If you don’t drink alcohol at all, you won’t experience hangovers. So, in a sense not drinking to excess is the best prevention for a hangover. Besides, avoiding cheap alcohol and drinking water or snacking at the same time can help reduce the effects of alcohol too. However, these mentioned tips won’t be helpful after a heavy night of drinking alcohol. In this case, you need something else to get rid of the unwelcome side effect of boozy excesses. And milk thistle can be an ideal option since it has long been credited as a hangover cure. So, does this herb really work?
When it comes to hangover remedies, you may have heard about sweating it out, sleeping it off, hair of the dog, OTC pain relievers, coffee, drinking electrolytes, eating greasy food, and more. Unfortunately, some of them are just rumors and they won’t do anything on your throbbing head or dehydration. Or sometimes they can even make it worse. For that reason, those who have a drinking problem are understandably picky about milk thistle supplementation.
It should also be mentioned that silymarin, a chemical extracted from the seeds of Mary thistle, is the main reason why this herb considered beneficial for those who overindulge in alcohol. A study on silymarin in the prevention and treatment of liver diseases and primary liver cancer, published by Feher J and Lengyel G on Curr Pharm Biotechnol in 2012, has shown that silymarin can have beneficial effect for alcoholic and non-alcoholic fatty liver diseases. In another study published in J Clin Gastroenterol in 2003, Lieber CS and his team found that silymarin retards the progression of alcohol-induced hepatic fibrosis in baboons. In other words, the evidence so far suggests that there is a link between alcohol metabolism and silymarin.
As an alternate pathway of ethanol metabolism, the microsomal ethanol oxidizing system (MEOS) accounts for about 20% of alcohol metabolism. If you have unhealthy or dangerous drinking habits, this hepatic enzyme system has to work hard to catabolize the potentially toxic substances. The good news is that milk thistle seems to have an effect on MEOS. And some lab studies have confirmed that it can protect the liver from alcohol-related toxins. Besides, reportedly it is good for liver damage caused by alcoholic hepatitis and alcoholic cirrhosis.
However, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it makes sense to those who drink at “moderate levels” and occasionally binge drink. To understand this, first of all you need to know alcoholics and light-to-moderate drinkers metabolize alcohol in different ways. Actually, there are a few processes or pathways, among them enzymes-alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH) and aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH) are the two typical ones. Unfortunately, milk thistle does not really perform a function for ADH. Simply put, taking this herb before a night of heavy drinking isn’t working on helping moderate drinkers break apart the alcohol molecule more effectively and more quickly.
It is worth mentioning that there’s a debate about milk thistle and alcohol interaction. And further research is needed to support the view of Mary thistle being an anti-hangover recovery remedy. In fact, related supplement manufacturers are now working hard to provide more reliable scientific evidence. Even so, you can still try this herb after all it is recognized by the FDA as Generally Regarded as Safe. However, don’t take it along with blood thinners. And overdose, 1,500mg per day, can lead to diarrhea.
These days milk thistle is usually available in the forms of pill and tincture. Some users claim that the latter worked better for them, but it may vary from person to person. Of course, you can also grind the seeds of this herb into powder. However, seed powder is not recommended by health experts since in this way the amount of silymarin is hard to control. And on a final note, if possible don’t forget to consult your doctor before taking it no matter it is used for helping nursing mothers make more breast milk, curing some horrifically painful hangovers, treating liver problems, losing weight, and so on.