MILK thistle is herb of ancient times. It is member of the sunflower family which contains various medicinal constituents. The history of milk thistle plant is rich in terms of its utilization in detoxification of the liver from harmful effects; it is also a newer application including cancer as well as in diabetes. Mediterranean region is the main origin of milk thistle plant in the world. It can be grown in many types of soils. Another feature of milk thistle plant is that it is tolerant to the drought conditions.
Milk thistle is an annual or biennial herb with broad thorny leaves. It can be grown up to height of 6 feet. Its stem is erect and leaves are spiny containing white veins throughout the length. Due to this, milk thistle plant looks like spilt milk that is why it is named as milk thistle. This plant has purple flowers. The fruit of milk thistle plant has seeds containing tufts on them which help the seeds to carry them through the wind for propagation. The fruit of milk thistle plant is called “achene” that is present in the head of purple thistle flower, and it contain black seeds having a length of approximately ¼ inch.
Milk thistle flower were identified as herbal remedy by Dioscorides. It was earlier used as an antidote for venomous snake bites. The major chemical constituent is silymarin present in the fruits, seeds and leaves of milk thistle plant that is used clinically. Silymarin present in milk thistle plants is considered as one of most valuable drug that can be used in type II diabetes mellitus as a natural remedy. Silymarin is also therapeutically important for type I diabetes mellitus. Silymarin plant contains many flavnoid compounds such as hepatoprotectant flavonolignans. These flavonolignan compounds are made through the oxidative coupling of free radicals of taxifolin and a component of lignan. There are three major flavonolignan compounds in milk thistle i.e. silybin, isosilybin, and silychristin. The minor flavanolignan compounds include silybinome, silymonin silandrin, isosilychristin deoxysilychristin, dehydrosilubin, and silyhermin. These compounds are found in whole plants but the seeds are most concentrated.
These flavanolignan compounds are used to prevent liver problems such as chronic liver diseases, as well as to treat acute liver poisoning as it has properties to combat toxins. These flavanolignan supports the healthy liver function and provides powerful antioxidant properties from toxins and free radicals that usually enter into the liver and cause damage. A constituent of silymarin called silibinin helps to promote healthy functioning of liver, and encouraging healthy cholesterol synthesis by liver. Moreover, silybinin also help to maintain normal functioning of kidneys and promote optimal immune system. Silybinin is also used in treatment of viral hepatitis C and can also used as antidote to poisoning caused by death cap mashroom. Milk thistle also helps to support healthy prostate function and supports the gastrointestinal track by protecting it from free radicals.
Milk thistle plant parts are used in preparation of medicine in order to treat liver and other diseases in Europe and America whereas in Pakistan, milk thistle is believed to be unwanted plant that mostly grows on empty fields, along road sides, and on field borders. Considering its medical advantages it should be grown and used properly in order to take its maximum medicinal advantages.