Health Benefits of Silybum marianum: Phytochemistry, Pharmacology, and Applications

J Agric Food Chem. 2020 Oct 21;68(42):11644-11664. doi: 10.1021/acs.jafc.0c04791. Epub 2020 Oct 12.


Silybum marianum (SM), a well-known plant used as both a medicine and a food, has been widely used to treat various diseases, especially hepatic diseases. The seeds and fruits of SM contain a flavonolignan complex called silymarin, the active compounds of which include silybin, isosilybin, silychristin, dihydrosilybin, silydianin, and so on. In this review, we thoroughly summarize high-quality publications related to the pharmacological effects and underlying mechanisms of SM. SM has antimicrobial, anticancer, hepatoprotective, cardiovascular-protective, neuroprotective, skin-protective, antidiabetic, and other effects. Importantly, SM also counteracts the toxicities of antibiotics, metals, and pesticides. The diverse pharmacological activities of SM provide scientific evidence supporting its use in both humans and animals. Multiple signaling pathways associated with oxidative stress and inflammation are the common molecular targets of SM. Moreover, the flavonolignans of SM are potential agonists of PPARγ and ABCA1, PTP1B inhibitors, and metal chelators. At the end of the review, the potential and perspectives of SM are discussed, and these insights are expected to facilitate the application of SM and the discovery and development of new drugs. We conclude that SM is an interesting dietary medicine for health enhancement and drug discovery and warrants further investigation.

Keywords: Silybum marianum; applications; pharmacology; phytochemistry.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Plant Extracts / chemistry*
  • Plant Extracts / pharmacology
  • Plants, Medicinal / chemistry
  • Silybum marianum / chemistry*
  • Silymarin / chemistry*
  • Silymarin / pharmacology


  • Plant Extracts
  • Silymarin
  • silidianin