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Rev Diabet Stud, 2014, 11(2):167-174 DOI 10.1900/RDS.2014.11.167

The Therapeutic Potential of Milk Thistle in Diabetes

Christos E. Kazazis1, Angelos A. Evangelopoulos2, Aris Kollas3, Natalia G. Vallianou3

1School of Medicine, University of Leicester, University Rd, Leicester, LE1 9HN, UK
2Roche Diagnostics Hellas, 15125 Maroussi, Athens, Greece
3First Department of Internal Medicine, Evangelismos General Hospital, 10676 Athens, Greece
Address correspondence to: Natalia G. Vallianou, e-mail:

Manuscript submitted August 1, 2014; resubmitted August 7, 2014; accepted August 8, 2014.

Keywords: type 2 diabetes, HbA1c, milk thistle, silibin, anti-diabetic, bioavailability, PPAR gamma


Milk thistle has been known for more than 2.000 years as a herbal remedy for a variety of disorders. It has mainly been used to treat liver and gallbladder diseases. Silibum marianum, the Latin term for the plant, and its seeds contain a whole family of natural compounds, called flavonolignans. Silimarin is a dry mixture of these compounds; it is extracted after processing with ethanol, methanol, and acetone. Silimarin contains mainly silibin A, silibin B, taxifolin, isosilibin A, isosilibin B, silichristin A, silidianin, and other compounds in smaller concentrations. Apart from its use in liver and gallbladder disorders, milk thistle has recently gained attention due to its hypoglycemic and hypolipidemic properties. Recently, a substance from milk thistle has been shown to possess peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor γ (PPARγ) agonist properties. PPARγ is the molecular target of thiazolidinediones, which are used clinically as insulin sensitizers to lower blood glucose levels in diabetes type 2 patients. The thiazolidinedione type of PPARγ ligands is an agonist with a very high binding affinity. However, this ligand type demonstrates a range of undesirable side effects, thus necessitating the search for new effective PPARγ agonists. Interestingly, studies indicate that partial agonism of PPARγ induces promising activity patterns by retaining the positive effects attributed to the full agonists, with reduced side effects. In this review, the therapeutic potential of milk thistle in the management of diabetes and its complications are discussed.

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