By Lawrence Wilson, MD
© September 2011, The Center For Development, Inc.
is a worldwide disaster that affects almost all families in some manner. Its causes are complex. However, nutrition plays a much greater
role than is acknowledged in medical and psychological circles.
Alcoholics Anonymous or AA is a fabulous organization founded by Mr. Bill Wilson in the mid-twentieth century. Even he learned about the role of nutrition in alcoholism near the end of his life. His wife, Lois, wrote about it in a pamphlet entitled, The Vitamin B3 Therapy: A Third Communication to AA’s physicians. She wrote:
“Aldous Huxley, a great admirer of A.A., introduced Bill to two psychiatrists who were researching the biochemistry of alcoholism. He was convinced of the truth of their findings and realized he could again help his beloved alcoholics by telling them about the physical (nutritional) component of alcoholism.”
This article discusses some of the major nutritional causes for alcohol addiction and cravings. These include nutrient deficiencies, toxic metal excess, adrenal gland exhaustion or overactivity, hypoglycemia and chronic yeast infection in the intestines.
is a fascinating compound. It is a
high-energy molecule that can release tremendous energy to the body when it is
chemically broken down. Our bodies
will ‘run on alcohol’, though it is an unhealthy fuel for us that leads to
depletion of specific nutrients including zinc, magnesium, copper, iron and
some B-complex vitamins, among others.
A vicious cycle often ensues when nutritional deficiencies develop. The body’s natural energy system becomes crippled and lethargy develops. This can cause a craving for alcohol as the fuel of choice, since it uses a different metabolic pathway to produce energy in the body. Once one begins drinking alcohol the nutrient deficiencies worsen, and this further increases the cravings for alcohol or sugar.
This has been a problem for centuries and will continue until it is thoroughly understood. It is extremely difficult for anyone today to meet their nutritional needs, due to the use of hybrid crops grown with pesticides on depleted soils. Most of us also eat processed and refined foods that are deficient in nutrients. We must understand this fact, as it impacts alcoholics more than many other people.
The founder of Alcoholics Anonymous understood this late in his life. His followers, sadly, often serve coffee, sugary donuts and other totally deficient foods to the faithful who are attempting to kick the alcohol habit. Their success would be so much greater if they included less sweet food and more nutrient-rich foods in the official AA regimen.
Sugar and alcohol. Many other articles on this website
discuss the abomination of modern mankind’s refined food diets. Here I will only say the modern diet
does little to assist alcoholics to overcome their addiction. Fortunately, we have many vitamin and
mineral supplements readily available to help rebuild the nutrient levels. However, food must not be ignored,
either. Just a pile of pills is
not good enough.
Also, beware as it takes some time to replenish a depleted body, especially in the case of minerals. The reason for this has much to do with the accumulation of toxic metals in the bodies.
metal excess is a problem for all of humanity today due to industrialization,
contamination of the water, air and food, and the problem discussed above of
nutrient depletion. As
deficiencies in vital minerals develop, the body accumulates toxic minerals to
replace some of the vital ones.
The process is somewhat like replacing the right key in a lock with another that fits in the keyhole but the lock cannot open. As this process continues, the body functions at a lower and lower level of enzyme efficiency and energy. Turning the body around and correcting the problem is slow at first and takes a number of years.
Cravings may persist for years. This helps explain why many
alcoholics must stay on a strict regimen of alcohol avoidance for their entire
lives. It might not be so if they
regenerated their nutrient levels, but this takes a lot more work and knowledge
The issue of toxic metals is far worse in alcoholics. One reason is that many alcoholics tend to be even more nutritional deficient than other people. Alcohol is high in calories. Many who drink alcohol substitute it for food. Also, alcohol itself depletes the body of B-complex vitamins, zinc, magnesium and other nutrients. A hangover is mainly an acute nutritional deficiency.
Toxic metals are vital replacement parts
for a depleted body. Toxic
metals, to use a slightly different analogy, are like replacement parts in a
car that don’t function quite correctly.
This leads to symptoms that hinder recovery and cause the persistence of
irritability, depression, fatigue, mood swings and other problems.
In particular, many alcoholics develop copper and cadmium toxicity as a result of zinc deficiency. This can result in many serious conditions. Many alcoholics also smoke. Cigarettes not only further deplete nutrients. They contain cadmium, arsenic and other anti-nutrients that replace zinc in the body, worsening nutritional depletion and contributing to other illnesses.
THE ADRENAL CONNECTION
all alcoholics, as well as those with other addictions, are actually
tired. They use drugs to forget
their fatigue in order to make life more bearable.
Drugs including alcohol provide a lift for a while, but leave a person feeling worse when they wear off. The desire for another “hit” then becomes even stronger.
Recovery involves feeling the despair of having very low energy and taking the time to rest and relax, rather than just keeping going at all cost. This is very difficult for many people. Another article on this website entitled, Addiction discussed the theory of addictions and many other aspects of addiction.
CANDIDA ALBICANS INFECTION
all have some degree of infection in the intestines with Candida Albicans, a
common yeast organism. The infection may not produce any recognizable symptoms,
so it is often a hidden condition.
Read about it by clicking on the link above.
A healthy body resists yeast overgrowth. However, if one eats sugar, excessive carbohydrates in the diet or alcohol, the yeast organisms survive and grow. Nutritional imbalances involving copper also impair the body’s natural ability to recognize and kill candida and other yeasts in the intestines.
Candida albicans overgrowth is a key to understanding alcoholism in many cases. The yeast itself produces a small quantity of alcohol as part of its metabolic processing of sugar. It is the same process that is used to make wine, beer and other fermented beverages.
However, for the alcoholic, extra alcohol production spells loads of trouble. It helps perpetuate strong cravings. It also produces chemicals that are highly toxic to the body, including alcohol and acetaldehyde. These further impair liver activity and further slow one’s healing process.
People with candida overgrowth are slightly inebriated all the time. They may stop drinking, but their internal alcohol production continues, especially if they eat a diet high in sugars and carbohydrates.
Thus, even if one does not drink, a person often continues to experience some of the effects of alcohol intoxication including fatigue, irritability and alcohol and sugar cravings. This can seriously interfere with recovery efforts.
Also, anyone with candida albicans overgrowth who temporarily stops eating sugar or carbohydrates can experience symptoms of alcoholic withdrawal, including strong cravings for sugar or alcohol. This can be extremely confusing until one recognizes the connection between diet, alcoholism and the overgrowth of candida and other yeasts in the body. Much more could be said about this connection, but I have covered the essential points.
HYPOGLYCEMIA AND ALCOHOL
Hypoglycemia is the most common biochemical imbalance in alcoholism. This is often also true for other addictions as well. Hypoglycemia literally means low blood sugar. However, it may also refer to low cellular energy production from a variety of causes. These are very important but beyond the scope of this article. Click here for an article on hypoglycemia.
Blood sugar testing. Over 70% of Americans have abnormal
glucose tolerance tests. However,
among alcoholics the percentage is between 85-95%. Dr. Larson notes in her excellent book about alcoholism that
many doctors still do not want to bother with a five or six-hour glucose
tolerance test to detect hypoglycemia.
Also, some doctors do not interpret the test correctly, thus missing the problem. Dr. Robert Atkins, MD, former director of the Atkins Center in New York City, found that 75% of his patients had abnormal glucose tolerance tests, especially if insulin is measured along with glucose. He found that for accurate results, one must measure insulin along with glucose.
Symptoms of hypoglycemia are often an
adequate guide to identifying hypoglycemia, even without a glucose tolerance
test. Many of the tests are just
not accurate enough as the interpretation is complex in some cases.
Among the common symptoms are irritability before meals that improves upon eating. Other common ones include having reactions to eating sugars or carbohydrates, and cravings for sugars, starches or alcohol.
Other common symptoms include periods of nervousness, irritability, exhaustion, dizziness, tremors, faintness, cold sweats, headaches, forgetfulness, insomnia, anxiety, confusion, and heart palpitations. These generally occur several hours after eating, or soon after eating a sugary snack.
Hair analysis for assessment. A properly performed hair mineral test is also an excellent and simple way to confirm sugar and carbohydrate intolerance. Indicators include a hair sodium/potassium ratio less than 2:1or a calcium/magnesium ratio between about 9.5:1 and about 13.5:1. Others are a low zinc level, an elevated copper or cadmium level and perhaps the presence of other toxic metals.
The mechanism of most hypoglycemia. Eating carbohydrates or alcohol raises
the blood sugar level. In
response, the pancreas begins to secrete insulin to lower the blood sugar. Normally, this should return the blood
sugar level to its original value.
However, in people with hypoglycemia, the pancreas overreacts and within several hours the blood sugar level declines too much. This can cause weakness, confusion, depression, irritability and intense cravings as the brain begins to starve for fuel.
At this point, the adrenal glands often kick in to raise the sugar level. The adrenalin reaction can cause extreme anxiety, nervousness, cold sweats and other symptoms. Drinking more alcohol as a depressant drug can alleviate some of the symptoms and becomes very attractive.
As this cycle continues over time, the pancreas and the adrenals become exhausted, which only makes the problem worse. Persistent fatigue and depression may set in. Even if one stops drinking, the cravings, irritability and fatigue continue.
An additional mechanism for some hypoglycemia. In addition, some people are slow oxidizers with already weakened adrenal responses. These people tend to have a low blood sugar level at all times. Thus, they often crave sugars and even alcohol because having some raises the blood sugar, albeit temporarily, and makes them feel better.
Other minerals can also cause hypoglycemia. A deficiency of other minerals needed for sugar metabolism or alcohol metabolism can also contribute to the symptoms of hypoglycemia. These include manganese, zinc, chromium, selenium, iodine and many others. Thus alcoholism can have to do with all of these in some cases, and hypoglycemia is not always a simple problem.
All alcoholics tend toward hypoglycemia to
some degree. While this is a
general statement, it is usually true.
It means most have difficulty regulating their blood sugar level. When it drops too low, it causes strong
cravings for sugar – and alcohol.
Alcohol can serve as a way to complete the regulation of the glucose level in the blood, although it is an unhealthy method. This is another fact not to be overlooked when one is to conquer an alcoholic habit or even just an alcoholic tendency.
Diet is important to overcome low blood
sugar. Other means must be
found to regulate blood sugar. The
best of these methods is with diet.
One must eat protein, and perhaps some fat with it, and preferably every
This must continue for perhaps years until the body can regain the ability to regulate blood sugar normally. Deeper correction also requires extra nutrients, a balanced oxidation rate, adequate rest and sleep, and more. Therefore, this process is not a fast one. Several years at least are required, during which time a person must control their lifestyle and diet in order to rebuild the body.
Other uses of food supplements are usually required to replenish minerals that have been depleted. This point is unfortunately often overlooked in the Alcoholics Anonymous plan for alcohol rehabilitation. This is why many people are stuck in their support groups forever.
who suffers from alcoholism or other addictions has come to some negative
conclusions about life. These
beliefs may be very subtle, but they permeate and affect one’s activities and
habits at many levels.
Any method to help reverse this negative conclusion about the meaning and importance of one’s life is helpful. Reading inspiring books can be helpful. Uplifting biographies are excellent for some. Becoming interested in positive spiritual thinking can be extremely good. For example, see the article on this website entitled, The World Is Perfect. Counseling helps some, while recreational activities, good friends and meaningful work help others.
health professionals use the term ‘dry-drinking’ to describe a group of symptoms
recovering alcoholics often contend with.
These are usually very similar to the symptoms of hypoglycemia!
They include irritability, depression, aggressiveness, insomnia, fatigue, restlessness, confusion, desire to drink, and nervousness. They even occur at AA meetings where participants often consume sugary soda pop or coffee with sugar, and smoke cigarettes as well.
One cannot recover from hypoglycemia overnight. However, one can feel better in a few short weeks. A key is changing the diet to eliminate sweets and refined carbohydrates.
This means letting go or at least limiting candy, cookies, ice cream and colas. Replacing these with high-quality protein, vegetables and some complex carbohydrates helps stabilize the blood sugar. Some people also require more fats and oils in the diet.
Many people also feel better eliminating wheat and most commercial dairy products, as these are common allergic foods. Also, stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine make the problem worse and should be minimized.
THE GENETIC CONNECTION
indicate there are differences in the way alcoholics process sugars. However, familial aspects of alcoholism
are not always genetic. Some of
the familial connection is congenital. This means present at birth, but not in
the genes. For example, if
one’s mother is deficient in zinc due to alcoholism or any other cause, her
child will be born deficient in zinc.
This is not a genetic defect, but simply a nutritional imbalance passed
on from mother to child.
Similarly, if the mother’s body contains excessive copper, lead or cadmium, these toxins are passed directly through the placenta to the child. The child will then exhibit symptoms related to these nutritional imbalances. Fortunately, many congenital imbalances can be corrected.
This may seem unusual, but the father’s nutritional condition and biochemical balance also affects the unborn child. This occurs in several ways. Some imbalances are passed on in the sperm cells, which form the basis for all of the fetuses’ body cells. In addition, just the presence of the father in the home affects an unborn child.
Also, children brought up in alcoholic homes may develop nutritional deficiencies at an early age simply because they are not fed properly. These symptoms may appear to be genetically caused. In fact, they are due to the environment in which the children live.
Congenital and environmentally-caused imbalances are often ignored because they often cannot be measured by standard blood tests. However, tissue mineral analysis can identify these imbalances in young children or even in infants, when they can be corrected before problems arise.
AN INTEGRATED APPROACH
Those with a problem with alcohol and those with other addictions often benefit greatly from screening for biochemical imbalances. Standard blood tests are not adequate. Tissue mineral testing along with food allergy and candida or yeast assessments can help identify many important physical conditions that can hinder recovery.
Dr. Larson identifies at least four alcoholic biotypes. They are 1) hypoglycemics, 2) ADH types. These people make an enzyme in their livers that allows them to handle more alcohol than others, 3) allergic/addicted - based on an allergy to alcohol, and 4) essential fatty acid deficient, which contributes to depression seen in many alcoholics.
could add several other types, based on the metabolic or oxidation type, toxic
metal contributions, and specific mineral deficiencies that may be
present. There will be some
overlap, as the cause for addiction, allergies and more lie with these metals
in most cases. However, either
method is fine.
The point is that not all alcoholism is the same in its cause. While some is mainly due to nutrient deficiencies, other cases respond better to food elimination diets, and so forth. They should not all be treated the same. Hair mineral analysis can help distinguish the different causes, as outlined above.
Excellent Food Is Helpful. In addition, all of those who were
involved with alcohol benefit from nutritious meals of high quality meats,
vegetables, only limited grains and no fruit, fruit juices or any sweets at
Some recovering alcoholics feel that since they are no longer drinking, they do
not need to pay attention to nutrition.
This is hardly true. They
are more in need than anyone else, as it will do much to keep them sober.
The typical diets eaten by most people just do not provide enough nutrients today. This includes fast foods, most restaurant fare and even a lot of frozen meals or microwave meals. Refined grains such as white flour, white rice and white sugar as well should be totally avoided.
Three, regular meals of fresh, organically grown food can help supply many missing nutrients not easily found in prepared and processed foods. Vegetables in large quantities are extremely helpful and steamed are best. Also, supplementary nutrients are essential.
SUPPLEMENTS FOR RECOVERY
The best way to recommend supplements is to have a hair mineral analysis and go on a nutritional balancing program. However, I will mention the most important supplementary nutrients in most cases:
B-complex vitamins. These are helpful for most people in
alcohol recovery, as well as for those who are still using alcohol. Most of the B-complex is needed to
process sugars and alcohol.
Therefore, deficiencies are very common in those who are alcoholic or
even just grew up in alcoholic families.
Foods such as meats, dried beans and nutritional yeast contain B-complex, but not enough in many cases. One would have to eat a lot of brewer’s yeast or hamburger, for example, to get the same amount as is found in a 50 mg tablet of the entire B-complex.
Zinc. Zinc is very essential. It becomes depleted due to alcohol consumption, as zinc is required for many enzymes needed to process alcohol. At least 40 mg of zinc in tablet or lozenge form is needed.
These may also be depleted by alcohol, or just low in the body. Most people need at least 10 mg of manganese
chelate. For selenium, I prefer a
food-based selenium supplement, like that sold by Endomet Labs in Phoenix,
Arizona. Theirs is 100 mcg per
capsule and I usually recommend about 2 or 3 daily.
Selenium is depleted in the body during stress and is needed for detoxification in the liver, for thyroid function and for other functions as well. It is a wonderful element, and may be called the king of the trace elements.
An important complication with this kind of recommendation is some people need more supplements than others. This depends on many factors, from genetics to nutritional imbalances of each person. For example, a study by H.L. Newbold in Medical Hypothesis, 28(3):155-64 found that some patients in his study of illness needed up to 36 mg daily of vitamin B12 to feel normal. This is 36,000 times the recommended daily allowance for vitamin B12!
Others. Other extremely important nutrients are kelp, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D3 and a digestive aid for everyone.
A SMART LIFESTYLE
In addition to nutrition, a healthful lifestyle can make a large difference in the outcome of alcohol-related disorders. The main features of this lifestyle must be the following:
Rest And Sleep. Enough rest and sleep are first in all
cases. This is because rest is
needed to rebuild the body in everyone.
There are no exceptions.
Naps are also excellent.
Late nights are the worst, as much regeneration occurs during the hours before midnight. Go to bed by 9 PM or as close to it as possible. Begin slowing down early in the evening, eat supper at an early hour if at all possible, and it is alright to just rest in bed if one cannot sleep immediately.
Natural sleep remedies can help. Take something to hasten rest and sleep if needed. Drugs can be used for sleep if needed. Often, however, nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, 5-htp, melatonin and others will suffice. No amount of nutrition or other methods will overcome a lack of rest and sleep.
Deep Breathing, Sunshine, Some Exercise and
Positive Thoughts And Emotions.
These are the other factors that make up an excellent lifestyle. Relax, enjoy life as much as
possible. Do not fret, and do not
take on more problems than you can easily handle.
These are simple ideas that go a long way toward any kind of healing. Many alcoholic people are very generous and kind. They must keep track of their energy use and set up boundaries for themselves so they do not stress their bodies. If they do not do this, they can undo all the hard work they have put in to moving away from alcohol or, for that matter, from other addictions as well.
Other natural therapies such as
chiropractic, energy therapies, massage, meditation and a multitude of others
can help and may be needed at times to strengthen and balance the body.
Hopefully this short article will encourage everyone to take life in your hands and make the most of it. It is not that hard. Ask for help and look for support wherever you can. This can range from friends and family to support groups, but only if they support everything we recommend. If anyone or any group denies this support to you, distance yourself from their influence as much as possible. This is only common sense, but it must be said here.
For those that operate recovery centers, there is little new in this article. It reiterates what has been known for years, in fact. Hopefully repeating it will encourage both individuals and treatment centers to approach alcoholism and other addictions in the most comprehensive way.
1. Crook, W., The Yeast Connection, Professional Books, Jackson, TN, 1983.
2. Larson, J.M., Seven Weeks to Sobriety - The Proven Program To Fight Alcoholism Through Nutrition, Ballantine/Wellspring, New York, 1997.
3. Milam, J, Under the Influence, Madrona Press, Seattle, 1981.
4. Phelps, J., The Hidden Addiction, Little Brown and Company, Boston, 1986.
5. Trowbridge, J., and Walker, M., The Yeast Syndrome, Bantam Books, New York, 1986.
6. Williams, R., Prevention of Alcoholism Through Nutrition, Bantam Books, New York, 1981.