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Where there is a party there will always be a popping cork or 2, and so if you are planning to enjoy the festivities, we have put together a few tips to protect your liver and reduce the aftermath.

In this article, we have put together a list of some key nutrients which have been shown to support liver health and detoxification.

Milk Thistle  is often touted as the ‘perfect hangover cure’, and in fact there is good reason for this accolade. It is a botanical extract with a long history of traditional use in supporting liver function, largely due to its silymarin and silybin content – these are active compounds which may help to protect the liver from toxins associated with excessive alcohol consumption. Silymarin also has been found to increase levels of glutathione.

Glutathione is often nicknamed the ‘master antioxidant’ – and may even help to regenerate liver cells too. We should be able to manufacture our own glutathione from amino acids (those components that make up protein). However, many of us have variants on the enzymes on these genes and it is not uncommon to have entire deletions on glutathione SNPs (genes) which means manufacturing and utilising glutathione can be really difficult. If you are very sensitive to even small amounts of alcohol, there is an indication here that you may have these genetic variants. Without adequate glutathione the damaging by-products of alcohol detoxification can act like drunk vandals themselves damaging and killing healthy cells, a process that can be irreversible and lead to long-term cognitive and neurological problems, so protecting against this damage is vital to our health – we need our own biological anti-vandal paint!

Artichoke is a fibrous green vegetable that is a member of the thistle family.  It contains a substance called cynarin and flavonoids such as luteolin and apigenin. Traditionally, artichoke is used to stimulate the flow of bile from the liver, which is thought may help to reduce the symptoms of a hangover.

Choline is a water-soluble vitamin, usually thought of as a B-complex vitamin and contributes to the maintenance of normal liver function.  Often choline is easily depleted or diets are not rich enough in this vital nutrient to support the required liver processes. It can be found in offal meats such as liver & kidneys, soft egg yolks, caviar and shitake mushrooms.

Magnesium Supplements - Many people are low in this essential mineral, due to our depleted mineral content in soils and our high stress levels in modern society, furthermore it is quickly depleted by alcohol too. Magnesium has anti-inflammatory activity and so may help to reduce symptoms of a hangover. Taking a high strength magnesium supplement before an evening where you know you will be drinking alcohol may also be helpful.

Vitamin C – Alcohol depletes vitamin C – an ubiquitous antioxidant, which can help to reduce oxidative stress in the liver. Vitamin C may also  help to bolster your immune system too.

B Vitamins - Alcohol depletes B vitamins, yet these important nutrients are essential to help clear it from the body. So it’s important to ensure you are getting extra B vitamins to avoid getting trapped in this vicious circle. In addition, vitamin B1 is thought to enhance the effects of NAC – an important nutrient, which helps to break down alcohol in the body. Vitamin B6 may also help to reduce the symptoms of a hangover.

Antioxidants – Brightly coloured fruits and vegetables are a rich source of natural antioxidants. A freshly made juice containing apple, carrot and beetroot with added ginger, for its natural anti-nausea effects, both hydrates and provides the body with a much-needed antioxidant hit. Key antioxidant nutrients include vitamins C & E, quercetin, Co-enzymeQ10 and N-acetyl-cysteine which may help to protect against alcohol’s toxic effects.

Curcumin – A long-used natural anti-inflammatory, curcumin is the compound responsible for the bright-yellow colour of the spice turmeric. Curcumin has been found to have significant antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Electrolytes – The sodium: potassium balance can become disrupted following alcohol consumption, and you can help to restore this by ensuring a good intake of potassium. Coconut water is a good natural source of potassium – try having a glass before you go to bed. In addition, pH balance can become disrupted following alcohol consumption. A blend of mineral citrates including potassium may be useful to re-balance electrolytes and support optimal pH balance.

The sooner you take action, the better your body will cope...

Clearly the best way to prevent a hangover is either to avoid alcohol or just keep it to a couple of drinks! However, for the odd time that doesn’t happen, our best advice is to be prepared and take steps to prepare your body for alcohol consumption, to ensure it is equipped with the essential nutrients it needs to process and eliminate alcohol out of your system as quickly as possible. Remember the by-products of alcohol consumption are extremely damaging free radicals that we need the body to eliminate swiftly before they can create too much damage and cell death.  

The sooner you act, the better your body will cope. However, even if you only start to think about it the day before, or even the day after, it’s certainly better than doing nothing at all.

Abenavoli L, Capasso R et al. Milk thistle in liver diseases: past, present, future.  Phytother Res. 2010 Oct; 24 (10): 1423-32. Doi. 10.1002/ptr.3207

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