‘Focus on’ series

We all let ourselves go a bit leading up to the Festive Season

Many of us are all too familiar with overindulging in food and alcohol whether it is for a special occasion or because we simply enjoy it. When you eat and drink excessively over the holidays, at parties, over the weekends or go on an occasional “binge”, you are often rewarded with unpleasant after-effects such as a hangover, headache, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, or tummy ache. Eating too many rich foods such as fried chicken, creamy pastas, pastries, cakes and sweets as well drinking large amounts of wine, beer and spirits gradually takes its toll on the body and mind. You start to feel tired all the time, sluggish, gain weight, are unable to concentrate and may cause your digestive organs to not function properly.

The liver, especially takes a beating when you overindulge as this organ is responsible for the metabolism of fats, removes wastes, and detoxifies the body’s system. It is the liver’s job to get rid of the excess fat, protein and all the unnatural chemicals found in food, the environment, cosmetics and water supply. If the liver cannot eliminate these toxins, they are stored in the body’s fat and the result is weight gain. Other organs that are also affected when you overindulge include the gallbladder, pancreas, small intestine, nervous system, endocrine system, heart and lungs.

Although it may sometimes be tempting to overindulge in food and alcohol, keep in mind that moderation is key and that you can still allow yourself to indulge ever so slightly but at the same time make the effort to stay healthy.

How to minimise the effects of Overindulgence

There are several things that you can do to stay healthy and still overindulge once in a while and these include:

  • Start eating healthy, well balanced meals that contains all the essential vitamins, minerals and nutrients
  • Eat in moderation with smaller portions throughout the day – try not to skip meals!
  • Reduce your intake of simple carbohydrates such as bread, rice, pasta and cereals at lunch and dinner and introduce complex carbohydrates such as lentils, beans, grains and vegetables such as broccoli and spinach.
  • Have a bowl of vegetable soup before you go out to eat – foods with a high water content help to stave off hunger
  • Drink eight or more glasses of water per day to flush out all the unwanted toxins and to avoid dehydration especially when you are drinking alcohol
  • Avoid a hangover by drinking water in between alcoholic beverages, and especially before you go to bed.
  • Exercise regularly to maintain a healthy weight and keep physically fit and strong
  • Detox, especially your liver and kidneys, to clean out the body’s system and get rid of excess waste
  • Manage your stress levels effectively by indulging in healthier outlets such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, going away for a weekend or listening to soothing music

Why Detox?

An occasional detox, spring and autumn in particular, can help to rejuvenate the body and mind. It improves energy and mood, aids weight loss, clears the skin and improves digestion – with all those benefits, who wouldn’t want to give it a go?

Toxins damage the normal functioning of our cells, and therefore prevent us from reaching optimal health. We are exposed to an array of toxins on a day to day basis, and with approximately 4,000 chemicals used in food production, our food can be a major source. Toxins we consume include preservatives, artificial colourings and flavourings, pesticides, fertilisers, antibiotics, growth enhancers, caffeine and alcohol. As the majority of these are relatively new, man-made substances it’s not surprising that our body isn’t designed to process them, and overtime can leave us with fatigue, headaches, skin problems, cellulite, digestive problems and weakened immunity.

If this sounds familiar, give your body a well-deserved and gentle January cleanse. Experience the benefits of increased health, energy and vitality by following these Top Ten Tips for a period of 7-10 days:

  1. Start the day with a cleansing and digestion–awakening mug of warm water (boiled water not from the tap) with ¼ squeezed lemon and slice of root ginger if preferred.
  2. Eat a fruit-based breakfast, such as stewed or fresh fruit salad with natural yoghurt, or a freshly made smoothie. Eat fruits separately or in between meals rather than after meals as it can cause bloating and other digestive discomfort.
  3. Avoid black tea, coffee and alcohol and replace with herbal tea, such as nettle to support the kidneys, or dandelion root coffee to aid liver function. It’s important to stay well hydrated, so drink at least 1 litre of water daily. Fresh juices or smoothies, such as carrot, beetroot, apple and cucumber are also fantastically nourishing and cleansing so aim to drink one fresh juice and/or smoothie daily – ideally on an empty stomach for maximum benefit.
  4. Avoid all processed and prepared foods – this really means anything that has been manufactured and comes in a packet e.g. ready meals, savoury snacks, biscuits. Instead eat food in its natural unprocessed state and cook by steaming, lightly boiling or poaching rather than frying.
  5. Chose organic food over non-organic food to minimise your intake of toxic pesticides.
  6. Eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables per day, aiming for more. For lunch and dinner, cover at least 60% of your plate with vegetables and eat as much variety of colours as possible, aiming to cover the whole spectrum of the rainbow.
  7. Avoid wheat (e.g. in bread, pasta, pastries and biscuits) and replace with wheat-free alternatives such as brown rice, buckwheat noodles, quinoa, rye bread and oat cakes.
  8. Eat snacks, but replace sugary treats such as chocolate and cake with supportive foods such as fresh or dried fruit, vegetable sticks with hummus, half an avocado or mixed nuts and seeds.
  9. Reduce consumption of animal products. Avoid dairy products, except natural live yoghurt, and replace milk with rice or nut milks, but avoid soya milk. Avoid processed and fatty meats and replace with fish, eggs, lentils, beans, tempeh (fermented tofu), quinoa, seeds and nuts as good protein alternatives.
  10. Incorporate lifestyle factors into your regime to support the process: get a good nights sleep, take a yoga class, treat yourself to a massage or sauna, try dry skin brushing before showering and use natural organic skin products.

Herbal help for Overindulgence

Milk thistle plant

Natural treatments such as herbal remedies have proven to be highly effective in providing relief for symptoms associated with overindulgence or an alcohol “hangover”. Make sure you choose a licensed herbal remedy i.e. one with a “THR” kite mark as they have been assessed for quality and safety, are gentle to use on the body’s system and have no known reports of being addictive.

Powerful herbs, such as Silybum marianum (Milk Thistle), support the liver and promote balance and equilibrium in the body during times of excess and overindulgence.

The benefits of Milk Thistle

Milk Thistle is a plant native to Europe. It has a long history of use as a folk remedy for liver and gallbladder disorders. The active constituent of milk thistle is thought to be silymarin, a flavonoid found in the seeds.

Many people take Milk Thistle to help them get through periods of overindulgence such as leading up to and during the Christmas & New Year period as well as when they want to detox – usually in March as a spring clean or before a holiday.

Milk Thistle is also used for the following conditions:

  • Hepatitis – Milk thistle supplements have been explored for chronic hepatitis, however, larger, well-designed studies are needed before it can be recommended for this condition.
  • Cirrhosis – Preliminary studies suggest milk thistle supplements may be beneficial for people with cirrhosis. It may improve liver function. Again, more research is needed.
  • Protection From Liver Damage – Milk thistle may protect the liver against toxicity from acetaminophen (Paracetamol), alcohol and other drugs. In Europe, milk thistle is reportedly administered to patients when they are given medications known to cause liver problems.
  • Other Conditions – Milk thistle has also been explored for managing high cholesterol.

How Does it Work?

Most of the goodness of Milk Thistle can be traced back to three liver-protecting compounds known collectively as silymarin. It is thought these help to protect liver cells by altering the outer cell membrane thereby blocking the entry of toxins. It can therefore help the liver regenerate itself in people who have hepatitis or cirrhosis.

Milk Thistle also helps to strengthen the liver by preventing the depletion of glutathione, an amino acid like compound, which is essential to the detox process. As excessive alcohol depletes glutathione, Milk Thistle is also often given to help protect the livers of alcoholics or those recovering from alcohol abuse.

Herbal practitioners usually use milk thistle for treating patients with chronic inflammatory liver disorders, cirrhosis and fatty liver due to alcohol and dietary excesses. Needless to say as well as taking Milk Thistle, patients have to make changes to their lifestyle, which probably led to their liver problems in the first place.

Alongside these changes, Milk Thistle can help to repair any damage to the liver with visible results. The skin will lose its yellow ‘liverish’ or jaundice colour. The bilirubin values and other important figures stated in liver function tests will change for the better showing improvement of liver functioning. Gastro-intestinal symptoms such as wind, bloating and cramping pains will improve, as will appetite. Other positive effects of Milk Thistle include increased feelings of well being and better physical performance.

Milk Thistle can also be taken from time to time to help protect the liver against possible damage caused by chemical toxins which we are all becoming more and more exposed to in 21st century life. And if you intend to party hard this Christmas and New Year, Milk Thistle can be taken as a protective measure to protect the liver from the excesses of alcohol!

To find out more about licensed herbal medicines currently available in the UK containing Milk Thistle please visit our sponsor’s website www.schwabepharma.co.uk.


Sponsored by Schwabe Pharma (UK) Ltd, the UK’s leading licensed herbal medicine company and written exclusively for Women’s Health Concern in conjunction with Judit Kokai, a qualified medical herbalist and member of The National Institute of Medical Herbalists (NIMH) which is the oldest and leading professional body to represent medical herbalists in the UK.

This article has been produced by Women’s Health Concern and reviewed by one of our Medical Advisory Panel.

Review date: January 2012

Women’s Health Concern is an independent charity and receives no government funding.

© Women’s Health Concern. Charity No. 279651

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Website: www.womens-health-concern.org