Alcohol is the most commonly abused legal substance in the United States and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has revealed shocking facts to prove it. Nearly 25% of people ages 18 or older admitted binge drinking in the past month. Drunk driving fatalities accounted for 9,967 deaths (31% of overall driving fatalities). Nearly 88,000 people (approximately 62,000 men and 26,000 women) die from all alcohol-related causes annually, making it the fourth leading preventable cause of death in the United States. More than one in ten children in the United States live with a parent with alcohol problems.
Alcohol Consumption and Abuse
In his article, “Nutritional Programs for Alcohol Detoxification”, Dr. Elson M. Haas, M.D. describes the many health problems associated with both alcohol consumption and alcohol abuse.
“The risks of alcohol are directly related to the amount of alcohol consumed and the time period over which it is used. Individual sensitivity and associated nutritional balance, supplements, allergy, and lifestyle factors also contribute to the specific problems that may result from alcohol. Empirically, a high risk may be caused by more than five drinks daily, moderate risk by three to five drinks daily, and low risk by one or two drinks daily. Social drinking of one or two drinks a week is considered light use.”
“Alcohol abuse can lead to addiction, emotional problems, and a number of specific degenerative processes. Obesity, gastritis and ulcers, pancreatitis, hepatitis, cirrhosis, hypoglycemia and diabetes, gout, nerve and brain dysfunction, cancer, nutritional deficiencies, immune suppression, or injury and death from falls and auto accidents are some of the more common problems. Overall, alcohol is a toxic irritant for the human being.”
Major Health Risks of Alcohol Consumption
Dr. Haas presents a comprehensive list of major health risks of alcohol. Here is a condensed version of his list:
- Drunkenness — dizziness, slowed mental functions, memory loss, poor judgment, emotional outbursts, incoordination
- Hangover — headaches, upset stomach, fatigue, dehydration, and dizziness
- Withdrawal — gastrointestinal problems, fatigue, headaches, anxiety, irritability, dizziness, fevers, chills, depression, insomnia, tremors, weakness, hallucinations, seizures, and delirium tremens (DTs)
- Injuries, auto accidents, violent crimes, and jail
- Liver disease
- Stomach disorders — gastritis and ulcers
- Pancreatitis and gallstones
- Nervous system disorders
- Cardiovascular disease
- Carbohydrate metabolism — hypoglycemia and diabetes
- Nutritional deficiencies and an inability to properly metabolize nutrition
- Low sexuality and impotence
- Increased susceptibility to cancer
- Birth defects
- Reduced Immune function
- Other health problems — headaches, gout, severe PMS, Vaginitis from Candida, and other infections
- Social and family problems
- Economic hardships
Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
Alcohol is physically addictive and if you’ve consumed or abused it for long enough to become addicted, then a sudden cessation will produce withdrawal symptoms, and they’re arduous. These may include tremors, anxiety, nausea, vomiting, headache, increased heart rate, sweating, irritability, confusion, insomnia, nightmares, and high blood pressure. There are more serious complications such as hallucinations, delirium tremens (DT), and seizures.
Some people are able to quit safely at home by tapering off with a light alcoholic beverage and reducing their consumption gradually – every day. To find out how serious your withdrawal symptoms are, you can use the CIWA-Ar form to determine what sort of care is necessary (a link to the self-test is included in the reference section of this article). Although it can be helpful, it’s not intended to replace a consultation with your healthcare provider. In fact, consider it a starting point for a conversation with a professional.
Alcohol Detoxification and Nutrition
There is a lot you can do to support your body’s natural detoxification abilities, and maintaining nutritional diet and dietary supplements can help. Here are some suggestions by Dr. Haas:
“Diet and megavitamin therapy may be helpful during withdrawal, detoxification, and recovery from alcoholism. Alcoholics generally need more supplements than most other people. And during the detox time, they may need even more.”
“Water, diluted fruit and vegetable juices, warm broths and soups, and teas using herbs, such as chamomile, skullcap (a nervine), or valerian root all will serve. Some other herbs that may be helpful during withdrawal are white willow bark to reduce pain and inflammation, ginseng, cayenne, and peppermint. Small amounts of light proteins, such as non-fatty poultry, fish, or even chicken soup, will provide more nourishment.”
“A basic "multiple" along with antioxidant nutrients can be employed during detoxification from alcohol. Extra minerals, such as zinc, iron, calcium, and magnesium, can be taken to replace those lost during alcohol abuse. Higher levels of niacin, even up to several grams, along with 5-10 grams of vitamin C daily, have been used with some success in alcohol withdrawal and detox. A more modest level of C would be 500-1,000 mg. taken four to six times daily.”
“Other detoxifying nutrients include additional fiber, which helps to bind toxins in the bowel and improve elimination. Choline and inositol, about 500 mg. each three times daily, will improve fat digestion and utilization. Lemon water with a couple of teaspoons of olive oil and a quarter teaspoon or capsule of cayenne pepper will help detoxify the liver. Taking fiber along with oil decreases the oil absorption, but olive oil alone is thought to be nourishing to the liver and helpful in clearing chemical toxins. Cold-pressed olive oil is part of many natural liver therapies. Goldenseal root powder, one or two capsules twice daily, is also helpful for toning and clearing the liver. Parsley tea improves kidney elimination and cleansing of the blood. The amino acid L-cysteine is another helpful detoxifier for the liver, blood, and colon.”
“Other nutrients and herbs that are helpful during detoxification of alcohol include pancreatic digestive enzymes after meals and brewer’s yeast, which, if tolerated, supplies many B vitamins and minerals. The essential fatty acids help to decrease the inflammatory prostaglandins. Gamma-linolenic acid from evening primrose or borage seed oil helps to reduce alcohol toxicity. White willow bark tablets can be used for pain, and valerian root, a natural and milder form of Valium, can be taken to decrease anxiety. Chamomile will help to calm the digestive tract, as will licorice root.”
Dr. Haas recommends L-tryptophan amino acid for sleep, and L-glutamine to reduce alcohol and sugar cravings.
“Alcohol detoxification continues for at least several weeks after the withdrawal period. During this recovery time, the body will eliminate alcohol, its by-products, and other toxins and begin breaking down some of the fat that may have been stored during alcohol abuse. General supportive and balanced nourishment with a low-fat, moderate protein, basic complex carbohydrate diet is recommended.”
“Since alcoholics often have blood sugar problems, basic hypoglycemic principles should be followed. Avoiding sugars and refined foods, soft drinks, candy, and so on; small amounts of fruits and fruit juices may be tolerated. Regular eating every few hours is recommended. Small meals and snacks of protein or complex carbohydrate, including whole grains, pasta, potatoes, squashes, legumes, and other vegetables, can be the basic diet. Proteins such as soy products, eggs, fish, or poultry can be added, but the basic aim is to maintain an alkaline diet, so the primary focus initially during withdrawal should be on vegetables and fruit.”
Dietary Supplements and Alcohol Detoxification
According to Dr. Haas, dietary supplements can play a vital role in all stages of alcoholism, from normal consumption to withdrawal and detoxification/recovery. You should speak to your healthcare practitioner before beginning any efforts.
Here are Dr. Haas’ recommendations (daily servings):
Alcohol Nutrient Programs
|Water||2 1/2-3 qt.||3-4 qt.||3 qt.|
|Protein||60-80 g.||50-70 g.||75-100 g.|
|Fat||30-50 g.||30-50 g.||50-65 g.|
|Fiber||15-20 g.||10-15 g.||30-40 g.|
|Vitamin A||10,000 IUs||5,000 IUs||10,000 IUs|
|Beta-carotene||25,000 IUs||20,000 IUs||20,000 IUs|
|Vitamin D||200 IUs||400 IUs||400 IUs|
|Vitamin E||400-800 IUs||400 IUs||800 IUs|
|Vitamin K||300 mcg.||300 mcg.||500 mcg.|
|Thiamine (B1)||100 mg.||50-100 mg.||150 mg.|
|Riboflavin (B2)||100 mg.||50-100 mg.||150 mg.|
|Niacinamide (B3)||50 mg.||50 mg.||50 mg.|
|Niacin (B3)||50-150 mg.||100-1,000 mg.||200-2,000 mg.|
|Pantothenic acid (B5)||250 mg.||1,000 mg.||500 mg.|
|Pyridoxine (B6)||100 mg.||200 mg.||100 mg.|
|Pyridoxal-5-phosphate||50 mg.||100 mg.||50 mg.|
|Cobalamin (B12)||100 mcg.||200 mcg.||250 mcg.|
|Folic acid||800-1,000 mcg.||2,000 mcg.||800 mcg.|
|Biotin||300 mcg.||500 mcg.||500 mcg.|
|Choline||500 mg.||1,000 mg.||1,500 mg.|
|Inositol||500 mg.||1,000 mg.||1,500 mg.|
|Vitamin C||2-4 g.||5-25 g.||5-10 g.|
|Bioflavonoids||250 mg.||500 mg.||500 mg.|
|Calcium||850-1,000 mg.||1,000-1,500 mg.||1,000 mg.|
|Chromium||500 mcg.||500-1,000 mcg.||300 mcg.|
|Copper||3 mg.||3 mg.||3-4 mg.|
|Iodine||150 mcg.||150 mcg.||150 mcg.|
|Iron||20-30 mg.||10-18 mg.||20 mg.|
|Magnesium||500-800 mg.||800-1,000 mg.||600-800 mg.|
|Manganese||5 mg.||15 mg.||10 mg.|
|Molybdenum||300 mcg.||300 mcg.||300 mcg.|
|Potassium||300-500 mg.||500 mg.||300 mg.|
|Selenium||300 mcg.||150 mcg.||200 mcg.|
|Silicon||100 mg.||50 mg.||200 mg.|
|Vanadium||150 mcg.||150 mcg.||150 mcg.|
|Zinc||45-75 mg.||50-75 mg.||50-100 mg.|
|Flaxseed oil||1 teaspoon||2 teaspoons||2 teaspoons|
|Gamma-linolenic acid (40-60 mg./cap.)||3 capsules||3 capsules||6 capsules|
|L-amino acids||1,000-1,500 mg.||1,500-3,000 mg.||5,000-7,500 mg.|
|L-glutamine||500-1,000 mg.||1,500-3,000 mg.||1,000-2,000 mg.|
|L-tryptophan||500-1,000 mg.||2,000-3,000 mg.||500-1,000 mg.|
|Thioctic acid||100 mg.||100 mg.||200 mg.|
|L-cysteine||250 mg.||250 mg.||250-500 mg.|
|Glutathione||250 mg.||500 mg.||250 mg.|
|Digestive enzymes||-||-||1-2 after meals|
|Goldenseal root||-||-||3 capsules|
|White willow bark||1-2 tablets||4-6 tablets||2-4 tablets|
There are many types of food and nutritional supplements that are a great source of every one of these nutrients. When considering your source of water, I do recommend distilled water with organic apple cider vinegar added. Apple cider vinegar is rich in enzymes, pectin, nutrients, B vitamins, folic acid, and potassium. It’s available at most grocery stores or online. When it comes to searching for high-quality supplements for supporting alcohol detoxification, I would recommend starting here or supporting the liver by cleansing.
Alcoholism is a complex issue. An ideal program should consist of the initial withdrawal and detoxification, counseling, social support, such as joining Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), and a nutritional and dietary supplementation therapy.
What insight and advice can you offer? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts with us.
- Alcohol Facts and Statistics. National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
- Haas, E. M., & Levin, B. (2006). Staying healthy with nutrition: The complete guide to diet and nutritional medicine. Berkeley: Celestial Arts. Print.
- Chitra Badii and Elizabeth Boskey, PhD. What are the Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome. Healthline.
- CIWA-Ar for Alcohol Withdrawal. MD Calc.
†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.