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How to avoid a hangover, and is milk thistle a hangover cure?

Milk thistle is a traditional herbal remedy that has been used for millennia to soothe symptoms of overindulgence.

While there is no ‘cure’ for a hangover, apart from time — and the only surefire way to avoid getting one is to not drink at all — if you want to let your hair down this festive season, here are our tips to prevent a hangover, along with how milk thistle can help ease the symptoms.

What is Milk Thistle and how can it help with a hangover?

Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) is a prickly purple plant native to the Mediterranean.

Milk thistle helps the body to recover from indigestion and an upset stomach following a big night. Alcohol directly irritates the stomach lining and increases acid, which can cause gastric irritation.

This surprising member of the sunflower family also boasts antioxidising, protective and regenerative properties, which may help the body cleanse itself following occasional overindulgence.

Flavonoids, the active ingredients in milk thistle — silybum, silydianin and silicristin — extracted from the seed, are thought to prevent toxins (such as those found in alcohol) from attaching to liver cells; reduce the damage caused when the liver metabolises them; and help remove them from the body. They may also help repair liver cells damaged by alcohol and other toxins.*

What are some tips for avoiding or reducing hangover symptoms?

The earlier, the better.

Tiredness is thought to be the main cause of a hangover. Poor quality – or not enough – sleep will make you feel considerably worse the next day, and dehydration compounds a bad night’s rest.

If you can, try to celebrate with friends in the daytime, rather than at night, over lunch or meet much earlier in the evening. This will allow you to head home earlier, reducing your chances of going to bed with a high level of alcohol in your system.

The more time you have after indulging, before going to sleep, the more time there’ll be to rehydrate. You’ll likely eat more consciously later in the evening, too, sleep better as a result, and feel brighter and more energetic the next day.

Sip away (on water, that is)

We all have good intentions when it comes to drinking water alongside wine, beer or spirits. The problem is, as we drink, alcohol decreases function in our prefrontal cortex. This increasingly leads to impaired decision-making! We then classically forget to drink water, or don’t give it the importance we did at the start of the night.

If you want to salvage the day after the night before, do everything in your power to drink at least half a glass of water for every large glass of wine or shot of spirits.

Drinking water when you get home, and throughout the next day – consistently, and in sips not gulps — will help your body flush out toxins more easily. It will also reduce bloating caused by alcohol-induced water retention.

When you first arrive at the party or bar, have a glass of water before consuming anything else. This will ensure you’re not drinking alcohol at the rate you would a soft drink, out of pure thirst.

What should I eat before going out to prevent a hangover?

Because there are no foods that can stop you from getting a hangover, a better question might be: What should I avoid eating so I don’t make a hangover worse?

Firstly, drinking on an empty stomach is a disaster in the making. Food helps slow down the rate of alcohol absorption so it’s vital you eat before heading out.

Avoid processed foods, which are high in salt. Also avoid any refined carbs. These cause the body to hold on unwanted fluid, and can cause dehydration and uncomfortable bloating. Refined carbs also cause blood sugar levels to spike, which might lead you to seek out foods later in the evening that may ultimately make you feel worse.

A bowl of pasta before leaving the house isn’t necessarily bad advice, but:

  • reduce the amount of salt you add (use rock and not table salt);
  • opt for whole wheat pasta;
  • incorporate vegetables and a side salad, ideally of crunchy water-filled lettuce;
  • include avocado for its high potassium levels.

As a general rule, wholegrains, eggs, oily fish, milk and yoghurt are wise foods to eat before partying.

… Go bananas (literally, we mean)

Bananas slow the rate at which alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream. Their high potassium content also helps prevent electrolyte imbalances associated with drinking alcohol.

Bananas are a good midnight snack, too, restoring depleted potassium levels caused by frequent urination.

The high amount of Vitamin B6 in bananas (one provides around a quarter of the required daily intake) gives it extra points. Vitamin B6 has been shown to significantly reduce the number of reported hangover symptoms.**

Is some alcohol better or worse for hangovers?

It’s sometimes said that drinks with high congeners (substances responsible for most of the taste and aroma of distilled alcoholic beverages) are more likely to produce a hangover or increase the severity of a hangover. These are the darker drinks (brandy, rum, red wine, port). Yet this isn’t true for everyone. Many people find white wine gives them a worse hangover than red, for example. It all comes down to your body’s reaction, which can also differ on different days. It’s more about how you drink than what you drink.

What about soft mixers?

While including soft mixers will up your hydration versus drinking neat alcohol, it’s far better to drink more water in between drinks than it is to consume lots of sugary mixers with spirits. Sugary drinks increase dehydration, so stay on top of the water! You can opt for soda water as a mixer, or natural fruit juice. This gives your body a better chance of flushing toxins out rather than holding onto them in response to dehydration, which makes you feel worse the next day.

Try Milk Thistle

While there is no one cure for a hangover, there are approaches, and traditional herbal medicines, we can take to promote self-care before, during and after drinking. These practices can help us reduce the severity of overindulgence, and help our bodies process the toxins.

HRI Milk Thistle™ is a traditional herbal medicinal product for use in relieving symptoms associated with occasional overindulgence of food and drink, such as indigestion and upset stomach, exclusively based upon long-standing use as a traditional remedy. Tablets can be taken before and after a night out, and they can also be taken daily to support a healthy digestive system.

HRI’s easy-to-swallow Milk Thistle tablets contain a high dose of the active extract silybum marianum, which helps the body to process toxins. The product carries the THR (Traditional Herbal Registration) symbol for quality and safety standards as approved by the government regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency.

Always read the Patient Information Leaflet before taking HRI Milk Thistle as certain medications can become less effective when taken at the same time. These include:

  • Medications that are broken down by the liver including certain painkillers, antidepressants and blood thinners.
  • Oestrogen pills
  • Medications for lowering cholesterol
  • Certain immunosuppressants

Know your body and take care of it

Know your own body, your tolerance and limits, and treat yourself with care. Understand the impact of alcohol on any medications you may be taking, either long or short-term. For example, a lot of people don’t realise antihistamines can cause alcohol to be absorbed more quickly. Also, if you menstruate and you’re premenstrual or ovulating, alcohol will be absorbed faster and you’ll feel drunk quicker. This can lead to more severe hangovers.

By drinking water, which will help slow down the rate at which you consume alcohol, you’ll give your brain a greater chance of making the right decisions, moment to moment. Eating consciously to support your body in the occasional consumption of alcohol — and taking a supplement like HRI’s Milk Thistle — will give your body the best chance of cleansing and repairing itself after a big night out.

Find more top tips from Drinkaware on how to drink responsibly.

Have fun and take care!

*Gazak, Walterova, & Kren, 2007

**Kahn et al.1973. In Verster et al. 2019