Because I get to know my patients thoroughly, it isn’t uncommon for me to discover that one or another is an alcoholic — and to treat them for this disease. I view alcoholism as a condition that often has genetic roots and is associated with psychological and spiritual imbalances… and as a type of metabolic disease that is similar to diabetes. You may be surprised to learn that nutritional approaches to treat this disease are vastly underrated but very effective at helping alcoholics recover and remain sober.
In my practice, I draw heavily on the treatments developed by the late Abram Hoffer, MD, PhD, one of the pioneers in the use of vitamins to treat psychiatric disorders and coauthor with Andrew W. Saul, PhD, of The Vitamin Cure for Alcoholism.
Inside an Alcoholic’s Body
Nutrition problems exacerbate the detrimental health effects of alcoholism in the following ways…
Blood sugar problems. Dr. Hoffer once tested the blood sugar levels of more than 300 alcoholics. Not a single one was normal. They were prediabetic, diabetic or hypoglycemic. Cravings for sugar- and carb-rich foods become more pronounced when a person’s blood sugar is imbalanced. Those foods quickly raise blood sugar, but the body’s surge of insulin in response lowers blood sugar and creates an up-and-down cycle, which is very much like an addiction-and-withdrawal cycle. This situation intensifies alcohol cravings.
Nutritional deficiencies. Alcohol irritates and injures the lining of the upper digestive tract and increases hydrochloric acid production, which can damage the stomach lining. It also directly lowers the digestion and absorption of B vitamins and other nutrients, which leaves the stomach unprotected from stomach acids, resulting in inflammation.
With dietary changes and the use of supplements, patients with alcoholism experience less desire to drink within a few weeks.
My dietary guidelines for patients with alcoholism are similar to what I tell all my patients — build a diet around fresh foods. This includes healthful proteins (fish, legumes, nuts, chicken, turkey) and high-fiber vegetables. These foods help to stabilize blood sugar swings. Withdrawal symptoms (low energy, sweet cravings, depression) are common when one stops eating junk foods, just as when ceasing to drink alcohol.
Supplements that Can Help
In addition to dietary changes, I recommend that my patients who abuse alcohol or who have alcoholic tendencies take all of the following natural products. They are safe for everyone. Side effects are noted. These supplements all can be taken indefinitely, which is helpful because alcoholism is a lifelong illness…
- B-complex. A high-potency B-complex vitamin can help restore normal liver function and ease alcohol cravings. By high potency, I mean a B-50 complex, which delivers 50 milligrams (mg) each of vitamins B-1, B-2 and B-3, or a multivitamin with at least 50 milligrams (mg) each of these vitamins.
- Vitamin B-1. Alcoholics often are deficient in this vitamin because it gets used up breaking down alcohol, sugars and carbohydrates. Take 100 mg of vitamin B-1 daily (in addition to the B-complex mentioned at left).
- Vitamin B-3 (niacin). High doses of vitamin B-3, or niacin, are helpful in reducing alcohol cravings, stabilizing mood and reducing the effects of alcohol toxicity on the brain. Start with 500 mg three times daily, and work up to 1,000 mg three times daily. Note: Niacin can cause intense facial flushing that lasts for about one hour. If you take vitamin B-3, have your liver enzymes monitored. Enzymes can be elevated, an indication of inflammation.
- Vitamin C. Healthy brains have high concentrations of vitamin C, which might alter the activity of opiate receptors in the brain and reduce interest in drugs, including alcohol. Take 3,000 mg to 5,000 mg daily in divided doses. If this amount results in stomach upset or diarrhea, cut back the dosage.
- Kudzu. A Harvard Medical School study found that the herb kudzu (Pueraria lobata) decreased the desire to consume alcohol. The effect was rapid — within 90 minutes of taking kudzu extract capsules. Take 1,000 mg three times daily.
- Silymarin. This antioxidant is the active ingredient in extracts of the herb milk thistle. It improves blood sugar and liver function, both of which may be impaired after long-term alcohol abuse. Take 100 mg to 300 mg daily.
- N-acetylcysteine (NAC). This is one of the most promising supplements for alcoholism. Several human studies have found that it reduces the desire for cocaine in those who are addicted to the drug, and animal studies suggest that it may have a similar benefit in countering the desire for alcohol. Try 1,000 mg to 2,000 mg daily.
Many alcoholics also have fungal overgrowth in their bodies, which contributes to alcohol cravings. Click here for details on how fungus affects the body and how to get rid of it.
I recommend that my patients who are struggling with alcoholism take these supplements and participate in an established recovery program. Spiritual support also is recommended. Patients who have been sober after following my treatment plan say that they make the decision not to drink each day. By reducing cravings, a healthy diet and supplements can make that decision a little bit easier.