Alcoholism is a worldwide disaster that affects almost all families in some manner. It has several causes. Nutritional imbalances such as hypoglycaemia play a much greater role in alcoholism than is acknowledged in medical and psychological circles.
Alcoholics Anonymous or AA is a fabulous organisation, 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 realised 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, hypoglycaemia and chronic yeast infection in the intestines.
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Alcohol 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.
Mankind’s modern, refined food diets do 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, supplementation must be specific and 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.
Toxic metal excess is a problem for all of humanity today due to industrialisation, 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 can take 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 to do.
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/thyroid fatigue connection
Almost 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.
Candida albicans infection
Alcoholics all have some degree of infection in the intestines with Candida albicans, a common yeast organism. The infection may not produce any recognisable symptoms, so it is often a hidden condition.
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 recognise 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, such as 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 with any sugars in it, including fruit. Too much starch and other complex carbohydrates in the diet also predisposes one to yeast problems. 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, carbohydrates, or alcohol. This can be extremely confusing until one recognises 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.
Hypoglycaemia is one of the most common biochemical imbalances associated with alcoholism.
This is often also true for other addictions as well. Hypoglycaemia literally means low blood sugar. However, it may also refer to low cellular energy production from a variety of causes.
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 hypoglycaemia.
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.
I do not bother with glucose tolerance testing because:
It is costly, cumbersome, and occasionally even dangerous.
Symptoms are often a better guide to the presence of hypoglycaemia than the glucose tolerance test. (The test can be normal and one can still have serious hypoglycaemia because the test only measures the blood, whereas the hypoglycaemia can be at a cellular level.)
I prefer to assume that all alcoholics have abnormal blood sugar regulation. A complete Nutritional Balancing programme will correct this, in most all cases, and this is all that is needed.
Symptoms of hypoglycaemia. Among the common symptoms are:
Irritability before meals that improves upon eating.
Extreme hunger that can come on fast.
Inability to skip meals or eat late.
Cravings for sugars, starches or alcohol.
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.
Hypoglycaemia in fast and slow oxidisers. The causes for hypoglycaemia are different in fast and slow oxidisers. One can also have a combination of the two. Here is a brief summary of the causes:
Fast oxidiser or reactive hypoglycaemia. The body must have fat with every meal to keep the blood sugar stable. Fat contains more calories and has a stabilising, calming effect on those in fast oxidation.
Meanwhile, eating sugars, fruit, starches or other 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 hypoglycaemia, 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 or eating more sugar 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.
Hypoglycaemia in slow oxidisers. These people tend to have a low blood sugar level at all times due to weak adrenal and weak thyroid glands. They can crave sugars and even alcohol because having some raises the blood sugar, albeit temporarily, and makes them feel better. However, the effect can wear off in a few hours, and the cravings return.
Deficiencies of zinc, manganese, chromium, selenium, iodine and perhaps other vital minerals can also contribute to hypoglycaemia. These minerals are needed for proper sugar metabolism and alcohol metabolism.
All alcoholics tend toward hypoglycaemia to some degree. While this is a general statement, it is true for most. It means that 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. 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 or microwave meals. Refined grains such as white flour, white rice and white sugar as well should be totally avoided.
A proper diet is a key to overcoming and compensating for hypoglycaemia. Everyone needs about 70% of the diet as cooked vegetables, in my experience. Everyone should also avoid all fruit, all fruit juices and all other sweets.
Fast oxidisers need about two to three tablespoons of fat or oil with every meal, and perhaps every few hours. Slow oxidisers must have protein with each meal, in many cases.
Often, this must continue for a number of years until the body can regain the ability to regulate blood sugar normally. Deeper correction also requires a complete Nutritional Balancing programme, or one will not really get well. This programme includes more about the diet, supplementary nutrients, plenty of rest and sleep, and detoxification procedures. Several years may be required to fully restore proper blood sugar regulation. You can find out more about Nutritional Balancing here.
Everyone 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. Counselling helps some, while recreational activities, good friends, a healthy relationship, and meaningful work help others.
Mental health professionals use the term ‘dry-drinking’ to describe a group of symptoms that recovering alcoholics often contend with. These are usually very similar to the symptoms of hypoglycaemia (because they are due to hypoglycaemia in many cases).
They include irritability, depression, aggressiveness, insomnia, fatigue, restlessness, confusion, desire to drink, and nervousness. They even occur at AA meetings where participants often consume fizzy drinks or coffee with sugar, and smoke cigarettes as well.
One cannot recover from hypoglycaemia 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 greatly limiting sweets, cookies, ice cream and fizzy drinks. Replace these with cooked, not raw vegetables, some animal protein daily, and perhaps some complex carbohydrates such as rice or dried beans. Some people also require more fats and oils in the diet.
Most people also feel better eliminating all 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 minimised.
The genetic connection
Studies 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 foetuses’ body cells.
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, Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis can sometimes identify these imbalances in young children or even in infants, when they can be corrected before problems arise.
Genetic testing for alcoholism is a research area at this time. However, be wary of genetic testing because it does not just test genetics of DNA. Doctors often do not tell you that it also reflects RNA metabolism and protein synthesis. The latter are controlled largely by nutrients and inhibited by toxic metals.
An integrated approach
Those who have 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 and perhaps food allergy and candida or yeast assessments can help identify many important physical conditions that can hinder recovery.
With a complete Nutritional Balancing programme, usually only the simple hair analysis is required, and this keeps the cost down and makes things simpler. I assume everyone has yeast problems today, as well as food allergies. Food allergies often disappear quickly if one follows a Nutritional Balancing diet. Yeast problems slowly go away, as well. Chiropractic work may also be needed, at times, to correct the body structurally.
A very healthful lifestyle
In addition to a complete Nutritional Balancing programme, a healthful lifestyle can make a great difference in the outcome of alcohol-related disorders. The main features of this lifestyle are rest and sleep, deep breathing, sunshine and some light exercise. Positive thoughts and emotions are also important.
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.
1. Crook, W., The Yeast Connection, Professional Books, Jackson, TN, 1983.
2. Larson, J.M., Seven Weeks to Sobriety, 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. Williams, R., Prevention of Alcoholism Through Nutrition, Bantam Books, New York, 1981.
6. Wilson, L., Nutritional Balancing And Hair Mineral Analysis, LD Wilson Consultants, Inc., 2010 and 2014.
© July 2014, The Center For Development