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 Detoxification Programs: Nutritional Program for Alcohol Detoxification 

  • mune suppression.Alcohol clearly sedates the immune system by decreasing phagocytic activity, lymphocyte action, and mucous lining protection. Drinkers tend to have more infections and more severe problems than nondrinkers, especially with heavy use. Pneumonia is not at all uncommon in alcoholics.

  • Other health problems.Alcohol use may precipitate gout attacks in those prone to this disease of uric acid metabolism, as alcohol reduces its elimination. Alcohol also worsens PMS (premenstrual syndrome) symptoms in many women with this problem. Vaginitis from Candida albicans and other infections are more common with alcohol abuse, as are headaches. Anemia may arise from nutritional deficiencies or bleeding disorders; swelling and redness of the nose and dilated blood vessels in the face are also signs of alcohol abuse.

  • Social problems.Alcohol use lessens both our inhibitions and our self-control. With increased drinking, we may make other bad choices that are detrimental to the interest of our health and the welfare of others. Alcohol abuse can be very devastating to the family unit, to a marriage, and to the health of children. The social life of the alcoholic can influence the rest of his or her life because of forming unwise associations, spending time in bars, or getting lost for days at a time.

  • Economic disaster. Alcohol abuse in the work force costs an estimated 20 billion a year in absenteeism and lost labor. The personal and medical costs are extreme because of the cost of alcoholic beverages and the medical care needed to treat the problems that alcohol causes.

    The alcoholic is someone who has lost control over the drug. Clearly, alcoholism is a major problem in the United States and the rest of the world. A genetic deficiency may make it a disease rather than just a lifestyle problem. This deficiency may cause an intense biological craving for alcohol or the products from which it is made. A problem with blood sugar metabolism may be at the root, and allergy-addictions may also be a factor. More research is needed to clarify the causal associations of this important problem.

    There are many warning signs to suggest a problem with alcohol. I believe that anybody who drinks daily has a problem, though he or she may not be an alcoholic. If we can easily stop drinking for a week or two at a time (we begin with one day, of course), that is a good sign. This is also important to our personal perspective on alcohol. Remember, most alcoholics deny that there is any problem.

    Other warning signs of alcoholism include drinking alone, skipping meals and drinking instead, drinking before social or business functions, drinking in the morning or late at night, missing work because of drinking, and periods of amnesia or blackouts. People who have any of these drinking problems or who believe that they might have an alcohol problem should definitely seek treatment. Even in the absence of these drinking characteristics, there are many reasons to stop drinking, especially for those with regular or moderate to heavy alcohol intake. Our wallet, automobile, our liver, brain, muscles, gastrointestinal tract, and our mind and memory are a few important reasons; our family, job, and self-image are others.

    To deal with an alcohol problem, we first need to admit that we have a problem and get the support of our spouse or a friend. Clear the alcohol from home, work, car, or wherever, and then see a physician or therapist. A medical checkup and blood test may be in order. We may need pharmaceutical support to get off drink; tranquilizers such as Valium or Ativan are commonly used to get through the first few days of withdrawal.

    There is a fairly good chance that we can get off alcohol if we are willing to try. With a multileveled approach and the current community and professional support, our chances are better than 50 percent. Our doctor may help us find out whether allergy is a factor in our alcohol abuse. If corn, wheat, barley, rye, or yeast generates positive tests, avoiding these foods may help relieve alcohol cravings.

    Psychological counseling, family therapy, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), or some religious/spiritual practice may also improve our motivation, self-image, and ability to create a new life. Regular AA meetings continue the positive support for many recovering alcoholics. Avoiding negative influences, such as our old drinking buddies, parties, and exposure to alcohol, for a while will be helpful. Regular exercise, especially at the usual drinking time, and learning and practicing relaxation exercises are also very useful. Massage therapy can be wonderful, helping to clear body toxins and promoting relaxation and self-love. Acupuncture has also been shown to be beneficial for many recovering alcoholics, during withdrawal and afterward.

    Alcohol detoxification may be very difficult, depending on the level of abuse, and it may take months or even years to completely clear its effects. Alcoholics can get fairly sick during withdrawal. Even with mild elimination, there may be increased tension, headaches, and irritability for a few days. For more severe withdrawal, tranquilizers may be needed. Medical care in a hospital setting is not uncommon for acute alcohol withdrawal, although this is usually necessary only for heavy drinkers, those who consume more than eight to ten drinks daily.

    If the willpower is poor, a drug, such as Antabuse (disulfiram) can be used. This produces terrible nausea and vomiting when alcohol is drunk. Antabuse is usually tolerated fairly well for a while, but it can have side effects, such as affects on the cardiovascular system or psyche. Lithium therapy has recently been shown to reduce the urge to drink. For recovering alcoholics, many authorities believe that it is imperative to avoid all alcohol, for life, because the addictive potential never disappears. Nonalcoholic beverages may be all right, but even some dealcoholized drinks still contain small amounts of the drug.

    Alcohol Detoxification
    Diet and megavitamin therapy may be helpful during withdrawal, detoxification, and recovery from alcoholism. Alcoholics while drinking generally need more supplements than most other people. And during the detox time, they may need even more. This extra support will give a greater chance of recovery than just having psychotherapy. As I just mentioned, attending AA meetings may aid alcoholics greatly.

    During the actual withdrawal period, which may last from a few days to a week, the diet can be focused on fluids and the alkaline foods. The appetite is usually not great, and liquids will help in clearing alcohol from the body. 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 the needs. 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 nonfatty poultry, fish, or even chicken soup, will provide more nourishment. Amino acid powder can also be supportive. Up to 2-3 grams of L-tryptophan can be taken for sleep. L-glutamine, another amino acid, has been shown to reduce cravings for alcohol and sugar, and is used in many detox clinics.

    I have seen intravenous vitamins be very helpful during withdrawal. Extra vitamin C, B vitamins, and a few minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, and potassium, are the usual ones used, especially if supplements taken by mouth are not well tolerated. A vitamin C powder buffered with those same minerals, taken orally mixed in a liquid, such as water or juice, may be helpful. This particular formula is also useful during the detox period.

    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. These include 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 also 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.

    Water should be drunk throughout the day as well; chamomile or peppermint teas can also be used. All alcoholic beverages should, of course, be eliminated. Foods containing potentially damaging fats, including fried foods, chips, burgers, hot dogs, fast foods, and ice cream should also be avoided. These foods are all congesting and more acid-forming as well. Caffeine and cigarette smoking are best minimized. Many recovering alcoholics take in large amounts of coffee and smoke intensely, as can be clearly seen at AA meetings. This is not recommended at all. These habits suggest a need for stronger psychological support to become generally less addictive. Luckily though, in recent years there is a strong faction for nonsmoking AA meetings, and this is a big plus.

    During detoxification from alcohol (usually from other substances, too), many other important nutrients besides diet can be added. Amino acids can be used, including L-tryptophan for sleep. Calcium and magnesium supplements taken at night may also aid sleep, as may valerian root capsules. L-glutamine is an amino acid that generates glutamic acid, and this can get directly into the brain and be used for fuel. Glutamine is naturally found in liver, meats, dairy foods, and cabbage. It can diminish the craving for alcohol and sugar (chromium may also help with sugar cravings). A dosage of 500-1,000 mg. three times daily between or before meals is suggested, as capsules or as L-glutamine powder, taken before or after meals and before bed.

    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 detoxicant 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.

  • (Excerpted from Staying Healthy with Nutrition ISBN: 1587611791)
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     About The Author
    Elson Haas MDElson M. Haas, MD is founder & Director of the Preventive Medical Center of Marin (since 1984), an Integrated Health Care Facility in San Rafael, CA and author of many books on Health and Nutrition, including ...more
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