Free radicals, from both endogenous and exogenous sources, are implicated in the etiology of several degenerative diseases, such as coronary artery diseases, stroke, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes and cancer. High consumption of fruits and vegetables is associated with low risk for these diseases, which is attributed to the antioxidant vitamins and other phytochemicals. There is a great deal of interest in edible plants that contain antioxidants and health – promoting phytochemicals, in view of their health implications.
Phyllanthus niruri (family: Euphorbiaceae) is a perennial herb distributed throughout India. Whole plant, fresh leaves and fruits are used to treat various ailments, particularly hepatitis. Antitumor and anticarcinogenic activities of Phyllanthus amarus have also been reported. Other medicinal properties, such as hypolipidaemic and antiviral activities of P. niruri have also been shown. Several bioactive molecules, such as lignans, phyllanthin, hypophyllanthin, flavonoids, glycosides and tannins, have been shown to be present in the extracts of P. niruri. Using a rat hepatocyte primary culture Shamasundar et al. (1985) have shown that phyllanthin and hypophyllanthin protected cells against carbon tetrachloride cytotoxicity whereas triacontanal was protective against galactosamine toxicity. P. niruri is used as one of the components of a multiherbal preparation for treating liver ailments. However, a hepatoprotective effect of P. niruri has not been demonstrated in vivo. Several studies have shown that the hepatoprotective effect is associated with antioxidant rich plant extracts. In this study, we report the potent antioxidant activity of the fruits and leaves of P. niruri in several in vitro systems, and the hepatoprotective property in vivo.