If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you had a great time last night. You went out with your friends, maybe had one or two (or five?) drinks. You laughed. Maybe even danced. But now you’re not feeling so great. And you’re probably asking the eternal question: What’s the best hangover cure? If you look online, there are hundreds (if not thousands) of potential remedies for the brown bag flu. But do any of them really work? Milk thistle (also known as silybum marianum) is one of the more popular home remedies for hangovers. But can you actually use milk thistle for hangover relief?
What Causes a Hangover?
If you’ve had a little too much fun and drank more alcohol than you should have, you’ve likely experienced a hangover. The amount of alcohol that causes a hangover is different in each person. Some people experience symptoms after just one drink, where some people need to drink several before feeling symptoms.
A hangover occurs when your body’s blood alcohol content drops significantly or is back at zero. Typically, people experience these symptoms the next morning after a night out. (Unless you’re day drinking, then you’re in for a rough night).
Hangover symptoms can include:
- Increased thirst
- Upset stomach
- Increased heart rate
- Anxiety or depression symptoms
- Difficulty concentrating
- Nausea and vomiting
Drinking alcohol can lead to dehydration. But, you’ve drunk more fluid on a night out than you typically would in an entire day. So how are you dehydrated? Alcohol acts as a diuretic, increasing urine production and depleting your body of fluids more rapidly. This can be a significant contributor to your hangover symptoms. Can you use milk thistle for hangover symptoms?
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Another way alcohol contributes to feeling lousy the next day is its effect on your stomach lining and your blood sugar. Alcohol is an irritant to your stomach lining and can lead to nausea, vomiting, or overall stomach pain. Yes, you drank a margarita with more sugar in it than a donut. But the alcohol in it can actually cause your blood sugar levels to drop. If they drop too low you’ll experience symptoms of fatigue, confusion, weakness, and anxiety.
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What is Milk Thistle?
Milk Thistle is a therapeutic herb native to Europe. But it is now found in several parts of the world, including the United States. As a folk remedy, milk thistle has been used for centuries to protect the liver. In recent years, we’ve begun to investigate the effectiveness of the active ingredient in milk thistle, silymarin, on liver health.
Milk thistle is generally safe. Although it can cause stomach upset, diarrhea, nausea, headaches, or itchiness in some people, according to the Mayo Clinic. Use caution if you have an allergy to ragweedor any other member of the Asteraceae family. And always consult your doctor if you are taking medications. Or if you have diabetes or any type of hormone-related cancer.
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How Does Milk Thistle work?
The silymarin in milk thistle helps to inhibit the free radicals that are produced in the liver when it metabolizes toxic substances. Alcohol and acetaminophen (Tylenol) are common toxins that our liver regularly filters through. Silymarin also contributes to the antioxidant defense of the liver. If it helps the liver, can you use milk thistle for hangover relief?
There have been several small studies showing significant improvements with using silymarin to treat liver diseases. These liver diseases include hepatitis, chronic alcoholic liver disease, or non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Additional studies have failed to show any difference between silymarin treatment and a placebo. These inconsistent results mean that more research is needed to see if milk thistle can help treat liver disease.
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Does Milk Thistle Prevent Hangovers?
We know that milk thistle can help protect the liver from free radical damage caused by the alcohol we drink. But, can you actually use milk thistle for hangover relief?
There’s no concrete research out there proving that milk thistle is an effective treatment for hangovers. But, this doesn’t stop several herbal supplements and herbal medicines from advertising this benefit.
The best it may do is offer a soothing effect to your inflamed system after a night of drinking. The anti-inflammatory effects of milk thistle could potentially help to alleviate some symptoms caused by alcohol-induced inflammation. These range from an overall achey feeling or upset stomach.
Other Ways to Prevent The Brown Bag Flu
The obvious answer for how to avoid a hangover is to avoid drinking too much. But, sometimes the night gets away from us. Along with your bar tab, keep tabs on how much you’re drinking.
Before the night begins, it’s a good idea to eating something. Drinking on an empty stomach increases the rate your body absorbs alcohol. When you have food in your stomach, the rate that you absorb alcohol slows significantly. When you drink with a meal, or after a meal, your blood alcohol level may only reach 25% of what it would be with the same amount of alcohol on an empty stomach. So make sure you fill up your plate before filling up your glass.
If you’re past that point and the inevitable hangover is in your future, make sure to increase your fluids. Even though you’re drinking, the alcohol is helping your body to release fluid faster than it usually would. Drinking a couple of waters along with your favorite cocktails can help to minimize the dehydration side effects.
The next morning, you may want to invest in a stack of pancakes and bacon delivered to the door. Low blood sugar is a common cause of many hangover symptoms such as headaches, weakness, anxiety, and overall fatigue. Replenish with a balanced breakfast to help get your blood sugar levels up to where they need to be.
Last but not least, stick a note in your wallet reminding you to go easy the next time the crew meets for drinks.
Should You Use Milk Thistle For Hangover Relief?
Milk thistle does have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that support liver health. And most antioxidant properties help you stay healthy. But sadly there’s no evidence that it can prevent or cure hangovers. This herbal medicine is generally considered safe, and there are plenty of supplements on the market to choose from if you want to try it. The best tips to avoid a hangover are to avoid drinking too much in the first place, eat, and hydrate. We know that’s probably not what you want to hear. But that’s always the best hangover cure you’ll find anywhere. An done that will save you lots of money in the long run.
Kelsey is a Registered Dietitian, freelance writer, and plant focused food blogger. She’s passionate about making plant focused eating accessible, fun, and delicious. In addition to geeking out over nutrition science, Kelsey is an herbal enthusiast and loves to experiment with homemade and natural alternatives in the home and spending time with her two small kiddos and husband.