Headaches, nausea, dizziness, and dehydration: the symptoms of that well-known, self-inflicted condition - a hangover. When you consume alcohol, your liver metabolizes it at a rate of approximately one standard-sized drink per hour by breaking molecules down with a digestive mixture called bile. Alcohol intake exceeding this rate accumulates and becomes saturated in the bloodstream, causing intoxication to occur, and filtering alcohol from the bloodstream causes liver cells to die. Luckily, the liver can regenerate itself, but there are herbs that can help cleanse it the morning after a heavy night.
1. Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Dandelion may be the "enemy of suburban lawns," but it may also be your liver's best friend. Its leaves are packed with nutrients, including vitamins A, C, D, and B complex; and minerals like magnesium, potassium, calcium, zinc, and iron. Dandelion leaves have been used to support a sluggish or congested liver for centuries: adding raw dandelion leaves to a salad after consuming alcohol will stimulate the flow of bile in the liver to speed up the metabolism of alcohol particles.
2. Artichoke (Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus)
Artichoke is one of the oldest cultivated herbs, originating in Ethiopia. The budlike flower is popularly cooked and served as a vegetable, but it is the leaves of the artichoke that have liver-cleansing abilities. The cynarin and phenolic acids in the leaves are thought to have a choleretic effect (i.e., stimulate the flow of bile) in the liver, as well as a protective antioxidant effect. The leaves can be prepared in dried form and boiled with water to help cleanse the liver during a hangover.
3. Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum)
The seeds of the Mediterranean milk thistle plant contain a flavonoid called silymarin, which is commonly used in tinctures, extracts, or capsules to relieve the side effects of alcohol consumption. Silymarin contains an active extract that protects the liver from the harmful chemicals in alcohol molecules and promotes the regeneration of depleted liver cells. The seeds also have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity.
4. Boldo (Peumus boldus)
The leaves of the South American evergreen shrub boldo have significant cleansing antioxidant properties due to their high flavonoid and alkaloid content. The leaves can stimulate bile flow in the liver to help metabolize alcohol molecules, and protect the liver from potentially toxic chemicals. Like artichoke leaves, it is best to infuse dried boldo with boiling water to enjoy its cleansing effects after drinking alcohol.
Alcohol is a diuretic - it removes fluids from the body - so it's important to drink lots of water alongside any of these remedies in order to replenish lost fluids. Many of the symptoms of a hangover derive from dehydration alone, so it's a good idea to infuse these liver-friendly herbs with boiling water to cleanse and rehydrate simultaneously. Resist the urge to drink alcohol after a heavy night; you are only prolonging the effects of intoxication, and your body won't thank you for it.
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Speroni, E. et al. (2003). Efficacy of different Cynara scolymus preparations on liver complaints. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 86(2-3), 203-211. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12738088