Last modified on October 20th, 2023
There’s a lot of information floating around online about hangover cures. One, in particular, is milk thistle for hangover symptoms.
So, does it work?
Before you try it, we’ll detail what you should know about taking milk thistle for hangover symptoms and whether it is risky.
An Overview of Milk Thistle
Milk thistle is a plant native to Europe and was also introduced to North America by colonists.
You’ll hear it referred to as silymarin, and there’s a long history of using milk thistle for disorders related to the liver and gallbladder.
The benefits of milk thistle stem from its silymarin content, which is a plant compound.
Potential benefits of taking it as a supplement or tea include:
- Liver protection: People primarily use silymarin supplements for liver protection and health. Milk thistle can have powerful benefits on liver health and may reverse liver damage due to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, alcohol liver disease, hepatitis, and other disorders. It may help improve liver function and reduce liver damage and inflammation as a supplement.
- Brain function: Milk thistle has traditionally been used to help symptoms of neurological conditions. It could be the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that make it neuroprotective.
- Bone health: In test-tube and animal studies, milk thistle has shown the ability to stimulate mineralization of the bone and protect against bone loss.
- Anticancer effects: Some research shows that milk thistle could reduce the side effects of conventional cancer treatments and may destroy some cancerous cells.
- Breast milk production: While the research is fairly limited, the supplement may help produce prolactin, a hormone that helps you make milk if breastfeeding.
- Acne: This skin condition stems from chronic inflammation, and the anti-inflammatory effects of milk thistle could make it beneficial.
Is Using Milk Thistle for Hangover Symptoms Safe?
Overall, milk thistle is considered safe when you take it orally, and even in research where high doses have been used for extended periods, only around 1% of people had any side effects.
The most common side effects are mild for most. These may include stomach upset, nausea, or diarrhea.
Pregnant women should avoid milk thistle because there’s no safety data, and if you’re allergic to the plant family it comes from, you should also avoid it.
If you have hormone-sensitive conditions, like some types of breast cancer, milk thistle can have estrogenic effects, so you should also avoid it in these scenarios.
Does Milk Thistle for Hangover Symptoms Actually Work?
One of the most common questions you might have about taking this supplement is whether or not it will help with hangover symptoms.
First and foremost, nothing will “cure” a hangover, but you might find things that help you feel better and minimize symptoms.
What Causes Hangovers?
The causes of hangovers can include some or all of the following:
- Dehydration because when you drink alcohol, it suppresses vasopressin release, a brain hormone that sends signals to your kidneys to retain fluid. Alcohol increases urination, causing too much fluid loss. Dehydration from drinking can cause many notorious hangover symptoms, including fatigue, thirst, and a headache.
- You might have problems sleeping when you drink. You could fall asleep faster or more easily, but you might also wake up earlier or get low-quality sleep.
- Stomach irritation can occur because alcohol directly impacts the stomach lining, increasing acid release. Then, the symptoms stemming from that effect include nausea and stomach discomfort.
- Alcohol raises levels of inflammation in your body and may play a big part in hangover symptoms.
- When your liver metabolizes alcohol, it creates acetaldehyde, a toxic byproduct contributing to inflammation in the liver, the brain, the pancreas, and the GI tract.
- Some people may even experience a type of withdrawal when they drink. You could feel when you first start drinking, you feel more relaxed and happier, but then as this wears off, you might feel more anxious or depressed than before you drank.
A hangover occurs after your blood alcohol levels start dropping.
Why Do People Think Milk Thistle Cures Hangovers?
The reasoning behind the concept of taking milk thistle for a hangover is that since silymarin is a compound that protects the liver and reduces damage, somehow, it’ll help with hangovers too.
Milk Thistle Benefits for Hangover Symptoms
Taking milk thistle as a hangover cure isn’t completely unfounded. There are potential benefits for certain symptoms.
- Silymarin might reduce the harmful compounds found in alcohol and protect your liver.
- It’s also an antioxidant, so it could reduce some of the free radicals your body produces as it’s metabolizing alcohol.
- The anti-inflammatory benefits of the silymarin in milk thistle might turn off inflammation signals that alcohol activates.
- Over the long term, milk thistle could also reduce or reverse liver damage related to alcohol use.
- Another way that there are possible benefits of milk thistle related to alcohol use is that it can increase glutathione production. Glutathione is needed for a healthy liver.
Is Milk Thistle Good For Hangover Symptoms?
Overall even if you google milk thistle for hangovers on Reddit, you won’t find that much positive information.
In theory, if you were to take it before you started drinking, it might reduce some of the damage inflicted by your body by processing alcohol, but it might not reduce many hangover symptoms.
That’s because most of the symptoms we associate with hangovers aren’t directly related to our livers.
There are a lot of factors at play, so milk thistle may help with inflammatory-related hangover symptoms but not dehydration or symptoms related to a lack of sleep.
The best use of milk thistle would be to protect your liver from alcohol’s effects rather than to expect it to be a magic hangover cure because there’s not one that exists universally.
How To Take Milk Thistle for a Hangover
If you want to try milk thistle before you drink alcohol, first of all, be warned there’s no reliable research on whether it’s safe.
If you do, however, some people recommend that you take 500 mg before drinking and then 500 mg at the end of your evening. If you regularly drink, you might take 500 mg every day.
B12 and Milk Thistle for Hangover Symptoms
One of the latest TikTok trends is taking B12 and milk thistle for a hangover.
All B vitamins can be helpful because alcohol depletes these and other vitamins and minerals. It’s common for people who drink a lot to be deficient in B vitamins.
B vitamins also play a role in how your body breaks down and eliminates alcohol, so there’s some science to back up its benefits related to alcohol use.
In one study, vitamin B6 helped reduce hangover symptoms by about half, so replenishing your vitamins can help you feel somewhat better.
Are There Other Supplements That Might Help Symptoms of a Hangover?
A few other things tend to help with liver function, inflammation, and other things related to how you experience a hangover.
Vitamin C can help, as can N-acetyl-cysteine.
NAC helps prevent hangovers from happening for some people and can protect your liver from toxins, including alcohol.
Vitamin C can reduce inflammatory damage in the liver, and choline and inositol are supplements that can help break down fat in the liver.
Milk Thistle for Hangover Symptoms-Final Thoughts
Is milk thistle for hangover symptoms a good idea?
It’s not going to fully prevent or cure a hangover for the majority of people, but it’s not a bad idea to take extra steps to protect your liver if you’re going to be drinking. You might also combine it with other supplements like a B-vitamin complex or vitamin C because alcohol depletes nutrients from your body and can worsen hangover symptoms.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Is Milk Thistle Beneficial For Liver Health?
Milk thistle, scientifically known as Silybum marianum, is a herb commonly used to promote liver health.
Its active compound, silymarin, is believed to be responsible for its liver-protective properties.
Here’s how milk thistle supports liver health:
- Antioxidant Effects: Milk thistle contains powerful antioxidants that help protect liver cells from damage caused by free radicals and toxins. Silymarin, the key component, neutralizes harmful molecules that can harm liver cells.
- Anti-Inflammatory: It has anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce liver inflammation, which often occurs in conditions like fatty liver disease and hepatitis.
- Liver Detoxification: Milk thistle can enhance the liver’s natural detoxification processes by supporting the production of glutathione, a vital antioxidant that aids in removing harmful substances from the liver.
- Regeneration of Liver Cells: Silymarin may stimulate the regeneration of liver cells, aiding in the repair of damaged tissues. This can be especially beneficial in cases of liver injury or disease.
- Support for Various Liver Conditions: Milk thistle is commonly used as a complementary treatment for a range of liver conditions, including non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), alcohol-related liver disease, and viral hepatitis.
- Protection from Toxins: The herb may help shield the liver from the harmful effects of certain medications, alcohol, and environmental toxins.
- Cholesterol Management: Some studies suggest that milk thistle can help lower cholesterol levels, which indirectly benefits liver health by reducing the burden on the organ.
How Does the Body Process Alcohol and How Do Hangovers Happen?
Alcohol is processed by the body through a series of metabolic reactions, primarily in the liver.
The liver is the primary organ responsible for metabolizing and detoxifying alcohol.
Here’s a breakdown of how alcohol is processed and why hangovers occur, along with the potential for liver damage due to alcohol use:
- Absorption: When you consume alcohol, it is rapidly absorbed into your bloodstream through the stomach and small intestine.
- Metabolism: The liver plays a central role in alcohol metabolism. It breaks down alcohol using enzymes, primarily alcohol dehydrogenase and acetaldehyde dehydrogenase, to convert ethanol (the alcohol you drink) into acetaldehyde and then into acetate. Acetate is metabolized into carbon dioxide and water, easily excreted from the body.
- Detoxification: The liver’s detoxification processes help eliminate toxic byproducts generated during alcohol metabolism. This process helps prevent alcohol-related damage to other organs.
Now, let’s address the issue of hangovers:
Hangovers occur when you’ve consumed a significant amount of alcohol, and your body experiences the following effects:
- Dehydration: Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it causes increased urination. This can lead to dehydration, resulting in symptoms like headache, dry mouth, and dizziness.
- Toxic Byproducts: The breakdown of alcohol produces acetaldehyde, which is toxic. Accumulation of acetaldehyde in the body can lead to nausea, vomiting, and an overall feeling of malaise.
- Inflammation: Alcohol can cause inflammation in the body, leading to various symptoms such as fatigue, muscle aches, and headaches.
- Disruption of Sleep: Alcohol disrupts the sleep cycle, preventing you from reaching the deeper, more restorative stages of sleep. This can leave you feeling tired and groggy the next day.
Chronic Alcohol Consumption: Over time, chronic alcohol consumption can lead to various liver-related conditions, including:
- Fatty Liver Disease: The liver accumulates excess fat, which can lead to inflammation and scarring.
- Alcoholic Hepatitis: Inflammation of the liver caused by excessive alcohol intake. It can range from mild to severe and may lead to liver failure.
- Cirrhosis: The most severe stage of scarring of the liver caused by long-term, continuous liver damage. Cirrhosis is irreversible and can result in liver failure.
- Liver Cancer: Chronic alcohol use increases the risk of liver cancer.
What is the Mechanism of Action for Milk Thistle?
The mechanism of action for milk thistle, specifically its active compound silymarin, involves several key aspects related to liver protection and support. Here’s a breakdown of how milk thistle works:
- Antioxidant Activity: Silymarin, the primary active milk thistle compound, is a potent antioxidant. It helps neutralize harmful free radicals in the liver, which are molecules that can damage liver cells. This antioxidant activity is crucial for protecting the liver from oxidative stress.
- Cell Membrane Stabilization: Silymarin can help stabilize the outer membranes of liver cells. This is essential because liver cell membranes control what substances enter and exit the cells. By stabilizing these membranes, silymarin may help prevent toxins from entering liver cells.
- Enhanced Glutathione Production: Glutathione is a critical antioxidant produced by the liver. Silymarin can stimulate the production of glutathione, which helps the liver detoxify harmful substances and reduces oxidative stress.
- Anti-Inflammatory Effects: Silymarin has anti-inflammatory properties, which can help reduce liver inflammation. Inflammation often occurs in various liver conditions, and milk thistle’s anti-inflammatory action can alleviate this symptom.
- Liver Regeneration: Silymarin may promote the regeneration of liver cells. This is particularly important in cases of liver injury or damage. By supporting the repair and growth of liver tissue, milk thistle aids in the recovery process.
- Detoxification Support: The liver plays a central role in detoxifying the body by breaking down and eliminating toxins. Milk thistle supports the liver’s detoxification functions, assisting in the removal of harmful substances.
- Protection from Toxins: Milk thistle can help shield the liver from toxins, including certain medications, alcohol, and environmental pollutants. It does so by assisting the liver in processing and eliminating these toxins more effectively.
Can I Take Milk Thistle the Day After Drinking?
Yes, taking milk thistle the day after drinking alcohol is a common practice and may provide some benefits. Milk thistle, with its active compound silymarin, is often used to support liver health and detoxification. Here’s how taking milk thistle the day after drinking may help:
- Liver Support: Alcohol consumption can place a burden on the liver, as it needs to metabolize and eliminate the alcohol and its byproducts. Milk thistle may help by providing antioxidant and anti-inflammatory support to the liver.
- Detoxification: Milk thistle may assist the liver in detoxifying the body by enhancing the production of glutathione, an important antioxidant. This can help the liver process and eliminate toxins more effectively.
- Reduction of Inflammation: Alcohol can cause inflammation in the liver. Milk thistle’s anti-inflammatory properties may help reduce this inflammation and alleviate related symptoms.
- Protection from Oxidative Stress: Alcohol consumption can lead to oxidative stress, which can damage liver cells. The antioxidant properties of milk thistle can neutralize free radicals and minimize oxidative damage.
Should I Take Milk Thistle Before or After Drinking?
Taking milk thistle before drinking is generally recommended if you want to use it as a preventive measure to support your liver when consuming alcohol.
However, keep in mind that milk thistle’s effects are not immediate, and it won’t prevent the immediate effects of alcohol consumption.
Taking milk thistle before drinking may help prepare your liver by providing antioxidant support and assisting with detoxification processes.
It can also reduce the oxidative stress that alcohol consumption can place on your liver. While milk thistle can be beneficial, it should not be viewed as a “license” to drink excessively or to the point of intoxication.
Here’s how you might consider using milk thistle in relation to alcohol consumption:
- Take a recommended dose of milk thistle or silymarin supplement before you start drinking. This may help your liver prepare for the alcohol’s impact and support its detoxification processes.
- Continue to consume alcohol in moderation, stay hydrated, and avoid excessive drinking to minimize the harm to your liver and overall health.
- You can also take milk thistle the day after drinking to provide ongoing support to your liver. This may help alleviate potential hangover symptoms and promote liver health.
What Can I Take Before Drinking to Prevent a Hangover?
Preventing a hangover involves making responsible choices while drinking and taking steps to minimize its effects. While there’s no surefire way to completely prevent a hangover, you can reduce its likelihood and severity by following these strategies:
Hydrate: Staying well-hydrated is one of the most important measures to prevent a hangover. Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it increases urination and can lead to dehydration. Drink plenty of water before, during, and after drinking alcohol to help your body process it more effectively.
Eat a Balanced Meal: Consuming a nutritious meal before drinking can slow down the absorption of alcohol and help reduce its effects. Opt for foods rich in complex carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats.
Choose Drinks Wisely: Clear spirits like vodka, gin, and white rum tend to cause fewer hangover symptoms compared to darker spirits like whiskey and brandy. Light beer is generally a better choice than heavy, high-alcohol-content beers.
Limit Alcohol Intake: Consuming alcohol in moderation is key to preventing hangovers. Know your limits and stick to them. Pace yourself and avoid excessive drinking.
Avoid Sugary Mixers: Sugary drinks and mixers can exacerbate hangover symptoms. Try to avoid cocktails with excessive sugar content.
Take Supplements: Certain supplements or medications may help reduce the severity of a hangover. Examples include:
- Electrolytes: Replenishing electrolytes lost due to alcohol’s diuretic effects can help prevent dehydration.
- B-Vitamins: Alcohol depletes B-vitamins, and taking a B-complex supplement before drinking may reduce hangover symptoms.
- Activated Charcoal: Some people take activated charcoal capsules before drinking to help absorb toxins and reduce the impact of alcohol.
- Prickly Pear Extract: Some studies suggest that prickly pear extract supplements taken before drinking can reduce hangover symptoms.
Rest and Sleep: Ensure you get a good night’s sleep before drinking and make time for rest after a night out.
Stay Active: Light physical activity can help your body process alcohol more efficiently. However, do not overexert yourself if you’re not feeling well.
Alternate with Water: Consume a glass of water between alcoholic beverages to stay hydrated.
Know Your Limits: It’s essential to know your own tolerance for alcohol. If you’re prone to severe hangovers, consider drinking less or abstaining from alcohol altogether.
What Are the Benefits of Taking B12 with Milk Thistle?
Taking vitamin B12 with milk thistle can offer a combination of benefits for overall health, particularly for liver support and maintaining optimal B12 levels. Here are some of the benefits:
Liver Health: Milk thistle, specifically its active compound silymarin, is known for its liver-protective properties. It can help reduce oxidative stress, support detoxification processes, and promote liver cell regeneration. Pairing B12 with milk thistle can provide a comprehensive approach to liver health, as the liver plays a vital role in metabolizing and storing B12.
Optimal B12 Absorption: Vitamin B12 is essential for various bodily functions, including nerve function, red blood cell production, and DNA synthesis. Milk thistle may enhance the liver’s ability to store and release B12, which can contribute to improved B12 absorption and utilization by the body.
Antioxidant Synergy: B12 and silymarin both have antioxidant properties. This combination can help neutralize free radicals and reduce oxidative stress throughout the body, supporting overall health.
Energy and Nervous System Support: Adequate B12 levels are necessary for maintaining energy levels and a healthy nervous system. The liver’s role in B12 storage and release can impact these functions positively when supported by milk thistle.
Liver Detoxification: B12, along with milk thistle, can aid the liver in the detoxification of harmful substances, which is crucial for maintaining overall well-being.
How Does Alcohol Deplete B Vitamins?
Alcohol depletes B vitamins for several reasons, primarily due to its impact on the liver and the body’s ability to absorb and use these essential nutrients.
Here are some of the key mechanisms through which alcohol depletes B vitamins:
- Impaired Absorption: Alcohol interferes with the absorption of B vitamins in the digestive system. Chronic alcohol use can damage the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, reducing the body’s ability to absorb nutrients effectively.
- Reduced Intake: Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to poor dietary choices. People who drink heavily may neglect nutrition and consume fewer foods rich in B vitamins, exacerbating deficiencies.
- Increased Excretion: Alcohol acts as a diuretic, causing increased urination. This results in the loss of water-soluble B vitamins through urine. Thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pyridoxine (B6), and folic acid (B9) are all water-soluble B vitamins.
- Liver Metabolism: The liver plays a significant role in metabolizing alcohol and processing B vitamins. Chronic alcohol consumption can damage liver cells and impair their ability to store and release B vitamins stored in the liver.
- Altered Gut Microbiota: Alcohol can disrupt the balance of beneficial gut bacteria (microbiota). A healthy gut microbiome is essential for B vitamin production and absorption. Changes in the gut microbiota composition can impact B vitamin status.
The consequences of B vitamin deficiencies due to alcohol abuse can have significant health implications.
B vitamins are essential for various bodily functions, including energy production, red blood cell formation, nervous system health, and the maintenance of skin, hair, and nails.
Long-term alcohol-related B vitamin deficiencies can lead to conditions like alcoholic neuropathy, Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, and anemia.
How Long Does Milk Thistle Take to Detox the Liver?
The time it takes for milk thistle to support liver detoxification can vary from person to person and depends on several factors, including the individual’s overall health, the condition of their liver, the severity of liver issues, and the dosage of milk thistle taken. Milk thistle, specifically its active compound silymarin, is known for its potential liver-protective and detoxifying effects. However, it’s important to note that it may not provide immediate or rapid results.
Typically, milk thistle is considered a supplement for long-term liver support rather than an acute detoxification remedy. The benefits of milk thistle may become more evident with consistent use over time. Here are some general considerations:
- Maintenance and Prevention: Many individuals take milk thistle as a part of their regular supplement regimen to support overall liver health and help prevent potential liver issues. In this context, its benefits are ongoing and cumulative.
- Mild Acute Support: For mild or short-term liver issues, such as occasional overindulgence in alcohol or exposure to toxins, milk thistle may offer some relief and support within a few weeks of use.
- Chronic Liver Conditions: In cases of chronic liver conditions, such as fatty liver disease or hepatitis, milk thistle may be taken over an extended period, often several months or more, to help manage symptoms and promote liver health.
- Dosage: The dosage of milk thistle can influence the speed and effectiveness of its effects. Higher doses may yield more rapid benefits, but it’s important to consult with a healthcare provider before significantly increasing the dose.
Is Milk Thistle Bioavailable?
Milk thistle, particularly its active compound silymarin, is known for its relatively good bioavailability. Bioavailability refers to the extent and rate at which a substance is absorbed into the bloodstream and becomes available for use by the body. Here are some key points about the bioavailability of milk thistle:
Oral Administration: Milk thistle supplements are typically taken orally, and they are available in various forms, including capsules, tablets, and liquid extracts. When ingested, the active compounds in milk thistle are absorbed through the digestive system.
Silymarin Bioavailability: Silymarin is the primary bioactive compound in milk thistle that is responsible for its liver-protective and antioxidant properties. Studies have shown that silymarin has relatively good bioavailability, with a significant portion of the ingested dose reaching the bloodstream.
Enhanced Formulations: Some milk thistle supplements may be formulated to enhance bioavailability further. For instance, milk thistle products use technologies like phytosomes, which bind silymarin to phospholipids, potentially improving absorption.
Dosage Matters: The dose of milk thistle can impact its bioavailability. Higher doses may result in greater levels of silymarin in the bloodstream, but it’s important to consult with a healthcare provider before significantly increasing the dose.
Liver Metabolism: The liver plays a key role in processing silymarin and other compounds from milk thistle. Silymarin is metabolized in the liver, where it exerts its protective effects. This also contributes to its bioavailability in the liver, where it is needed most.