The ‘season to be jolly’ may well be here, but when that means one glass too many, this can quickly turn into a ‘not-so-jolly’ hangover.
Milk thistle is often touted as the ‘perfect hangover cure’. Here we explore the healing properties of this traditional herb and other natural options you can use to make sure your body is equipped to deal with the party season.
- Milk Thistle – A herbal extract with a long history of traditional use in supporting liver function, milk thistle contains silymarin and silybin – active compounds which may help to protect the liver from toxins associated with excessive alcohol consumption. Silymarin has been found to increase levels of glutathione – often nicknamed the ‘master antioxidant’ – and may even help to regenerate liver cells too.
- 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. Artichoke is traditionally 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.
- N-Acetyl-Cysteine – NAC is a form of the amino acid cysteine, which is known to increase glutathione, the antioxidant which helps the liver to break down acetaldehyde (a by-product of alcohol processing that is more toxic than alcohol itself). Cysteine is naturally found in poultry, oats, dairy, garlic, onions and Brussels sprouts, although higher amounts may be needed to provide extra support following alcohol consumption.
- Magnesium - Many people are low in this essential mineral, and 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 important 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-enzyme Q 10 and N-acetyl-cysteine 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 action now, to ensure your body is equipped with the essential nutrients it needs to process and eliminate alcohol out of your system as quickly as possible. The sooner you take action, 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