Dietary supplements, including fatty acids, herbs, and minerals, are the safest and most valuable factors in treating and preventing acute and chronic illnesses. They can be helpful for managing regular health problems or anything that causes discomfort.
People need to supply their bodies with nutrients to avoid nutrient deficiency. Sometimes they have to take a high dose of vitamin therapy to obtain the desired result. That’s where orthomolecular medicine comes into play. It is supposed to maintain and restore nutrient balance to help the body manage different health problems.
The question is, does orthomolecular therapy work for alcoholism? Here is a detailed review of the science behind orthomolecular therapy for treating alcoholism.
What Is Orthomolecular Therapy?
- In its 50-year history, the study and practice of orthomolecular medicine has significantly increased. Today, there are tens of thousands of practitioners and over 25 orthomolecular medical societies.
Orthomolecular therapy is a type of alternative medicine focused on maintaining optimal body health. Compared to other treatment alternatives, orthomolecular medicine relies on nutritional supplementation to get the desired effect.
According to experts from the IMCJ (Integrative Medicine Clinical Journal), orthomolecular therapy corrects molecular imbalances based on a patient’s biochemistry. Originally, it was used for preventing and treating psychiatric illnesses (such as niacinamide/niacin for schizophrenia). Now, it is more focused on maintaining optimal health and well-being.
The way it works is by altering nutrient intake. Particularly minerals, vitamins, fatty acids, amino acids, and other metabolically active, naturally-occurring substances. With orthomolecular therapy, people get to find their most efficient dose of nutrients and use it to their advantage.
However, that doesn’t mean that orthomolecular therapy can be a sufficient substitute for conventional treatment, especially if people are looking for a substitute for conventional medication for alcoholism.
Scientists are advising patients to always seek medical advice before they do any alternative forms of treatment.
High doses of dietary supplements are a primary component of orthomolecular treatment. It’s controversial (due to lack of sufficient research), but some studies suggest orthomolecular therapy can treat and prevent some diseases.
Small-scale data indicates that orthomolecular medicine is capable of protecting the body from accelerated aging, free-radical damage, glycation, and inflammation. Therefore, it can show some remarkable benefits in managing or avoiding:
- Congestive heart failure
- Heart disease
- Vision deterioration
- Brain function deterioration
- Poor immune system
This approach has aided the development of multiple treatments. That includes using intravenous vitamin C for sepsis and cancer, Zinc for ADHD, EFAs, or eating disorders, vitamin B6 for autism, and more. But is high dose vitamin therapy for alcoholism any good? Can it treat the addiction?
Does Orthomolecular Therapy Work for Alcoholism?
Patients with chronic alcoholism often have many vitamin deficiencies. They lack vitamin B6, folate, vitamin A, and thiamine. Even though poor dietary intake is typically the cause for this deficiency, other mechanisms can also be involved.
Alcohol Abuse Affects Metabolism, Storage, and Vitamin Absorption Rate.
When something interferes with the body’s natural mechanism, it becomes difficult to replenish these nutrient sources. That’s why many alcohol-dependent individuals struggle with poor health and vitamin deficiency, experts explain.
A lot of people ask, “does orthomolecular therapy work for alcoholism.” Vitamins are critical for maintaining normal metabolism, cell growth, and function. They help the body regulate multiple physiological processes.
According to Abram Hoffer (Ph.D., M.D.), an internationally recognized pioneer in the use of vitamin therapy for medical purposes, orthomolecular medicine can be a worthwhile long-term tactic. That’s because it pays attention to the patient’s nutritional needs. It is also safer and cheaper than using drugs to curb the withdrawal symptoms.
Although research is limited, a megadose nutrient therapy has potent preventive and therapeutic properties. It can contribute positively to longevity and overall health. These are all key benefits for people who’ve been struggling with alcoholism for a very long time.
What Does Research Have to Say?
- Alcoholism is a maladaptive pattern of excessive drinking. It’s a complex genetic illness that could pose a serious threat to overall health.
- High-dose vitamin therapy can efficiently ameliorate 50 genetic diseases, one of which could be alcoholism.
- Supplying the body with high vitamin doses increases defective enzyme activity and tissue cofactor concentrations.
One study focused on the connection between ethanol consumption and nutritional status. Scientists evaluated 33 chronic alcoholics. Some altered their daily dietary intake by including more folic acid, substrates, and vitamins B12, B6, B1, and B5 in their diet.
Experts calculated folate, vitamin, and pyridoxal phosphate concentration levels in study participants. Based on the results, just 18.1% of patients were malnourished. In 24%, their body weight was below 90% of the ideal. At the same time, serum albumin rates were within a normal range in every patient.
However, alcoholics who were malnourished focused on drinking more alcohol. From 51.5% to 60.6% of alcoholics had low folate and pyridoxal-phosphate. This indicates a close correlation between vitamin intake and alcohol consumption.
Another research focused on the effects of high-dose vitamin therapy in genetic diseases. Most genetic illnesses are the result of defective enzyme activity. It’s affecting people on a cellular level, which is why some individuals need high vitamin doses.
Chronic alcohol abuse causes malnutrition and vitamin deficiency. One of the most impactful deficiencies to the body is folate deficiency. Without enough folate, the body can’t do proper hematopoiesis, which is signaled by extreme changes in red blood cell count. So, it can cause anemia, constant fatigue, weakness, irritability, and more.
Scientists evaluated the efficiency of high vitamin dosage therapy on toxicity and tissue concentration. In a controlled, double-blind study, 82 alcoholic volunteers received 1 mg/d for 18.5 d folate intake from fortified foods and supplements.
Since diets high in folate have been shown to increase serum folate concentrations by 85%, this option seemed like a viable alternative. By the end of the study, volunteers with the lowest quartile did show a boost with folate supplementation. This could prove effective in restoring proper folate absorption rate.
The data shown here represent only a fraction of the defective enzymes and how they react to therapeutic vitamins. Patients need additional enzymes to completely manage their alcoholism.
It would help to test non-alcoholics as well and measure their folate absorption and tetrahydrofolate concentrations. But, from the limited results, high vitamin administration seems to be a potential remedy for different health issues.
High dose vitamin therapy for alcoholism could help manage these nutrient deficiencies. However, more research is necessary to evaluate its full impact.
Using Niacin as a Primary Form of Treatment
Alcoholism causes metabolic abnormalities. Drinking too much predisposes people to electrolyte abnormalities. Treating the addiction nutritionally can help, particularly by replenishing vitamin B3 (niacin) sources, but this treatment requires extra precautions on the part of the patient and their medical practitioner.
B vitamins (niacin) are one of the key nutrients in orthomolecular treatment. When used properly, it can provide relief for mental and physical disorders. Niacin treatment for alcoholism may be useful. But, when an alcoholic continues to drink during treatment, niacin supplements are less effective.
Based on a limited case study, niacin megadose could be beneficial in patients with alcohol dependence syndrome. Experts analyzed health records of over 2,900 patients who received inpatient care for alcohol dependence syndrome.
Exactly 1% (31 patients) had pellagra, which is an acute medical illness often found in people with alcohol dependence. 64.5% of patients with pellagra were from a low-income group. 100% had dermatitis, 19% diarrhea, and 58% experienced delirium. Almost two-thirds experienced a complex alcohol withdrawal state with seizures and neuropathy in their symptom profile.
Patients obtained a high parenteral vitamin dose therapy, including 1,500 mg niacin a day, for a span of 7.5 days. The treatment also featured multi-vitamin supplements. By the end of the study, all patients had completely managed their pellagrous symptoms in 3 weeks. In other words, high niacin dose combined with other vitamins resulted in a complete recovery for every person in the study.
Even with such bold clinical success, more anecdotal evidence is necessary to study the placebo effect of niacin megadose therapy. It might have a detrimental impact on the liver. Typical side effects of niacin megadosing are itching and flushing. But when not regulated properly, it can damage the liver.
Data indicates that liver cell damage, even jaundice, has been found in patients who’ve taken niacin. Even doses as low as 750 mg or 500 mg a day for two months can damage the liver.
Basically, how the niacin reacts in the body depends on how well the system tolerates it. Therefore, experimenting with megadose therapy on your own can be dangerous. It’s best to have medical supervision when you try niacin megadosing.
Is Niacin Therapy Safe for Alcoholics?
Many experts have dedicated years to study the efficiency of niacin therapy for alcoholism. Some of their studies have generated favorable results. But, despite the possible implications, niacin therapy never became a preferred choice.
For niacin to create a clinical impact, patients need to take very high doses of this vitamin supplement. If you don’t consult with a doctor, you risk triggering multiple interactions. Unlike small amounts of niacin, niacin therapy can cause widespread itching and flushing.
These side effects can be so acute that some people might confuse the symptoms with a heart attack. Also, if people take extremely high doses without proper guidance, they can experience liver problems, of which heavy drinkers are already at higher risk.
That’s why the APA (American Psychiatric Association) doesn’t believe niacin therapy is the safest form of treatment for alcoholism. Instead, it could pose a serious risk, especially for individuals who take the supplement without medical supervision.
Overall, prescription niacin is generally safe to use. But, if you want to take higher doses of niacin therapy for alcoholism management, it’s best to consult with an expert first. If you have any other condition, aside from the alcoholism (like diabetes, for example), you will be advised not to use it.
How Can High Vitamin Dose Therapy Help With Alcoholism?
In addition to conventional treatments (such as detoxification, medication, and rehabilitation), patients can use vitamins to boost their chances of abstinence. With adequate nutrient intake, they can control all those deficiencies and get their body back on track.
But to understand the real impact of high dose vitamin therapy on alcoholism, it’s important to focus on all the benefits that vitamins have to offer.
Even though it is difficult to see how effective vitamins can be compared to conventional treatment, they can still help you cope with alcohol dependence. Here is how vitamins used during orthomolecular therapy can come in handy.
Improve Cognitive Decline
- Zinc and magnesium supplements could boost cognitive deficits caused by chronic drinking.
Alcohol abuse can cause brain damage. Sometimes, it can have potential long-term consequences, especially in heavy drinkers. Even moderate and mild drinking can impair cognitive function.
The longer that cognitive impairment remains unmanaged, the bigger the risk for poor job performance, academic, and learning achievements. In fact, chronic drinking can cause irreversible brain damage syndrome, like it is the case with Wernicke-Korskakoff syndrome.
This is a health condition that makes the patients unable to remember new information immediately after receiving it. But, there is also another problem. Experts believe that cognitive impairment can affect your chances for successful alcohol recovery.
Even though the evidence is still inconclusive, it seems that a lack of planning and learning abilities can affect a patient’s recovery. Reports show that cognitive impairment plays a major role in poor treatment response.
Plus, if the patient has already experienced brain damage from a previous alcohol response, this makes it even easier for the alcoholism to progress and get worse. Having a practical strategy to cope with cognitive impairment can help patients beat their addiction.
High zinc and magnesium intake could enhance neuropsychological deficits that are the result of persistent drinking.
Based on experimental research, 500mg to 1,500mg magnesium supplementation a day could boost cognitive deficits in patients struggling with chronic alcohol abuse. Chronic alcoholics often have poor cerebral blood flow. Magnesium can restore the diminished flow of blood and help the body absorb the necessary nutrients.
Iron, manganese, copper, and zinc deficiencies are also common in chronic alcoholics. They damage the nerve cells and affect the central nervous system. By supplying the body with higher doses of zinc, patients can alleviate the nerve cell damage and might prevent the formation of free radicals.
Might Decrease Cravings
- Vitamin B1 deficiency can happen in 80% of alcoholics.
Experts suggest that alcohol cravings are the result of vitamin B deficiency. With a lack of vitamin B1, people are predisposed to high alcohol consumption. Due to lack of nutrients, it becomes difficult to abstain from alcohol and much easier to relapse.
The ideal pharmacotherapy to control alcoholism would be to target those cravings. Supplying the body with enough vitamin B could decrease your desire to drink. It can have a minor effect on the human body. The reason for that lies in the toxic effects of alcohol.
The more a person drinks, the more widespread the damage to their mucosal lining and small intestine. So, it’s not uncommon to experience a drastic decrease in nutrient absorption rate. This also exposes the brain to possible damage.
More large-scale studies are critical to confirm the full impact of vitamins on cravings. For now, scientists believe that supplementing the body with proper vitamin B1 intake should remain an important measure for maintaining normal bodily functions, healthy blood cells, and preventing Wernicke-Korsakoff’s syndrome.
Helps the Body Flush Out the Toxins
Alcoholics have a very slow metabolism. Especially women who are vulnerable to excessive drinking. They have reduced ADH (alcohol dehydrogenase) activity. This makes them very sensitive to alcohol and more likely to get drunk with even a small dose.
Because of constant alcohol abuse, the alcohol beverage starts to inhibit normal digestive function. As a result, the addiction puts a lot of stress on the intestines and stomach. Persistent drinking ends up decreasing digestive secretions, making it incredibly difficult for the body to digest the food and let it leave the system.
Our body needs these digestive secretions so that it can process the food and eliminate the toxins. But, when it can’t break down the meal into basic micronutrients and macronutrients, they are reabsorbed into the body.
Remember, when you drink alcohol, you are constantly supplying the body with dangerous toxins. Because of the impaired digestion and nutrient deficiency, it becomes very hard to flush those toxins out of the system.
That’s where vitamins could prove useful.
Multiple supplements are shown to boost metabolism. They can revamp your digestive system and aid the body digest the food much quicker than usual. One of the most practical supplements and vitamins are:
- B-complex vitamins – These vitamins help metabolize fats, proteins, and carbohydrates, making them essential for supplying the body with energy.
- Niacin – This vitamin has numerous benefits. One of its most impactful effects is the ability to accelerate the body’s production of amino acid L-carnitine. It converts the food into actual energy, necessary in cellular metabolism.
- Vitamin C – Higher doses of vitamin C may neutralize the toxic breakdown of alcohol products. It might even help the liver reverse the fatty build-up typically found in alcoholic-dependent individuals.
- Lecithin – This is another nutrient that can help the body metabolize fats. These fats will eventually leave the liver and cleanse the organ.
Reduce Hangover Severity
When you are hungover, the body goes through a series of debilitating changes. The older you get, the more severe and painful the headaches become. To ease the blow, people are taking painkillers. They are most effective for treating the pain. But, when people want to restore normal bodily functions, some opt for vitamins instead.
Multiple nutrients, like vitamin E and C, could protect the body from the damaging and uncomfortable effects of ethanol. People who can’t stop drinking ethanol can take antioxidant vitamins close to their alcohol consumption time.
This kind of approach might prevent and decrease hangover symptoms. Based on research, antioxidant vitamins can neutralize ethanol metabolites. These metabolites are responsible for causing oxidative damage to the central nervous system and the entire human body.
If you don’t want to add supplements to your diet, you can always include foods that are packed with these vitamins. They could be a useful long-term strategy for lessening hangovers. When you regularly eat a well-balanced diet, the body has all the key nutrients it needs. This allows the system and all the organs to function properly, which leads to reducing the likelihood of headaches.
The bottom line is, vitamins can’t cure hangover symptoms, but they can help the body mitigate the after-effects of excessive drinking.
Other Options That Can Help with Alcohol Treatment
Since orthomolecular therapy focuses on restoring nutrient balance, why don’t you start focusing on your diet first? Proper nutrition plays a key role in emotional and physical health. To control the symptoms of alcohol absence, there are a couple of basic tricks you can try.
- Increase nutrient density with every meal – Recovering from alcohol dependence is a gradual process. To help your body complete the journey, you will have to watch the nutrient intake, especially when you get to the detoxification stage. That’s why eating healthy should be your top priority. All you have to do is include higher proportions of fruits and veggies, lower proportions of white meat and dairy, and a fraction of processed foods and red meats.
- Skip the white flour and refined sugar – Just like alcohol, sugar gets metabolized into fat. From foods like these, you don’t get any useful cellular energy.
- Drink more water – Before your body can recover, you need to detoxify the system. Water flushes the toxins and maintains normal bodily functions. Try to consume at least 8 ounces of water a day. This will give you that healthy boost you’ve been looking for.
- Create an eating plan – Alcohol treatment can be a long and daunting process. But, unless you keep your mind busy, it will become difficult to deal with the cravings. Experts suggest that you eat three healthy meals a day. They can help you feel fuller and less likely to give in to the cravings.
- Avoid nicotine – Nicotine, and any addictive substance can throw you off-course. Whenever you try to replace one “drug” for the other, you are only making things worse. So, try to stay away from addictive substances as much as possible. That’s how you can create a healthy environment for you to go through with the alcohol treatment.
Orthomolecular therapy is a treatment of choice. It focuses on balancing out all the nutritional deficiencies that are making alcoholism difficult to treat. Orthomolecular medicine can be used alone, but experts prefer to combine it with a healthy diet and additional nutrients.
The only real setback is the limited medical evidence. Only small-scale studies support the efficiency of high doses of vitamin therapy. Although it can produce some beneficial mental and physical effects, it is difficult to know if it’s reliable enough for alcoholism treatment.
What you can do is use the tips from orthomolecular medicine to your advantage. Now that you know how important it is to replenish your nutrient intake, you can focus on consuming healthy meals. But, if you want to deal with the cravings and add supplements and vitamins to your diet, consult with a doctor first. That way, you get to safely reduce the withdrawal symptoms and achieve a full recovery.