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TT: Milk thistle – the drinker’s dietary supplement

6 Mar 2014 by Jancis Robinson

6 Mar 2014 This is the second of our Throwback Thursday articles, inspired by our archives or a desire to share a members-only article with a wider readership. This particular article was first published on 28 August 2008 and has been added to since, but I urge you to click on the links and on the milk thistle tag at the bottom of this article to read more on this popular subject. Feel free to add any observations or experiences in the Comments box. I certainly don't want to encourage over-indulgence, but I have found milk thistle effective (perhaps psychosomatically?) in minimising the less welcome effects of alcohol.

9 Sep 2012 See below for an addition from Swiss botanist and co-author of Wine Grapes, Dr José Vouillamoz

Those of you who have followed this website from its tentative first steps in late 2000 and have memorised every word (can such a person exist?) may well be aware of milk thistle already. This natural health product reputed to protect the liver against toxins such as alcohol has been part of my life for years now. Based on silymarin, or Silybum marianum, it is now obviously so popular than the leading British chemist Boots offer their own brand of milk thistle in an easy, flat blister pack. I do wish I had bought shares in a milk thistle farm.

I don't take it as a matter of course, but I do take one or two when I know I have a seriously heavy tasting, or drinking, session ahead. If by any chance I forget to take it, I really do think I can tell the difference. I took it assiduously when in Alsace recently when I had to tackle nearly 90 full-bodied whites during one day, followed by more than 30 wines chez Trimbach and felt absolutely fine both that evening and, more importantly, the following morning.

I see that my first article about it, Milk thistle - the drinker's friend, was published way back in December 2001. It was based on how I felt just after our 10-years-on dinner of 1989 Bordeaux first growths at which our host Edmund Penning-Rowsell used to insist that the six of us, including Michael Broadbent, finish as much as possible of the seven or eight bottles opened.

You may not be surprised to know that this article generated considerable interest - not least among my fellow wine professionals. You can also read various threads on our past forums in which many a Purple Pager asked for details of this miracle product, or swore their allegiance to it - just click on the tag below.

Update 24 Nov 2008 Grape expert José Vouillamoz reports that the French name for milk thistle is Chardon-Marie. José recently attended a conference by a world expert on pharmacognosy, Prof Hostettmann from the University of Geneva, who said that milk thistle was the best liver-protecting (or liver-booster) plant available - and Hostettmann said he takes it himself before serious dinners. However, José also added that some recent clinical studies have been inconclusive with regard to its effectiveness in protecting against liver diseases.

Update 9 Sep 2012 Dr Vouillamoz adds further, 'Funnily enough, I have just read a paper on this topic and I was thinking of you. There are some contradictory studies, but in a few words, the effect of milk thistle (silymarin) in the treatment of liver diseases (cirrhosis, poisoning, etc) has been established, while there is no strict evidence for it protecting healthy livers from developing alcohol-related diseases, or for it reducing the negative effects of alcohol consumption. In other words, it is used as a therapeutic drug, not as a prophylactic drug. The antidote still doesn't exist.


Thanks to all for the above. It is now on my shopping list.

14 Mar 2014 20:56 by Atrebatus

I do know people who take it every day. There should be a suggested dose on the pack of whichever formulation you choose. I'm certainly going to take some before tonight's Room to Read wine gala in Singapore....

14 Mar 2014 07:44 by Jancis Robinson

This is extremely interesting. I don't think I see what would be the recommended dose? If you're a regular every day wine drinker can you take it every day?Cheers! 

12 Mar 2014 20:57 by Carlos Gomez-Moreno

Why worry about drinking low alcohol wine, just drink your 15% alc with a delicious milk thistle sandwich or salad. We have plenty in our vineyard, maybe I should add some to the ferment??

9 Mar 2014 09:01 by Rodger Tynan

Yes.I agree.Is agreat way to mimimize alcohol effect. The Italian name is : Cardo Mariano.

7 Mar 2014 10:27 by Luca Pitino

Thanks for those comments.  I have not done any careful comparison of different formats but find regular tablets or capsules the most convenient to take. 

6 Mar 2014 23:25 by Jancis Robinson

I wonder whether you see a difference in the effectiveness of different types of Milk Thistle supplement. I have tried three types - soluble tablets; dried extract capsules and alchohol-based tincture. Against expectations I have had least success with the third. Do you perceive a difference in efficacy and which if any would you recommend?

6 Mar 2014 20:44 by Stuart Brown

 Dietary supplements are my only form of "faith based" behavior.  After dire warnings from my doctor to knock off the alcohol due to  marginally higher liver enzyme levels in my blood tests I started taking milk thistle a few years  ago. With no change in my drinking habits my last results were in the normal range. Not very scientific but worth noting. Belief can be a powerful medicine I suppose,at least in some instances and maybe that's an influence in my case.

6 Mar 2014 15:34 by Jan Rolstad

I have been taking milk thistle everyday for 20 years. With an Asian stomach, and my wine drinking, I genuinely believe that's why I am still alive !!! Asit Chandmal

27 Sep 2008 06:32 by Asit Chandmal

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