Natural approaches to alcoholism

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My experience in practice tells me that sometimes it’s not only the symptoms of a condition, but also the stigma attached to it, that can pile on the agony. One issue that I find is particularly prone to elicit some sense of shame is alcoholism. Recently, I read an American report about a range of drugs that are showing promise in the treatment of alcohol dependency. Some psychiatrists are calling for more widespread use of such drugs. It has been suggested that apart from curbing an unhealthy attachment to alcohol, drug therapy may lead more of us to see alcoholism not so much as a sign of life gone awry, but as a bona fide illness. Personally, I think anything that can help to de-stigmatise alcohol addiction is worth raising a glass to.

Talk of the use of pharmacological agents for drying up a drink problem got me thinking about nutritional approaches to this issue. While alcoholism may come out of psychological and social issues, it is also the case that it may be perpetuated by a physical and chemical factors. One potential cause of alcohol craving is a dip in blood sugar levels – a biochemical imbalance that may cause the body to crave foodstuffs that replenish sugar quickly in the body. While for some, sugar lows may manifest as desire to crack into some chocolate or biscuits, for others it may show up as a need to break open a bottle.

Eating regular meals based on foods that tend to promote blood sugar stability (such as meat, fish, eggs, green veg, beans and lentils) may help to reduce a desire to drink. Healthy snacks of fruit and/or nuts in between meals also helps to keep blood sugar levels buoyant. Some find a snack in the late afternoon particularly useful, as this can often reduce the desire for the early evening drink that can sometimes open the floodgates.

Certain nutrients can help blood sugar stability and supplementing with them may therefore help reduce cravings for alcohol. Some of the most important nutrients in this respect include chromium (at a dose of about 400 micrograms per day), magnesium (at a dose of about 400 milligrams per day) and B-vitamins. B-vitamins may have particular relevance here, as studies in animals suggest that deficiency in these nutrients can increase the desire to drink alcohol. Those wishing to curb their desire for alcohol may benefit from taking a high potency B-complex supplement each day.

Another nutrient believed to have potential to reduce cravings for alcohol is the amino acid glutamine. Within the body, this can be converted into sedative substances such as gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) and gamma hydroxybutyrate (GHB) which seem to have the capacity to reduce a desire to drink. In one study, nine out of 10 alcoholics found that glutamine reduced alcohol cravings. While there is only a limited amount of scientific evidence that attests to glutamine’s effectiveness in alcoholism, I have found it to be a generally useful remedy in practice at a dose of 1 g, once or twice a day. My experience in practice is that nutritional approaches can be very effective for slowing the drive for drink, and that’s a sobering thought indeed.

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