When I drank, I often tried milk thistle liver detox supplements in an attempt to repair the damage that alcohol was doing to my body. I now think that using milk thistle helped me to avoid serious liver disease that could be expected at the level of alcohol that I was consuming.
The purpose of this article is to consolidate everything I’ve learned about milk thistle, including how silymarin (milk thistle extract) works, the best milk thistle supplement brands, and research on the use of milk thistle for liver support.
Since I quit drinking, I’ve spent a lot of time studying herbs and supplements that actually work to provide liver support and body repair after quitting drinking. This project wouldn’t be complete without an assessment of the benefits of milk thistle for liver protection against alcohol.
Symptoms Of Liver Problems
Even moderate alcohol use can be deleterious to the liver, an indispensable organ that filters toxins. There is a high degree of correlation between liver health and mental functioning.
Symptoms of liver issues brought on by alcohol use can include:
- Skin rashes
- Frequent illness
- Pain in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen
- Yellowing of skin or eyes (jaundice)
Actually, the last point above is a symptom of an inflamed pancreas. But if this situation is caused by alcohol consumption, then you can bet that your liver is not functioning at 100% either.
Except for jaundice, I suffered from all of the above symptoms during my drinking years. But I often had outbreaks of eczema that have disappeared since I quit drinking.
Alcohol is not the only compound that can jeopardize liver health. Pollution, infections, lack of sleep, antidepressants, OTC painkillers, and a poor diet can all contribute to liver dysfunction.
Because there are no pain receptors in the liver itself (only in the capsule surrounding it), people with liver injuries sometimes have no idea that something is wrong.
Whether your goal is to quit drinking or simply to protect your liver from alcohol damage, milk thistle can help.
What Is Milk Thistle?
Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) is an herb native to southern Europe that typically grows over 10 feet tall and has red and purple flowers.
Despite the scarcity of properly devised scientific research on milk thistle, it has been used for well over 2,000 years to treat liver and gallbladder problems.
Silymarin is the natural compound in milk thistle that accounts for its liver-healing abilities. Milk thistle works by reducing liver inflammation and supercharging the liver’s ability to produce its own detoxification compounds.
In Germany, silymarin extract is commonly prescribed by doctors for various liver ailments, including issues caused by excessive alcohol consumption.
Scientific evidence suggests that milk thistle or silymarin extract may protect the liver through the following mechanisms:
One of the most interesting mechanisms of milk thistle is its ability to increase glutathione, which I have written about often in other articles.
Glutathione is a powerful antioxidant that is produced in the liver in order to combat free radicals and repair oxidative damage.
In addition to increasing glutathione and protecting the liver, milk thistle offers a host of other benefits:
People who are allergic to ragweed or chamomile may also be allergic to milk thistle. Symptoms of milk thistle allergies can include nausea, headache, and skin rashes.
Some people who start taking milk thistle supplements experience mild laxative effects that dissipate within a few days of use.
Best Milk Thistle Brand
When I took milk thistle liver detox supplements, I usually settled for the cheapest one available. You can find milk thistle supplements on Amazon for as low as $7.
Settling for the cheap stuff isn’t the smartest option when your health is at stake!
If I were a heavy drinker looking to repair my liver, I would take Life Extension Advanced Milk Thistle.
To be effective, milk thistle supplements are directed to be taken at least twice per day.
To achieve the benefits of a milk thistle liver detox, you will want to take these supplements as directed on their labels for one month or more.
Life Extension Milk Thistle Extract
Life Extension Advanced Milk Thistle contains silymarin, silibinins and isosilybin A and B, as well as phospholipids to aid absorption. Many doctors in Germany prescribe silymarin extract for patients with liver problems.
Unlike most other supplements that contain silymarin, this brand does NOT contain magnesium stearate.
Magnesium stearate is not a form of bioavailable magnesium, but a filler that is widely used in supplements and which may interfere with absorption.
Life Extension has a reputation for stellar products with unmatched purity. Their milk thistle is known to be one of the most potent milk thistle supplements available online.
A number of scientific studies support the use of milk thistle liver detox supplements for alcohol damage:
- A study showed that milk thistle significantly improved survival rates for alcoholic cirrhosis patients (source)
- Among six studies of milk thistle for alcoholic liver disease, four reported improvement in at least one marker of liver function (source)
- A study on rats showed that silymarin extract reversed moderate alcohol-induced liver damage, notably reducing oxidative stress and boosting glutathione levels (source)
- In a study of 72 patients with fatty liver disease, silymarin extract was found to be effective for reducing biochemical and inflammation-oriented markers of liver disease (source)
- Milk thistle has documented anti-cancer activity at the cellular level (source) and the mechanisms by which this occurs are becoming better understood (source)
Research on milk thistle has often been clouded by study design flaws – for example, designating study duration of only a few months to determine whether milk thistle can cure patients with fatal end-stage liver disease.
Moreover, media coverage of milk thistle is often confused by bad reporting. I’ve repeatedly come across a failure to discuss whether the “effectiveness” of milk thistle is being discussed in the context of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, viral hepatitis, or alcoholic liver damage.
This matters because research results vary, depending on which condition is being treated.
In the context of liver damage wrought by heavy drinking, the use of milk thistle has proven to be safe, well-tolerated, and effective.
As I mentioned, I used a milk thistle liver detox supplement years ago after bouts of heavy drinking. When I did this, I noticed a few positive benefits:
While nothing proved miraculous enough to “cure” my deep-rooted problem with alcohol, I think that milk thistle is a very effective measure for protecting the liver from toxins like alcohol.
By the time I stopped drinking, I was used to consuming well over a fifth of alcohol each night just to keep my hands from shaking. By this point, I was taking milk thistle on a regular basis, hoping that it would at least save my liver while I looked for ways to get help. I was terrified at the prospect of developing alcoholic cirrhosis.
I also took a one-month supply of milk thistle after I quit drinking, as part of my effort to restore my biochemistry and optimize my health.
I think that milk thistle should absolutely be taken by anyone who falls into these categories:
If you have any pain or soreness in the upper right quadrant of your abdomen, especially after heavy drinking sessions, this could be a sign that you need to cut down on alcohol and detox your liver.
Heavy drinking damages the lining of the stomach and intestines, leading to problems absorbing nutrients and preventing free radical damage that can affect the liver.
In addition to taking milk thistle liver detox supplements, I highly recommend taking probiotics (“good bacteria” that dwell in your gut) and digestive enzymes. These will help to restore balance to your gut and increase the absorption of everything you consume.
You can find digestive enzymes and probiotic supplements on Amazon or in your local grocery store. You can also help to repair your digestive system by consuming the following foods:
If you drink too much alcohol and you’d like to reverse course before it becomes a huge problem, these free resources can help you out more than you presently know:
- Top 10 Ways Exercise Rewires Your Brain
- How To End Alcohol Withdrawal Insomnia
- How To Have Fun Without Alcohol At Dinners, Parties, and Weddings
I hope this article has provided you with useful information on how milk thistle liver detox supplements can help you repair your body from excessive drinking.
If you drink as heavily as I once did, then perhaps you’ve entertained the idea of quitting drinking for good.
If you have any questions about milk thistle liver detox supplements, please post them in the comment box below.