As you can imagine, alcoholics have several nutritional deficiencies in their bodies. According to Mark A. Stengler, NMD with Stengler Center for Integrative Medicine, he believes that nutritional approaches to treat alcoholism are vastly underrated but very effective in the alcohol recovery process.
A study was done 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, testing the blood sugar levels of more than 300 alcoholics. Like you can assume, none were normal. The people in the study were pre-diabetic, diabetic or hypoglycemic. Cravings for sugar and carb-rich foods become more pronounced when a person’s blood sugar is imbalanced. Foods rich in sugar and carbs raise blood sugar fast, but the body’s insulin response lowers the blood sugar and creates a roller coaster effect, which simulates an addiction and withdrawal cycle. In turn, this rise and fall intensifies alcohol cravings.
Alcohol also tears the lining of your stomach. It lowers digestion and absorption of B vitamins and other nutrients, which leaves the stomach vulnerable to inflammation.
Similar to the solution for weight gain, the key to success for people with alcoholism is to follow healthy dietary guidelines with the combination of the right supplements.
The recommended diet contains fresh foods, healthy proteins and high fiber vegetables. These foods help to stabilize blood sugar swings. When people make the switch to a healthier diet, it is not uncommon to have withdrawal symptoms like sweet cravings.
Below are the supplements that can help. Side effects are noted. These supplements can all be taken indefinitely, according to Stengler, 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.
Stengler recommends that his patients who are struggling with alcoholism to take these supplements and participate in an established recovery program. Spiritual support is also recommended. Patients who have been sober after following Stengler;s treatment plan say that they make the decision no to drink each day. By reducing cravings, a healthy diet and supplements can make that decision a little bit easier.
Mark A. Stengler, NMD, is a naturopathic medical doctor and leading authority on the practice of alternative and integrated medicine. Dr. Stengler is editor of the Bottom Line Natural Healing newsletter, author of The Natural Physician’s Healing Therapies (Bottom Line Books), founder and medical director of the Stengler Center for Integrative Medicine in Encinitas, California, and adjunct associate clinical professor at the National College of Natural Medicine in Portland, Oregon. To learn more about his work, visit www.DrStengler.com.