Alcoholic use disorder (AUD) is a serious issue that can severely damage the liver. In extreme cases, the mortality rate can get as high as 50% once the liver is damaged.
If a person continues to drink, their liver will start to degenerate, and they will experience massive changes in their overall health. Including inflammation, more complex organ complications, and even liver failure.
To stop the drinking habit and get your health back on track, you would need a proper detox strategy and a health boost that can speed up the whole process. Many people prefer a natural alternative over conventional medication as they want to minimize their toxin intake and rely on natural products.
One particular such herb that managed to get a lot of attention is milk thistle. It’s often used as a natural detox cleanser that can purify the liver. But the question is, how effective can it really be? And is milk thistle good for alcoholics?
This is a detailed analysis of the effect of milk thistle on alcohol-dependent individuals.
The Benefits of Milk Thistle for Alcoholics
Alcohol abuse can have serious repercussions on a person’s emotional and physical health. Those who quit will need time to allow their body to health. But, to cope with the whole journey, people often rely on conventional medication.
However, typical meds are packed with chemical compounds that could cause a range of different side effects. That’s why some individuals prefer natural alternatives. Although it may not be as quick-acting as conventional medicine, they can still deliver excellent results.
One such product is the milk thistle. This particular herb can help with body repair and liver support in individuals after they’ve stopped drinking. Here is a list of all the benefits it can offer that is supported by research:
- Promotes Liver Function
Binge drinking increases the risk for advanced alcoholic liver disease, published the National Institutes of Health. This health complication can cause chronic liver inflammation. The liver will become swollen, stiff, and won’t be able to function properly.
Ancient physicians and herbalists have used milk thistle for thousands of years for treating a variety of liver complications, including cirrhosis, hepatitis, and fatty liver disease. This herb was a popular medicine since it can protect the organ from environmental toxins and boost proper liver function.
Medical experts believe that the herbal product was particularly used among individuals with chronic illnesses.
To confirm the full impact of milk thistle on liver health, researchers studied the milk thistle extract. Its key effects lie in silymarin, the flavonoid present in milk thistle that is packed with antioxidant compounds.
Based on the reports, milk thistle can be beneficial for patients suffering from nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. The herb works by reducing insulin resistance and managing fasting insulin levels.
The volunteers in the study who took the herb managed to significantly reduce their blood pressure and cholesterol levels. When combined with vitamin E, the milk thistle extract demonstrated some amazing properties for boosting liver function.
It helped patients manage their liver damage and control insulin resistance. Today, silymarin is used in numerous health supplements.
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- Prevents Alcoholic Cirrhosis
10% to 15% of chronic drinkers develop alcoholic cirrhosis, but many fail to notice the impact this disease can have on their overall health.
When a person can’t curb their drinking after getting alcoholic liver disease, they can develop alcoholic cirrhosis. This is a more advanced liver complication that can lead to life-threatening complications.
Once it reaches a certain point, the disease will scar the liver. However, people can’t reverse those effects. As a result, they need to focus on preventing this health issue completely and stop the organ from deteriorating.
Studies show that milk thistle could prevent the onset of alcoholic cirrhosis. Due to its potent antioxidant and immune-modulating properties, it can have some amazing effects on the liver. The herb can effectively block the toxins from interfering with the liver.
It can also reduce inflammation and speed up the recovery process. But what many people don’t know is that milk thistle can also accelerate protein synthesis. These beneficial effects could prove useful for preventing serious liver disease.
Another study also supported similar results.
Milk thistle is a well-researched plant for treating liver disease. The seed extract has numerous potent flavonolignans that can benefit the organ. At the same time, silymarin has the highest biological activity than any other similar herb.
In fact, it makes up 50% to 70% of the entire flavonoid. Silymarin has the properties of a strong antioxidant. It can interfere with lipid peroxidation and free radical production. Both of these perks can help the liver get back on track.
Although the clinical effects of this herbal treatment are not established yet, it seems that milk thistle therapy could have some amazing effects on stabilizing liver health.
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- Increases Bile Circulation
A lot of people are wondering, “what can I drink to flush my liver?” The truth is, the body must be able to eliminate all the waste products from the system. This waste must get secreted into bile and leave the body in the form of feces.
According to the NIH, chronic alcohol abuse hinders the whole process. It increases the bile acid in the liver and reduces its capability to filter the waste. To study the effects of alcohol on bile circulation, researchers evaluated multiple volunteers who consumed heavy doses of alcohol.
Based on the reports, heavy ethanol intake drastically impaired the bile acid levels in the human system. The drinking habit could also expose patients to alcoholic liver damage.
Milk thistle extract can help. Medical experts estimate that the herb can boost liver function, promote bile flow, and shield the organ from hepatocytes. Its bile-stimulating properties are gentle, so people don’t have to worry about overburdening the organ.
One of the key reasons people use milk thistle is because the herb is well-tolerated. Compared to conventional medicine, it is much easier on the system and doesn’t cause any dangerous health complications.
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- Reduces Inflammation
People have relied on milk thistle for centuries. This natural remedy has always been the go-to choice for managing alcoholic liver disease. This illness can result in serious liver injury, which could potentially turn into liver cirrhosis and fibrosis.
These complications may lead to organ inflammation, tissue destruction, fever, and more. Clinical trials show that silymarin has multiple bioactive compounds. Each of them has powerful biological properties that can help the liver.
In fact, this flavonoid is packed with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds. They can come in handy for those looking to reduce the inflammation and restore the liver. Not only will it protect the liver, but it can also help speed up the rejuvenation process.
The silymarin has obtained these properties from its cytoprotective compounds. The product can compete with plenty of biological toxins that cause a blockage in the liver. Therefore, it helps the organ stop the toxins from penetrating and affecting the hepatocyte cells.
In other words, the flavonoid will keep the liver safe. At the same time, the antioxidants will provide the organ with much-needed therapy. It will speed up its regenerative capability and help it heal quicker. This is definitely something people can use after they’ve recently stopped drinking.
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- Provides Immune System Support
Chronic alcohol abuse destroys the immune system. It interferes with the immune cells and makes it difficult for the system to defend itself from invading pathogens. Statistical analysis shows that alcohol can make people vulnerable to pneumonia.
It can also increase the risk of contracting respiratory diseases and postoperative complications. That’s why the body will have a hard time recovering from any physical injury, illness, infection, or trauma.
In a study published by the International Medical Journal, herbal products, like the milk thistle, were found to boost the immune system. This herb inhibits the growth of specific tumors and balances immunity. It can stabilize the cytokine levels and provide practical immune system support.
A similar study also supported these results. The milk thistle has potent therapeutic properties that make it a promising agent for immune support. For those struggling from alcohol abuse, a product such as this can help.
You can use it to improve your immune system and prevent the body from being susceptible to diseases. It will be a crucial step to a healthy recovery.
- Facilitates Gut Health
Constant alcohol abuse will damage gut health. It will inhibit the digestive juices and enzyme production and make it incredibly difficult for the system to breakdown, absorb, or digest nutrients.
As a result, people are prone to excess gut fermentation that causes gas, bloating, and loose stools. With time, alcohol consumption will cause inflammation, which will impair the gut lining. In other words, entire food particles have higher odds of crossing the gut lining and getting to the bloodstream.
That’s why people can experience a range of different immune responses and won’t be able to tolerate all foods. Another serious issue from alcohol abuse is bacterial overgrowth. Heavy drinking can alter the gut bacteria and wreak havoc in the entire system, experts explain.
Milk thistle can be beneficial in these cases. Silymarin is a natural antioxidant, as found by the National Institutes of Health. It is a potent remedy for the liver and it can also be beneficial for gut health.
When people experience indigestion or bloating, they need something that can facilitate digestion and draw out the toxins. Silymarin can do exactly that. It activates all the non-enzymatic and antioxidant enzymes in the human body to restore proper cell balance.
It can reduce the inflammation, protect the liver from toxicity, and calm the system. With effects such as these, it becomes easier for the stomach to process all the nutrients. It boosts digestion and draws out all the toxins that might put a lot of stress on gut health.
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What About Risks?
Experts believe milk thistle is generally safe to use when consumed orally, though it’s possible to develop side effects. However, they are so rare that only 1% of individuals who’ve taken higher doses for a long time experienced adverse effects.
The recorded side effects are mild, often accompanied by bloating or diarrhea. Compared to conventional medicine, they are generally less dangerous and debilitating. Some individuals may be advised to take precautions when buying milk thistle supplements. They include:
- Anyone who is allergic to milk thistle: It’s possible to experience an allergic reaction to any of the flavonoids in the plant. Those who are allergic to Compositae or Asteraceae (daisy, sunflower, and chamomile, among others) plants should stay away from supplements such as these.
- Individuals with an underlying health condition: Some people might experience estrogenic effects from the plant. This could lead to hormone fluctuations or various changes in the human body. Therefore, individuals with breast cancer or similar health issues might have to avoid the plant completely.
- People with diabetes: A metabolic condition can be difficult to manage. It needs a range of different medications to keep the health in check. Even though the milk thistle can help manage blood sugar and cholesterol levels, it’s important that you consult with a doctor if you take diabetes medicine.
- Pregnant women: There is not enough research that supports the safety of milk thistle for pregnant women. So, it might be in your best interest to avoid it if you are expecting.
What Type of Milk Thistle Product Could Be Effective for Alcoholics?
There are many ways to prepare milk thistle. Traditionally, people prepared the herb as a decoction or tea. Although tea is very healthy for the body, the silymarin may not create the potent results you are looking for in the liver.
Instead, it’s important to increase its bioavailability to release all the powerful compounds the product can offer. The ideal way to do that is to crush the fruits and soak them overnight. They should then be boiled for 15 min.
Another popular option is milk thistle tincture or extract. Typical milk thistle extract has been studied over the years and can make the most of the flavonoids it contains. The average recommended dose is around 200mg to 420mg a day, divided into three separate doses for the span of 8 weeks.
Researchers haven’t found any serious side effects from milk thistle extract, and all of these applications are considered safe to use.
Does Milk Thistle Help with Alcohol Detox?
The human liver can heal quickly on its own, but only if it has the proper environment. Although milk thistle shouldn’t be used as a primary form of liver treatment, there is enough research to support its positive effect on liver health.
From the currently available statistics, it’s easy to tell that the herbal product can aid people with alcohol dependency. However, it will take time for them to notice effective results. The liver can regenerate over time. Therefore, it’s normal to plan for a long recovery.
Also, the FDA hasn’t approved any herbal supplements, so it’s important to take the right precautions. Consult with your doctor before you add any herbal product to your diet.
Milk thistle, for example, comes in multiple forms. You can get it in the form of a tablet, capsule, tincture, or tea. To use the herb for alcohol detox, it would need to be pure and of high-quality. Otherwise, you won’t be providing the body of the proper silymarin concentration rate.
For ideal results, it is best that you combine the milk thistle with any liver-friendly diet. You should focus on reducing the intake of refined or fatty foods and eat fresh products. Anything from apples, avocados to whole grains can help.
Plus, it’s essential that you stay hydrated at all times. The alcohol-induced toxins must leave the system before you can do a full detox. By drinking plenty of water, you will be doing your liver a favor.
Herbs have been used for centuries. They have numerous health-boosting properties that can help patients cope with various health problems. Milk thistle is one of them. It’s a popular remedy for liver health. Because of its potent anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and toxin filtering properties, it can make a practical solution for promoting liver health in alcoholics. It’s always important that people consult with a doctor first before adding the supplement to their diet.
John Eckelbarger is a Business Development Representative for Stonegate Center. With a BSA in Chemistry from the University of Texas at Austin, he has an interest in the neurobiology of addiction & pharmacology of drugs. He hopes to bolster Stonegate Center to the forefront of addiction medicine through bold, innovative content. He is currently pursuing his MBA in Finance from Texas Christian University.