The Anticipatory Hangover Cure + 6 Other Beauty Benefits Of Milk Thistle
Sure, you’re familiar with the myriad benefits of turmeric, lavender, and cannabis. But what about milk thistle (Silybum marianum)? While lesser known than some other herbal remedies, it's certainly not a newcomer. In fact, quite the opposite is true. It's been used for over 2,000 years—most commonly to remedy liver disorders. One of the most researched medical herbs, its healing properties were first documented by Greek physician and botanist Dioscorides in A.D. 40.
Milk thistle is indigenous to the Mediterranean and is a member of the Asteraceae plant family (along with sunflowers and daisies). It's known for its violet thistle-like flowers and glossy green, white-veined leaves. The seeds and leaves are used to create a variety of forms, including extracts, pills, powders, tinctures, and teas. Its active ingredient, silymarin, is a flavonoid with powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. This nutrient-rich herb possesses many magical powers when it comes to health and wellness.
1. Supports liver function
Unhealthy diet, alcohol, pollution, toxins, and stress can take a toll on our liver function. Studies show1 that milk thistle not only protects but actually helps repair toxin-induced liver damage2. Not surprisingly, it's commonly used to prevent and treat the symptoms of hangovers. When you drink, the alcohol in your body is broken down in the liver by an enzyme called alcoholdehydrogenase (ADH), which transforms it into a toxic compound called acetaldehyde, and studies have shown that the antioxidants in milk thistle can inhibit this process3. While it is by no means a definitive “cure” for hangovers, it anecdotally has been shown to alleviate some of those wretched symptoms when taken before and after nights out. Hum Wing Man contains a cocktail of high-potency milk thistle extract, dandelion root extract, and artichoke leaf flushes toxins and promotes liver detoxification. (For more product picks, check out our liver supplement roundup.)
2. Boosts skin health
Milk thistle is a mega-multitasker when it comes to your complexion (no matter your age or skin type). Its antioxidant abilities protect against free-radical damage, which can cause premature skin aging. Both its detoxifying and inflammatory properties make it particularly beneficial for those with acne, rosacea, psoriasis, and eczema. This milk thistle extract lends its skin-purifying, pore-purging properties to Sunday Riley U.F.O. Ultra-Clarifying Face Oil ($80).
3. Slows the aging process
When applied topically or ingested, its antioxidant benefits (comparable to vitamin C and E) protect against free-radical damage. Compounded with its abilities to flush the body of toxins, it can actually help slow the aging process and maintain healthy, youthful skin (think fewer dark spots, fine lines, and wrinkles), eyes, joints, and muscles.
4. Endocrine and gastrointestinal support
Milk thistle's detoxifying abilities extend beyond the liver. It helps support the endocrine and gastrointestinal systems by flushing the body of waste. It's also shown to help prevent gallstones and kidney stones and has been touted for centuries for its ability to soothe digestive issues. Stomachache? Brew a cup of Alvita Milk Thistle Herbal Tea ($5.43).
5. Protects against cancer and disease
Research from the University of Minnesota4 found "strong preclinical evidence for silymarin's hepatoprotective and anticarcinogenic effects." Here's how it works: Silymarin protects against depletion of glutathione, a powerful antioxidant that helps fight oxidative stress, which can lead to skin, breast, prostate and cervical cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.
6. Promotes heart health
Milk thistle extract offers cardioprotective properties. For starters, it reduces inflammation5, which is one of the leading causes of heart disease, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. And a 2008 study6 found that silymarin is capable of reducing LDL ("bad" cholesterol) levels associated with high-fat diets.
Overall, this herb is nothing short of magical when it comes to its health and beauty benefits. The next time you’re in need of an herbal remedy (or maybe you’re looking for anything that could possibly relieve a pounding hangover headache), you might want to add milk thistle to your herbal arsenal.
Lindsay Cohn is a freelance writer, wellness-enthusiast and yogi based in New York City. She studied creative writing at The University of Miami and most frequently writes about wellness, beauty, travel and design. Her work has been featured in USA Today, Martha Stewart, Domino, NBC Today, and more.