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Milk thistle for hangovers

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Milk thistle is a tall, thorny plant with a purple flower originally from Southern Europe, but now found throughout the world. It has been used as a herbal remedy for liver problems for many years; even as far back as the Ancient Greeks and Romans. The active ingredient in milk thistle is silymarin; an anti-oxidant that protects against cell damage.

What happens to your body during a hangover?

A hangover is what happens to our bodies after a night’s heavy drinking and, as we know, can leave us feeling pretty ill the next day; sick, tired, dizzy and often with a splitting headache. Alcohol is a diuretic (which means it removes fluid from the body) so dehydration can explain some hangover symptoms; however, not much else is known about the full processes involved, although scientists have speculated (i). To date, there is no scientific cure for a hangover except, of course, not drinking at all (ii).

How might milk thistle help?

Milk thistle, or silymarin, has yet to be studied for its potential as a hangover cure; however, its effects have been studied in relation to the liver and liver disease. Scientific studies of silymarin in animals have found that it may have a protective effect on the liver and may also be able to reduce liver damage from a variety of different causes (iii).

Studies of silymarin on humans have had more mixed results. A review into studies of milk thistle and liver disease found liver-related deaths were significantly reduced by milk thistle, but this was not the case in higher quality trials (iv). Researchers say more, better quality clinical trials on milk thistle are needed to establish its effectiveness for treating liver disease.

Recommended dosage

Milk thistle is largely considered safe for most adults to take and has a good safety record in clinical trials with only rare reports of mild stomach upsets or rashes (vii). Up to 200mg of silymarin three times a day is the recommended dose.

Cautions should always apply to women who are pregnant, breastfeeding or anyone taking medication. If you’re considering taking any supplements, always speak to a GP or health practitioner first.

Jo Phillips is an experienced print and broadcast journalist, specialising in freelance writing, researching and editing for brands online. More from this expert.

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No statement or article should be understood as providing treatment advice. If you have a health problem consult your GP and check compatibility of new supplements with your GP or Pharmacist if you are taking any prescription medication.

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