Give Your Liver Some Love with Milk Thistle’s Benefits

by Lauren Tannenbaum

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Meet nature’s natural hangover remedy, milk thistle. This purple, powerful, liver-protective plant has been used to treat a number of ills for millennia, and its morning-after heroism is nothing short of epic. Read on to learn about one of our favorite plants in the pantry and all of the milk thistle benefits to be had.

What is milk thistle?

Milk thistle, or Silybum marianum, is indigenous to Kashmir in India-Pakistan. However, it now grows in temperate climates all over the world. This annual to biannual member of the asteraceae family has prickly leaves and milky latex in its stem that comes out when you break it open. It blooms gorgeous, purple flowers that are deceptively sharp. It’s actually closely related to the artichoke, and you can eat it as a vegetable.

Milk Thistle Benefits

Liver Detox

Of all the medicinal possibilities associated with milk thistle, it’s touted most frequently as perhaps the most hepatoprotective herb in all of Western herbalism. In plain English, consider it your liver’s best friend.

When we drink alcohol, take acetaminophen, or put any other array of chemicals into our bodies, the liver works overtime to process and detoxify. If these chemicals and their metabolites get into the bloodstream faster than the liver can metabolize them, a slew of side effects—ranging from mild to severe—can occur.

Milk thistle contains a flavonoid called silymarin. Silymarin inhibits free radicals that are created upon metabolizing toxic substances such as alcohol and acetaminophen. These free radicals can cause harm to cellular membranes and result in lipoperoxidation (the oxidative degradation of lipids). Silymarin works by binding tightly to receptors on the liver cell membranes so that toxins can’t get in.

When you take milk thistle, that silymarin brings it membrane-stabilizing, antioxidant support straight to your liver. It also supports the production of hepatocytes (liver cells) and decreases inflammation. In short, this all helps the liver work more efficiently.

Dark eye circles

The liver is extremely crucial to our overall health and well-being. (After all, it’s in the name: “live”-r. We really need it!) But also, there are some welcome benefits that come when this organ operates optimally. One of our favorites? Reducing dark circles.

As your liver gets some extra oomph from plants like milk thistle, it can remove toxins from the body more efficiently. The resulting detoxifying effect can make a big difference in the appearance of dark circles, so you can wake up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

Hungover man in bed who could use milk thistle benefits for liver detox

How to Take Milk Thistle

First, beware of the milk thistle teas you see on the market. Silymarin—the main constituent of interest for all intents and purposes—is insoluble in water.

Therefore, opt for a milk thistle supplement in capsule or tablet form. To ensure you’re getting the desired benefits of milk thistle, you’ll want to take a standardized extract that’s at least 70 percent silymarin. You should take your supplement with food, and it’ll take at least a week or two to see noticeable effects.

Finally, you can also get a proper dose (and more of the complete plant chemistry) from eating milk thistle seeds themselves. They’re earthy, fairly neutral, and a little bitter.

Is milk thistle safe?

Milk thistle is considered safe to take for extended periods of time. However, certain populations should take more caution before supplementing.

If you have pre-existing liver issues, work closely with a medical professional should you want to take milk thistle.

Infants under two years of age and people with allergies to asteraceae family of plants shouldn’t take milk thistle. Next, folks over 65 should start with a lower dose of the milk thistle. If you’re taking any other medications, as always, be aware of possible interactions.

Next, there’s some discrepancy on whether women who are pregnant or nursing should avoid milk thistle. Some sources say no, while others say it can actually help improve lactation.

All said, as with any new dietary changes or supplement additions, it’s best to consult a healthcare professional.

The Bottom Line

Now we’re not saying you can drink a handle of vodka, pop a capsule, and expect milk thistle benefits to appear like magic. Plants are powerful, but we need to hold up our end of the bargain, too. Take it mindfully and consistently to reap the greatest benefits.

Lastly, you can amplify milk thistle’s powers by supplementing in tandem with other post-libation recovery tips. Check out a nutritionist’s list of the best hangover foods and how to do a liver detox diet for tried and true liver support.


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