Nutrition: Bulwark against Alcohol Dependency

Nutrition Health Review, Winter 2003 | Go to article overview

Nutrition: Bulwark against Alcohol Dependency

Let's ignore, for the moment, all of the theories that attempt to explain what 'drives strong men to drink ..." and concentrate upon a reality. Until recently, no one has been able to identify accurately the reason's for mankind's peculiar susceptibility to alcohol or how to reduce the terrible toll that excessive drinking costs.

For some people, the physical effects of prolonged drinking are devastating, physically and mentally. Others seem to be able to handle moderate usage with no apparent damage.

Are some people destined to be drunkards, when exposed to alcohol, while others seem to have a built-in defense system that limits their damage by producing nausea, satiation, after a few drinks?

If such an individual protective device does exist, can we assume that those who are most vulnerable are also suffering from a deficiency in metabolic processes that could be fortified by use of vital nutrients?

The question has partially been answered. Research in the field of nutrition therapy has unearthed enough evidence to encourage professionals dealing with the problem to venture further with weapons of nutrition.

Unfortunately, the uses of psychiatry and drugs continue to maintain dominating appeal among those who are in positions of authority. Try selling the concept of mega-nutrition to treatment centers that are deeply committed to their entrenched practices!

Nutrition: Key to Prevention and Cure

Dr. Roger Williams, biochemist and researcher in alcohol therapy, proposes the nutritional approach He sees it as a solution to the wide range of conditions that can be categorized as alcohol dependency. The compulsion to drink is a physical disease, he maintains, and should be dealt with as a nutritional deficiency.

Dr. Williams acknowledges that psychiatry, medicine, and religion may play a part in the rehabilitation of alcoholics. But his emphasis on nutrition implicates physical disorders and metabolic insufficiencies rather than psychological trauma as instigators of the problem.

Using nutritional theory as the basis of an individual's "vulnerability" to alcohol also provides a method with which to apply prevention before problems become unmanageable.

In our society, alcohol is used to celebrate, to mourn, to relieve depression, to alleviate pain, to provide courage, and to foster good fellowship. It is a genie in the bottle that, when released, is quite capable of turning on its master to enslave and to torture.

Because our daily lives are constantly awash in alcohol, we are threatened from many directions. Liquor is easy to obtain. Society does not condemn drinking, overdrinking, or even intoxication. The culture practically endorses the use of alcohol.

Now, more than ever, people should be alert to the dangers. This is not a call for prohibition, because human conduct cannot be legislated. It is a plea for prevention: the need to make ourselves less vulnerable.

Dr. Williams believes that drinking leeches out valuable nutrients from the body. Many practitioners in the field of alcohol-abuse treatment are getting around to recognizing that at least one vitamin deficiency can be attributed to the overuse of alcohol: vitamin [B.sub.1] (thiamine).

The use of alcohol depletes the body of many vitamins and minerals, Dr. Williams insists; it also deranges cellular metabolism. Appetite-controlling mechanisms are also seriously altered in their functions. Not only does the thirst for alcohol continue, but too often a loss of desire for food ensues, impoverishing every cell in the body of its vital nutrients.

Glucose metabolism is necessary for supplying the brain with a rich and proper blood supply. Alcohol's effect upon the pancreas and an oversupply of insulin can diminish that flow. Brain functions are inevitably affected.

But alcoholism, according to Williams, is not only a brain disease. It is also a disease of the liver and every other organ and tissue because it involves a particular type of pathology seldom identified. Cytopathy, or cell-sickness, is the result of crucial nutrients being depleted from the body. All bodily functions suffer.

In all of his research, Dr. Williams reveals, evidence indicates that individuals who are vulnerable to alcohol also have unusual nutritional needs. Food that is adequate for some people is not rich enough to nourish the alcohol-vulnerable.

Fortunately, not everyone is a potential alcoholic. Most people range from modest drinkers to heavy drinkers, but the self-terminating mechanism keeps them from spilling over into complete dependency.

A heavy drinker could be considered alcohol-dependent, but the habit can still be thrown off without extensive treatment. Heavy drinkers can decrease their intake so that they become moderate imbibers.

For the alcoholic, there is no such solution. Only complete abstinence is the answer. Despite recent misleading and poorly conducted research (The Rand Report), it was suggested that moderate drinking for alcoholics is practical. Most experts disagree. There is no alternative.

Whether one drinks a glass of wine once in a while, a few martinis now and then, a bottle or two of beer on occasions, a simple truth should be remembered: alcohol is alcohol, and one's nutritional status must be considered.

Alcohol should be consumed with food. The vitamin content of food compensates to some extent for the drain caused by alcohol. People who cannot give up liquor, with some degree of wisdom, must make certain that they maintain a diet adequate in fresh vegetables, whole wheat grains, fruits, seeds, and additional supplements such as vitamin C, the Bcomplex, and if possible, the entire range of other vitamin-mineral supplements available. Many report that on such a diet they have lost the alcohol habit.

Dr. Roger Williams counsels that what is advisable to keep up a strong healthy constitution against disease is also helpful in constructing defenses against the ravages of alcohol.

Unfortunately in most treatment centers, the emphasis is on psychiatric treatment and the use of tranquilizers, antidepressants, and behavior modification drugs rather than nutritional therapy.

Glutamine: An Anti-Alcohol Nutrient

A recently discovered substance that counteracts the effects of alcohol is glutamine, an amino acid found in proteins, which has proved to be valuable in reducing the physiological urge to use alcohol.

Glutamine seems to furnish a nutritional link that contributes to the integrity of weakened cells in the hypothalamus and other parts of the nervous system.

Cases have been reported by a team of Houston doctors in which confirmed alcoholics, taking glutamine daily, gradually lost their desire for drinking. Not all subjects, however, responded as positively to the treatment. (J.B. Trunnell and J.J. Wheeler, reporting before the Southwest Regional Meeting of the American Chemical Society, Houston, Texas, December 1955).

Teenagers Especially Vulnerable

The drinking population among teenagers has risen sharply within the past few years. Sociologists are bewildered. An attempt is being made to link the phenomenon with the rising divorce rate, the advocacy of drinking (by example) on television, or loss of disciplinary controls in school and home. Much of this conjecture is true. But there exists also a nutritional factor.

The average teenager subsists on a very low level of nutrition. Hamburgers, sodas, French-flied potatoes, and sweets constitute the largest part of the juvenile diet. Such a regimen is quite capable of making this segment of the population highly vulnerable to future degenerative diseases. It is also the fastest way to creating a susceptibility to alcoholism. Individuals on high-sugar and high-fat diets develop an inordinate need for sugar-producing substances. Alcohol is in that category.

If any doubt exists about the link between the sugar diseases and alcoholism, there is scientific evidence that reveals almost every alcoholic also suffers from hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and/or diabetes (high blood sugar).

A change in the dietary regimens of teenagers could be a principal key in solving the booze-and-kids syndrome.

(Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in Issue Number 22.)

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