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Milk thistle is a herb commonly used as a natural liver health supplement and is packed full of antioxidant-rich silymarin.
Since the beginning of time (or when alcohol was first discovered), human beings have been on the search for a hangover remedy.
And nowadays, many people turn to herbal hangover remedies in the hope that nature has the solution.
So, is milk thistle actually good for hangovers?
In this article, we’re first going to take a closer look at the uses and benefits of milk thistle. Before moving on to whether milk thistle has any benefits for a hangover.
What is milk thistle?
Milk thistle is a prickly plant with distinctive purple flowers as seen in the image at the top of this article.
The active ingredient in milk thistle is called Silymarin which is thought to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
Traditionally, it’s been used as a natural remedy for liver and gallbladder disorders, as well as overindulgence in alcohol.
Milk thistle has been shown in research studies to potentially benefit various causes of liver injury from viruses, alcohol, acetaminophen, and fatty liver disease. And in most cases, the studies have shown positive results.(1)(2)
For this reason, you’ll find milk thistle in most “liver health” supplements because it’s perceived to have beneficial properties for the liver.
With all that said, milk thistle is not licensed to treat any diseases by the FDA. That’s because a lot more research still needs to be done in humans before it’s given medicinal status.(3)
So, with the basics out the way, let’s move on to how alcohol affects the body so that we can see if milk thistle is a hangover cure or not.
In summary: Milk thistle is a promising herbal extract with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties which has been shown in small studies to support liver function. However, more research needs to be done to confirm this.
Causes of a hangover
Before we get into whether milk thistle is a hangover cure or not, we first need to go over the causes of a hangover. After all, it’s hard to tell what works and what doesn’t if we don’t know the underlying reasons why we get hangovers.
In truth, the science of hangovers is complicated and a lot of debate still exists around this topic. But scientists generally agree that the following play a role:
Dehydration: Alcohol is a diuretic which means it makes your kidneys flush out water. It does this by blocking the release of a hormone called vasopressin from your pituitary gland which is involved in water regulation.
Inflammation: Alcohol is broken down by your liver, producing by-products like acetaldehyde which are toxic. When drinking in excess, these by-products build up and react with your cells causing inflammation.
Reduced sleep quality: Alcohol blocks your brain from reaching the REM stage of sleep which is required to feel fully rested.
Congeners: Congeners are compounds in alcoholic drinks that give them their characteristic taste and smell. Darker-colored drinks contain more congeners. Studies have shown congeners make hangovers more severe by promoting inflammation.
With the science out the way, we'll look at whether milk thistle is good for hangovers next.
Is milk thistle good for hangovers?
At the time of writing, there are no good research studies that have looked at milk thistle as a hangover remedy. Therefore, we don't know if milk thistle is good for hangovers.
Anecdotally, its commonly used by people as a hangover remedy with reported benefits. However, this needs further research before it's proven.
With that said, Milk thistle is one of the most researched herbal remedies for liver disease. And it's the anti-inflammatory properties of silymarin that have gained the most interest. Whether this can be correlated with alcohol-related health is yet to be determined.
Milk thistle has been used traditionally as a hangover cure, but currently, there are no research studies that have proven it works. At the time of writing, Reported benefits are anectodal at best.
Is milk thistle a hangover cure?
So, now on to the all-important question, is milk thistle a hangover cure?
You've probably guessed by now the answer is no.
In fact, a hangover cure doesn’t exist. And the reason for that is alcohol affects the body in so many different ways as we’ve explained above.
Should you take milk thistle before or after drinking?
There’s no hard a fast rule. It all depends on what your goals are.
When it comes to using it for hangovers, most supplements advise taking it just before or straight after your last drink. The reason is, that there’s not much point in waiting until you already have a hangover. Because by this stage, the damage from alcohol has all been done!
Possible side effects
As with all herbal supplements, you should read the label carefully as they sometimes come with side effects.
Milk thistle is generally considered safe under the dietary supplement definition. However, everyone is different and reactions are definitely possible.
Some reported side effects include allergic reactions, headaches, and abdominal discomfort to mention a few. It’s especially important to discuss with your doctor before taking milk thistle if you’re on any medication or have any medical conditions.
Anything else to consider?
Hangovers are a sign from your body that you’ve been drinking too much alcohol for your body to handle. Trying to cure your hangover with milk thistle is the wrong approach.
The best way to prevent a hangover is to drink less alcohol. Other than this, the following tips can make a big difference:
- Make sure you are well hydrated by drinking a glass of water between each alcoholic drink
- Avoid drinking on an empty stomach.
- Avoid caffeinated mixers late at night
- Sticking to lighter-colored drinks may also help as they contain fewer congeners.
Milk thistle for hangovers – Final verdict
That brings us to the end of our look into whether milk thistle is good for hangovers.
Although lots of people around the world use it as a hangover remedy, there aren't any research papers to prove it works.
That said, it may just be because it hasn’t been researched yet. And perhaps in the future, some decent evidence may come to light.