol Pharmacol. 2020 Mar 5;31(4):/j/jbcpp.2020.31.issue-4/jbcpp-2019-0206/jbcpp-2019-0206.xml. doi: 10.1515/jbcpp-2019-0206.


Silymarin (Silybum marianum; SM), popularly known as milk thistle, is an extract that has been used for many centuries to treat liver diseases. In recent years, several studies have shown that SM is not only just another antioxidant but also a multifunctional compound that exhibits several beneficial properties for use in the treatment and prevention of different types of pathologies and disorders. This review aims at demonstrating the main protective activities of SM in diseases, such as cancer, diabetes, hepatitis, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, alcoholic liver disease, hepatitis C virus, hepatitis B virus, metabolic syndrome, depression, cardiovascular diseases and thalassemia, in addition to its photoprotective activity in in vitro tests and preclinical studies. Its main functions include antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, and it acts as modulator of signaling pathways. It has been suggested that SM presents great multifunctional potential and is capable of achieving promising results in different types of research. However, caution is still needed regarding its indiscriminate use in humans as there are only a few clinical studies relating to the adequate dose and the actual efficacy of this extract in different types of diseases.

Keywords: Silybum marianum; Silymarin; anti-inflammatory; antioxidant; milk thistle.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antioxidants / therapeutic use*
  • Diabetes Mellitus / drug therapy*
  • Humans
  • Liver Diseases / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Phytotherapy / methods*
  • Plant Extracts / therapeutic use
  • Silybum marianum / chemistry*
  • Silymarin / therapeutic use*


  • Antioxidants
  • Plant Extracts
  • Silymarin