Alcoholism – Food Supplements

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Alcoholism - Food Supplements


People with chronic substance abuse also have a far greater tendency towards malnutrition and general nutritional deficiencies. An Italian study on 32 alcoholics who had not developed either liver cirrhosis or malabsorption found that subjects had significantly lower body weights and fat mass compared with control patient. Also there was prevalence towards fat distribution in abdominal regions.

A 2012 study of alcoholics and other substance abusers found that both appetite and diet quality were poor throughout the group of patients with 88% of them requiring guidance on healthy nutrition and 50% deficient in iron, vitamins or potassium. This showed a serious need for nutritional education in patients being treated for alcohol use.

Thiamine – Vitamin B1

This vitamin is found in yeast, grain cereal, beans, nuts and meat. There is a tendency for alcohol dependents to have low rates of this due to poor eating, frequency of vomiting and damage to the stomach lining which leads to the body being less able to absorb nutrients.

Thiamine is particularly important in preventing the development of Wernnicke-Korsakoff’s syndrome in alcohol dependent people. This syndrome affects the brain and nervous system leading to uncontrollable eye movements, coordination and walking problems, confusion and memory loss.

In three clinical recent clinical studies it was found that alcohol dependent subjects were significantly deficient in Vitamin B1, and although no significant correlation was found between thiamine blood levels and reported levels of alcohol consumption, those treated with 600mg of benofotiamine  daily for 24 weeks were found to have significantly decreased lowered alcohol intake levels. The amount of blood oxidative stress, lead and lack of thiamine was particularly pronounced in female alcoholics, and women also responded far more favourably to thiamine supplements. There seems to be a gender specific vulnerability to lack of this vitamin and a similar improvement when it is added to the diet.


Flavonoids are present in a range of foods including parsley, onions, blueberries, berries, black tea, green tea, bananas and all citrus fruit. They have been shown to have a wide range of biological and pharmacological activities in in vitro studies including anti-allergic, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-microbial, antiviral, and anti-diarrheal. Alcohol is metabolised in the liver as acetaldehyde – a poison that can damage liver, brain and heart muscle. A 2013 trial on the activity of citrus flavonoids against alcohol induced liver disease found that orally administered citrus flavonoids (CFs) and enzymatically modified flavonoids (EM-CFs) could largely prevent alcohol induced liver damage. The most significant protection was found with EM-CFs which had been modified through glycosylation and de-rhamnosylation. Flavonoids have also been tested for their impact on the psychopathological symptoms of alcohol addiction. Forty-seven hospital patients in Russia with alcohol related mental and behavioural disorders were treated for abstinence syndrome and post-abstinence disorders. The control group received only standard therapy while a second group also received cytoflavin. The results demonstrated that cytoflavin reduced many of the psychopathological symptoms.

Vitamin E and Quercetin

Quercetin is a powerful antioxidant flavonoid, low doses of which have been found to prevent withdrawal-induced anxiety in mice addicted to ethanol. For this reason it is seen as a safe drug for managing ethanol withdrawal.  However it also seems to have a neuroprotective effect. A further study which looked at the effects of quercetin in alcohol induced neuropathy in rats, found that chronic treatment with quercetin for 10 weeks helped significantly but was even more effective if the rats had been treated with vitamin E. Vitamin E is particularly useful in treating oxidative stress which is developed in alcohol-related diseases, particularly in the liver. Although Vitamin E has many antioxidative properties, study results have been mixed as although its use can mitigate the toxic effects of alcohol, its use does not necessarily improve mortality rates.


Probiotics are used to improve bowel flora. Both a 2009 Russian study and a 2013 study, using the probiotic VSL#3, demonstrated that probiotics can help regulate the ecological balance of the gut microflora.  Human alcoholics have far fewer numbers of faecal bifidobacteria, lactobacilli and enterococci. Short term treatment with probiotics can restore this bowel flora and can aid treatment of alcoholic liver disease.


Glutamine is an amino acid credited with lessening cravings, reducing stress and aiding recovery in alcoholics. Excessive use of alcohol inhibits the body’s ability to absorb glutamine which is why supplements can be helpful.

A 2011 randomized double blind study of 20 patients suffering from alcohol addictions and starting detoxification therapy for 40 days in a hospital setting, found that the group given food supplements of phenylalanine, glutamine and hydroxytriptophan had a significant decrease in their psychiatric symptoms over the placebo group. It was concluded that “abstinence causes major stress for patients. The use of food supplement containing D-phenylalanine, L-glutamine and L-5-hydroxytriptophan alleviates the withdrawal symptoms and causes a rise in CD4 lymphocyte population, but it does not affect the serum cortisol levels, which are probably more affected by liver inflammation and the liver restitution.


Carnitine is derived from an amino acid and found in most cells of the body. It is critical to producing energy and is made in the liver and kidneys. Carnitine transports fatty acids from the cytoplasm to the mitochondrial matrix where the fatty acids are oxidized. Alcoholism reduces the amount of carnitine which in turn changes the oxidative processes occurring in the cell. A 2013 study on detoxifying patients with alcohol dependence lasting from 2 to 30 years, demonstrated that chronic alcohol intoxication causes a plasma deficiency of carnitine and that supplements are recommended for those with low levels.

Vitamin D and Calcium

Alcohol consumption interferes with the pancreas and its ability to absorb vitamin D. Alcohol is also the enemy of calcium and due to these two factors many who have indulged in heavy drinking during adolescence and youth, while their bones are still developing, suffer from osteoporosis in later life.

A South African study monitored 12-16 year olds with alcohol use disorders of a weekends-only binge style drinking pattern. These were matched with a group of adolescents without alcohol use disorders and the groups were correlated for age, gender, language, socio economic status and education.  Levels of vitamin D and calcium deficiency were extremely significant (90%) in the alcohol use disorder group, which with heavy adolescent drinking becoming a rising public health problem demonstrated possible high future osteoporosis risk. A separate 2012 study found that this weakness was particularly elevated in the lumber spine and femoral neck areas of the body.

Vitamin A - Retinol

Alcohol abuse inhibits fat absorption by the body and so impairs the absorption of vitamins A, E and D. Vitamin A deficiency leads to an array of problems including night blindness, however most notable for those with alcoholism is its effect on the liver. Retinoid is stored in the liver and without it the liver is unable to regenerate and so disease becomes more acute. Although the exact biochemical mechanism between alcohol and vitamin A is not completely clear, its effect on hepatic retinoid status is undeniable, and controlled supplementation is recommended.

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