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Use Milk Thistle April 30, 2008

Posted by Alex Sawit in Food & Drink.

By Alex Sawit

30 April 2008


I’ve been putting off writing this lesson for a while now. But in the aftermath of yet another friendly visit by Mr. Shimizu to our wine shop, one that involved some exquisitely good Japanese single malt whisky that had just been flown in, it’s time for me to finally teach Cyrano friends about the benefits of milk thistle. Speaking from personal experience, I can say in all honesty that milk thistle is hands down the most effective natural remedy you can take to prevent a hangover.

But first let’s put things into perspective.

No sane person sets out with the intention of getting a hangover. Yet even the most responsible drinkers – a category to which I belong, I assure you – can misjudge their situation, since a person’s drinking limit at any given time isn’t determined only by the amount of alcohol consumed. Different factors can come into play, such as how tired you are or how much you’ve had to eat or what kind of food you’ve had, if at all. To illustrate my point, my whisky chat with Shimizu-san was actually an exercise in sensibility, as I consciously moderated my sipping and I felt perfectly fine long after my last glass was empty and Mr. Shimizu had left the shop. Then I had dinner and everything turned. Perhaps my choice of meal didn’t agree with what preceded it, but from then on a mild yet distinctly unpleasant, unwelcome heaviness took residence in my head, where it persisted for the next 24 hours.

If only I’d stocked some milk thistle at Cyrano.

It’s something that our wine shop really ought to have a ready supply of. True, there are modern products available at your local pharmacy or health store that promote the same benefits, but I’ve yet to try a modern product that is demonstrably far more effective than this ancient herbal remedy. For me, this stuff always works.

As an experiment, I once actually tested milk thistle to its limits at the wine shop and was impressed with the result. I recall how, after taking just a single capsule one Friday evening, I proceeded to go through about a dozen bottles of wine (with the help of three comrades to share the wine with, that is) over a span of around five hours, only to awake the next day feeling positively clear-headed and hardly experiencing any ill effects. Mind you, as someone who practices moderation I neither advocate nor condone excessive drinking. But this exercise was about personally establishing the efficacy of milk thistle in order to address my own uncertainties. True enough, whatever doubts I may have had were thereafter erased with flying colors.

The Silybum Marianum plant is the species of milk thistle whose extract, silymarin, has been used for centuries as a treatment for liver ailments due to its ability to protect the liver against toxins (its medicinal use in the West goes back some 2,000 years). This includes protecting liver cells from damage due to excessive alcohol intake, which is why silymarin milk thistle is regarded as the classic herbal ingredient for fighting a hangover. Take heed, however, because milk thistle only prevents hangovers and will not cure one that you already have; to enjoy its benefits, you need to take it before you start drinking (also, milk thistle won’t stop alcohol from entering your bloodstream, so it can’t make you immune from getting intoxicated).

Milk thistle is readily available in convenient capsule form at major drugstores and health supplement outlets (the milk thistle I normally use comes in 125 mg capsules). Some recommend taking one capsule prior to consuming alcohol; to be safe, I prefer taking two capsules about ten minutes beforehand, especially when I’m attending a dégustation where generous selections of food and wine are meant to be sampled and enjoyed (to be even safer, periodically take additional capsules as you continue to drink, say, one or two capsules for every 3-4 hours of drinking).

So use milk thistle, Cyrano friends. End of lesson.





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