Can Milk Thistle Prevent or Cure Hangovers?


If you’ve had one too many drinks and wake up with unpleasant symptoms, it’s tempting to look for a quick cure.

Hangovers happen as your blood alcohol level returns to zero, causing symptoms like fatigue, dry mouth, headaches, upset stomach, sensitivity to light, and trouble concentrating. They may also disrupt your sleep and trigger mild dehydration (1, 2).

Milk thistle, an herb that supports liver health, is often promoted as a folk remedy for hangovers. Still, you may wonder whether it’s effective.

This article examines whether milk thistle treats or prevents hangovers.

Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) is a prickly flowering plant that grows in warm climates.

Its active compounds are collectively known as silymarin. Thus, the terms “milk thistle” and “silymarin” are sometimes used interchangeably.

This herb has been utilized medicinally for thousands of years. It has liver-protecting properties, which may be why it’s sometimes recommended for hangovers (3).

However, no scientific evidence indicates that milk thistle treats or prevents hangover symptoms.

How milk thistle acts in your body

When your body breaks down alcohol, toxic byproducts are left behind. They cause inflammation throughout your body, especially in your liver, stomach, and brain (2, 4).

Over time, this inflammation irreversibly scars your liver, which may lead to cirrhosis.

Studies on silymarin suggest that it may detoxify some of the harmful compounds in alcohol, thus protecting your liver. Plus, it acts as an antioxidant, neutralizing harmful free radicals that are produced as your body metabolizes alcohol (4).

Additionally, silymarin may turn off the inflammatory signals activated by alcohol (5).

Although research in humans is inconclusive, milk thistle is often used as a complementary therapy for some liver conditions. It may help slow or reverse liver damage caused by (5, 6):

Despite these potential benefits, milk thistle should not be considered a hangover remedy.

SUMMARY

Milk thistle may aid various liver diseases, but no studies show that it’s effective for treating hangovers.

It’s doubtful that milk thistle will make you feel significantly better if you have a hangover.

Although the anti-inflammatory compounds in silymarin may minimize symptoms brought on by inflammation, such as body aches, they won’t help dry mouth or headaches caused by dehydration, nor fatigue caused by disrupted sleep.

Thus, you’re better off choosing a different remedy.

Dosage and safety

Milk thistle is safe for most people to take by mouth, and studies show that it’s generally well tolerated (3).

The most common side effects are an upset stomach, nausea, diarrhea, and allergic reactions. You should check with your healthcare provider before taking it — or any supplement — in case it interacts with other medications or any underlying health conditions (3, 7).

You may wish to avoid milk thistle if you (3, 7):

  • are pregnant, due to insufficient safety research
  • have an allergy to plants in the Asteraceae or Compositae families, which include ragweed
  • take blood sugar medications, as milk thistle may dangerously lower your blood sugar

If you decide to try milk thistle, note that doses vary among brands and that not all products contain the same amount of active ingredient. Look for one that’s standardized to contain 70–80% silymarin and follow the dosage information on the label (3).

Given that the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate supplements in the same way that it regulates pharmaceuticals, look for supplements that have been verified for safety and content by an independent lab.

SUMMARY

Although milk thistle likely won’t aid hangover symptoms, it’s widely considered safe. Use caution if you’re pregnant, allergic to plants in the Asteraceae family, or taking diabetes medications.

No scientific consensus exists on how best to prevent or treat hangovers. It’s difficult — and possibly unethical — to conduct large, high quality hangover studies in people, so the majority of the available research uses lab rats (8, 9).

Yet, some foods, herbs, and over-the-counter supplements may help clear alcohol from your body more quickly and reduce hangover symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, shakiness, and headaches. These include (9):

  • Pueraria lobata, an Asian herb also known as kudzu
  • prickly pear cactus juice
  • ginger

Experts generally agree that these natural remedies may make you feel mildly better, but none will cure all of your hangover symptoms (8).

The same is true for drinking lots of fluids and taking aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen. These strategies may relieve dry mouth and dehydration-related headaches, but they’ll do little for nausea or fatigue.

Overall, the best way to prevent a hangover is to carefully limit your alcohol intake.

SUMMARY

Some natural remedies may alleviate hangover symptoms, but none are known to prevent or cure it. As such, your best bet is to limit your alcohol intake in the first place.

While milk thistle may protect your liver from various effects of alcohol, no research suggests that it prevents or treats hangover symptoms.

Thus, while it’s safe for most people, you shouldn’t consider it a cure-all.

Rather than relying on a substance to eradicate hangovers, the best prevention strategy is to pace your drinking and limit your total alcohol intake.



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