If you or any of your family members are trapped in the obsessive cycle of alcoholism, rest assured that there are ways out of this depressive and destructive lifestyle. Alcoholism is a devastating disorder, and it’s rarely discussed in polite company or groups that cater to those seeking good health in general. As such, it makes it that much harder for loved ones to help the alcoholic—let alone help themselves.
Nonalcoholic family members can join Al-Anon for support. Alcoholics who finally hit bottom can join Alcoholics Anonymous and make it through the 12 steps, or they can find spiritual, religious, or emotional counseling elsewhere. But more often than not, they return to their previous behavior and blame it on the programs that got them sober to begin with. Throughout it all, the nutritional aspect of this disorder is rarely addressed.
It’s therefore my intent to enumerate and impart what I’ve learned and share what other experts have helped me understand about alcoholism. Additionally, I’ll give you some key supplement and nutrition wisdom that will help you keep a good thing going with your chosen program for a lifetime of sobriety.
Alcoholism is generally more prevalent in men than woman, but that seems to be changing as more women join the workforce. Women who juggle the stresses of work with the nurturing instincts of family—especially those with small children—may require that little nip now and then! But eventually that can become a habit, and the more of any addictive drug you use, the more you’ll need. Slowly but surely, the pattern drives you to addiction. Many don’t even realize that alcohol is an addictive drug. Alcoholic beverages contain the psychoactive drug ethanol (grain alcohol), which has a depressant effect.
What Alcohol Does to Your Body
The reason alcohol is mentioned in tandem with the eventual destruction of the liver and other organs, not to mention the nervous system, is the fact that the liver metabolizes alcohol and its toxic effects. Too much alcohol affects your adrenals, kidneys, liver, small intestine, and gastrointestinal functions.
Anytime you get even moderately drunk, you risk:
- Electrolyte imbalances
- Gastrointestinal distress
- Difficulty sleeping and/or breathing
- Hormone imbalances
Dangerous long-term effects of alcohol may include the following:
- Fatty liver
- Vitamin B deficiency
- Severe mineral deficiency
- Loss of muscle tone
- Grey hair
- Sagging skin
- Early aging
Important Fact #1: Candida, a systemic fungal (yeast) infection, affects many alcoholics. Candida can spread to the liver, leading to powerful sugar cravings from the overgrowth of yeast organisms. This creates an addiction to sugar and more alcohol. Many sober or reformed alcoholics turn to simple, carbohydrate-rich, sugary foods. This produces an increased sense of lethargy and depression, and it does nothing to heal the general health of the body.
Important Fact #2: Smoking seems to retard the cognitive recovery of long-term alcoholics who go on the wagon. Chronic alcoholism leads to abnormalities of brain structure, chemistry, and blood flow, as well as cognition. (Alcoholics may appear to function normally, but cognitive tests will usually reveal abnormalities.) So it stands to reason that diminished cognition should reverse itself when alcoholics stop drinking alcohol. But, at least during the first month of abstinence, cognitive recovery is retarded. Smoking appears to interfere with metabolic brain recovery and cognitive improvement.
Important Fact #3: Excessive drinking raises the risk of cancer of the mouth, larynx, esophagus, liver, colon, and breast. It may also be linked with cancer of the pancreas and lung. Alcohol is underestimated as a cause of cancer in many parts of the world. A sizeable proportion of cancer can be traced to alcohol intake, and rates are increasing in many regions of the world, particularly East Asia and Eastern Europe. The more alcohol you consume, the higher the risk of developing cancer.
Nutrition and Supplements for Healing
The important first step in cleaning up your diet is to eliminate processed sugars and simple carbohydrates—without eliminating complex carbohydrates that digest much slower and are powerhouses of vitamins and minerals. Unless you’re under the care of a holistic practitioner, going on one of the many new pared-down diets that eliminate all carbohydrates—including complex carbohydrates and even organic grains—can be your downfall, especially if you’re attempting to reduce your dependence on alcohol and simple carbohydrates and sugars. The article “Replacing Refined Sugars with Natural Sugars One Step At a Time” will help you understand how to do it safely.
Personal note: I use mineral rich green Stevia powder to satisfy most of my sweet tooth cravings. There are ample recipes that call for Stevia, and in my opinion it’s the safest sweetener.
The second important step is to adhere to the 12 diet principals from Sally Fallon Morrell:
- Eat three regular meals per day. These should include animal protein, animal fat, and healthy carbs. Work to keep your energy up and your blood sugar steady. You’ll avoid blood sugar roller coasters if you include healthy fats in each meal and use them to balance sweet foods.
- No food between meals. Your body depends on cycles, rhythms, schedules. For example, your liver needs a period of fasting after meals and a lengthy one at night in order to complete its cycles from beginning to end. Well-planned meals will keep you fueled so that you won’t need snacks.
- Eat mostly home-cooked food. And sit down when you eat! Meal times should be times of low stress. Eat with others or with a good book. This isn’t the time to discipline the kids or discuss their grades. Make dinner a time of relaxation. Digestion improves when we eat in a low-stress environment. Take time to be thankful.
- Pay attention to your digestion. There are various digestive aids to help your body. Try Swedish bitters, lacto-ferments, lemon juice or raw apple-cider vinegar mixed in water, and/or an ox bile tablet with the meal. Sally says that if your cholesterol is too low, you may have trouble digesting fats. Also see my blog post “The Tremendous Health Benefits of Lacto-Fermented Foods” to learn more about the dramatic positive impact such foods can have on candida.
- Eat out less. When you do eat out, choose higher end restaurants, not fast food. Order simple foods such as fish or meat with plain vegetables, and then add butter. Surprisingly, you should avoid soups when eating out. Most restaurant soups are made from a packaged soup base that contains MSG. Also avoid salad dressings and fried foods, both sources of rancid oils. Ask the chef if the soups are made from scratch or if they use a mix or soup base. Eating out for breakfast is easy—just order fried eggs and bacon. This way you can be sure you’re getting real eggs, not something from a box. And avoid sausage because you don’t know what they put in it.
- Avoid the worst of the processed industrial foods. Industrial fats and oils, refined sweeteners, extruded breakfast cereals, highly processed grains, and MSG (found in nearly all processed foods). You can search PubMed and find that scientists induce obesity in rats by giving them MSG. As Sally Fallon Morell says, “Long shelf life = short human life.”
- Avoid stimulants such as coffee, tea, chocolate, and soft drinks. The adrenal glands are responsible for producing many of our hormones. Sugar and caffeine stimulate the production of “fight or flight” hormones, which then must produce extra hormones to relax and heal. Continual stimulation from sugar and caffeine can exhaust our ability to compensate and correctly deal with stress. Instead of caffeine and junk food, we need to drink raw milk, kombucha, or hot broth in the morning.
- Get most of your nutrition from food rather than supplements. However, everyone can use a daily dose of fermented cod liver oil. (Personal note: I use ample amounts of Standard Process whole food supplements and recommend them to my clients. Few of us can maintain near perfect recommendations on a daily basis, and there are some conditions that food alone may not be enough to correct.)
- Take boron for your joints and bones. According to WebMD, boron affects the way our bodies balance estrogen and handle minerals such as magnesium and phosphorus—both of which can be helpful in maintaining healthy joints and bones.
- Exercise regularly. It’s best to exercise outdoors. Don’t overdo it. (Personal note: A normal walk till a good sweat breaks will help you burn calories for the next 12 hours. This usually requires a walk of 45 minutes to an hour. It’s called revving up your metabolism without a harsh heart-and-knee-pounding workout!)
- Have a goal. Make sure your goal has nothing to do with health or eating. This keeps you from dwelling too much on yourself and looking toward the future.
- Find balance. Between restraint and spontaneity, play and work, strictness and leniency, justice and mercy, renunciation and excess.
Favorite Standard Process Supplements for Treating the Alcoholic
Gymnema – An herb traditionally used for diabetes for 3,000 years in Ayurvedic medicine. Indications: Provides powerful blood sugar support and helps decrease sugar cravings.
Livaplex – Primarily used for liver detoxification, metabolism, general liver support, and hepatitis.
Cyrofood Powder – This multiple food supplement contains bone meal, plus all the vitamins, known trace minerals, phosphorous, calcium, and protein from veal bone.
Cataplex B – This is a must supplement! It’s the complete vitamin B complex, and it addresses nerve conductivity, anemia, skipped heart beats, blood sugar imbalances, hypotension, poor muscle tonicity, twitches and vasomotor control, drug and alcohol use, depression, and anxiety.
Satisfying Recipes to Help Along the Way
If you’re unfamiliar with fermenting (as recommended in step 4 above), my easy-to-use Cook Your Way to Wellness DVD will help you understand the process. The accompanying booklet has been updated and includes detailed instructions for making fermented foods and beverages.
I suggest making your fermented beverages or tonics in batches of 4–5 bottles. Store them in the refrigerator for about 3–4 weeks before drinking to create that fizzy carbonation we all like, but alcoholics especially crave. When you’ve finished the second bottle, you can replenish by making 2 more. That begins the rotation of your fermented beverages.
—Nourishing Traditions, p. 614
This tonic should be taken in small amounts, approximately ½ cup each time throughout the day to improve intestinal flora.
¼ organic green cabbage
1 tablespoon sea salt
¼ cup whey (as shown in Cook Your Way to Wellness or Nourishing Traditions, p. 87)
Filtered water (chlorine free)
- Finely shred cabbage with a stainless steel knife. Briefly pound with a meat hammer or wooden pounder, about 1 minute (I use my rolling pin).
- Place shredded cabbage in a 2-quart mason jar with salt, whey, and enough water to fill the container.
- Cover tightly (I use a white plastic cap or put Saran wrap under a metal enameled lid).
- Leave at room temperature for 2 days before transferring to the refrigerator.
—Nourishing Traditions, p. 610
This drink is valuable for its medicinal qualities and as a digestive aid. Beets are just loaded with nutrients. One 4-oz. glass morning and night makes an excellent blood tonic, promotes regularity, aids digestion, alkalizes the blood, cleanses the liver, and is a good treatment for kidney stones and other ailments. You may also use beet kvass in place of vinegar in salad dressings and add it to soups. An important note: you’ll want to make real whey for this recipe—don’t use powdered whey. See Cook Your Way to Wellness for a step-by-step demonstration.
3 medium or 2 large beets, diced
¼ cup homemade whey (no powdered whey)
1 tablespoon sea salt
- Place beets, whey, and salt in a 2-quart glass container. Add filtered water to fill. Shake gently to dissolve the salt, then cover securely.
- Keep at room temperature for 2 days before transferring to refrigerator.
- Store in refrigerator for 3–4 weeks, and then enjoy your fizzy probiotic beverage.
To choose your organically grown and fresh ingredients wisely, use the following criteria:
- chemical- and hormone-free meat
- wild-caught fish
- pasture-raised, organic eggs
- whole, unrefined grains
- virgin, unrefined, first-press organic oils
- whole-food, unrefined sweeteners
- pure, clean, spring water
- sea salt
- raw and/or cultured milk and cream products
Photo from iStock/aaron007
Note from Maria: I am a Certified Natural Health Professional, CNHP, not a medical doctor. I do not diagnose, prescribe for, treat, or claim to prevent, mitigate, or cure any human diseases. Please see your medical doctor prior to following any recommendations I make in my blogs or on my website.