Alcohol, Diet and Nutrient Deficiencies - Paula Owens, MS

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Alcohol, Diet and Nutrient Deficiencies

Alcohol Addiction - Alcohol, Diet and Nutrient DeficienciesAlcohol addiction, substance abuse, and alcoholism are chronic brain diseases that cause compulsive substance abuse despite harmful consequences.

Addiction is a chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations that is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other destructive behaviors.

Alcohol addiction is characterized by inability to consistently abstain from alcohol, impairment in behavioral control, craving alcohol, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, poor health and disease as a result from alcohol abuse, and a dysfunctional emotional response.

Like other chronic diseases, alcohol addiction often involves cycles of relapse and remission. Health, finances, relationships and careers are destroyed. Without treatment and dedicated engagement in recovery activities, addiction progresses resulting in disability, brain damage, serious health problems and disease, severe nutrient deficiencies, and premature death.

Addressing and correcting nutrient deficiencies, digestive function, making the necessary changes in environment, lifestyle and diet, and a willingness to delve into one’s soul wounds is vital in successful healing and recovery.

Every addiction arises from an unconscious refusal to face and move through your own pain. Every addiction starts and ends with pain. Whatever the substance you’re addicted to—alcohol, food, legal or illegal drugs, or a person—you are using something or somebody to cover up your pain. –Eckhart Tolle

Alcohol AddictionMany people are exposed to alcoholism in their families. My father was an alcoholic, and I also lost a younger sister to suicide as a result of her alcohol addiction. It’s no surprise that my ex-husband was also an alcoholic. Consequently, I had a strong desire to understand and educate myself on addiction and alcoholism, a devastating, destructive and deadly disease that affects not only the alcoholic, but impacts the entire family. I also am the nutritionist for the RiverSource, holistic drug and alcohol treatment centers located in Arizona.

Those who have a high ACE score, experienced adverse childhood events (ACEs), abuse and/or trauma much higher levels of addiction and alcoholism. When we don’t address our soul wounds, issues or trauma that occurred during childhood and they remain buried, they will resurface unconsciously in the limbic system driving self-sabotage and destructive behaviors, including addictions.

In the U.S. alone, there are 17 to 20 million alcoholics (about one in every ten people). Alcohol-related deaths are the third highest cause of death in the United States (the silent, unknown killer). 7,000 children under the age of 15 try drinking for the first time every day. This is a frightening statistic. The individual who begins drinking before age 15 is four times more likely to become an alcoholic.

For most people, the occasional drink is not harmful and may even offer some health benefits, but for the millions who abuse alcohol or are alcoholics, alcohol is a dangerous poison.

Anytime you get even moderately drunk, you risk:

  • Dehydration
  • Electrolyte imbalances
  • Gastrointestinal distress, leaky gut, altered microbiome and bacterial imbalances
  • Difficulty sleeping, poor breathing patterns such as mouth breathing
  • Hormone imbalances
  • Nutrient deficiencies

Damaging consequences of frequent and heavy alcohol use

Alcohol is well-known to be a mitochondrial poison and a neurotoxin

  • Depression
  • Brain cell death, memory loss, dementia and cognitive dysfunction
  • Malnutrition
  • Fatty liver
  • Hepatitis
  • Cirrhosis
  • Digestive dysfunction, leaky gut (intestinal permeability), upper gastrointestinal bleeding
  • Candida overgrowth, yeast infections, SIBO and gut dysbiosis
  • Several nutrient deficiencies including B vitamin deficiencies and severe mineral deficiencies
  • Anemia
  • Estrogen dominance
  • Loss of muscle tone, sagging skin, grey hair
  • Accelerated aging and reduced life expectancy by 10-12 years
  • Nerve damage and brain damage
  • Adrenal dysfunction
  • Compromised detoxification pathways
  • Increased risk of cancer, diabetes, pancreatitis, hypertension, heart attack and heart disease
  • In men, alcohol abuse causes enlarged breasts (gynectomastia), low sex drive, erectile dysfunction, reduced testosterone, decreased growth hormone production, and shrunken testes.

Women are physiologically more sensitive to alcohol than men because their bodies tend to have lower water and higher fat contents. Alcohol abuse seems to have more serious long-term consequences for women, although excessive alcohol especially affects men, their brains, their memory, and their testosterone and estrogen levels through liver damage.  Men who drink more than 36 grams of alcohol (or 2-1/2 drinks per day) increase memory loss by up to six years.

The liver is an amazingly resilient organ that can handle abuse for years and seem fine until one day there’s serious damage that’s accumulated.

“Alcoholism is a disease that involves the body, mind and spirit. The latest medical evidence indicates that about three out of four people who suffer the disease of alcoholism have a genetic tendency to develop the problem.” —Joseph D. Beasley, M.D., author of How to Defeat Alcoholism

Your DNA is not your destiny! It’s estimated that more than 75% of alcoholics have a genetic disorder metabolizing alcohol and methylation problems. Although there can be a genetic tendency to develop alcoholism, genes are plastic based on environmental epigenetics. Although you can’t change your DNA, you can alter which genes are expressed, and which genes you either turn on or turn off.

Did you know that you can turn certain genes on or off depending on your diet, nutrition, lifestyle choices and what you’re doing in your environment? Add in the tools of our consciousness including beliefs, thoughts, intentions and actions, which are linked much more strongly with our health, longevity and happiness than our genes. Bottom line, we must each take responsibility for our choices, our life, our health and well-being.

Alcohol and inflammation. There’s a link between alcohol consumption, cravings for alcohol and activation of pro-inflammatory cytokines that contribute to systemic inflammation in alcohol-dependent patients. [Journal Biological Psychiatry] Inflammatory pathways are stimulated in alcoholics by bacteria that has escaped the gut barrier that correlate with alcohol cravings. These findings suggest protecting and restoring gut integrity, healing leaky gut, and reducing the various sources of inflammation to help patients recover from abusing alcohol.

Alcohol, substance abuse and depression often go hand-in-hand. Alcohol contains the psychoactive drug ethanol (grain alcohol), which has a depressant effect. The reward center of the brain is meant to provide pleasure – the particular nerve hormone (neurotransmitter) is dopamine. Those with addictions tend to have fewer dopamine receptors causing them to crave and seek more and more and more of the addicted substance to experience pleasure.

Every biochemical process in the human body depends on appropriate levels of neurotransmitters (chemical messengers in the brain) such as serotonin and dopamine. Norephinephrine, epinephrine and GABA can also be considered. These neurotransmitters exist not only in the brain, but also in the gut. In fact, only 5% of serotonin is found in the brain. Serotonin is the primary gut neurotransmitter with close to 90% located in the gut, hence the importance of a healthy functioning microbiome and digestive system. Genetically, low serotonin and low dopamine levels may predispose individuals to depression and addictions, including alcoholism. Although alcohol temporarily increases serotonin, excessive alcohol consumption depletes dopamine and serotonin.

Alcohol addiction causes damage to the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is where willpower resides. The only way out of this is through detoxification, nutrition and recovery to allow the prefrontal cortex to heal and the reward center to re-build the damaged dopamine receptors.

Meditation is one of the most powerful tools to aid in recovery and heal the impairment of the prefrontal cortex. Meditation must be a continued and consistent practice as one of the spokes of the healing journey. Meditation is actually the 11th step of the 12-step program.

Healing the brain and recovery from addiction does not happen overnight. It is a life-long process that requires a nutrient-dense real food organic diet, bio-individualized nutrients, lifestyle changes, sunlight, and environmental changes including the people, places and things that you surround yourself with.

A healthy dose of natural vitamin D from daily sunlight exposure and avoiding blue light at night from smart phones, tablets and screens is crucial in overcoming addiction. Study after study has found evidence that blue light at night raises blood sugar, influences metabolism, disrupts hormones, causes insulin resistance, and increases risk of diabetes, heart disease, depression, anxiety, and even cancer.

Alcoholics tend to lack alcohol dehydrogenase, an enzyme in the stomach that breaks down and gets rid of alcohol before it reaches the bloodstream, which implies deficiencies in magnesium and zinc, and an overload on the pancreas all of which can be improved by a eating nutrient-dense, enzyme-rich real foods, nutritional support and ruling out infections in the gut such as yeast and Candida overgrowth, which are very common in alcoholics.

Alcohol, Diet and Nutrient Deficiencies

Many alcoholics have hidden food sensitivities, particularly to foods from which alcohol has been derived. These include wheat, corn, yeast, grapes, sugar, fructose and potato. It’s estimated that 80% of alcoholics are gluten-intolerant. Alcoholics improve greatly when ALL grains, ALL sugar, fructose and artificial sweeteners, and ALL gluten products are removed from their diets. 
Alcoholics often suffer from hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and blood sugar instability. Individuals tend to experience cravings when they’re hypoglycemic, and as a result experience sugar, carbohydrate and alcohol cravings, mood swings, irritability, gluten intolerance, brain fog and adrenal exhaustion. These conditions can be remedied by eating a nutrient-dense diet that contains plenty of organic protein, tons of healthy healing fats, and fiber from leafy greens and vegetables.

The best diet for the alcoholic is one that eliminates ALL gluten, wheat and processed grains, soy, soda, sugar, potato, fructose and processed carbohydrates.

A nutrient-dense diet rich in B vitamins, organic protein, plenty of leafy greens and vegetables, low-sugar fruits and a variety of healthy, healing fats is the best diet for a recovering alcoholic. Protein and fat help prevent blood sugar fluctuations, increase energy, fuel the brain, and eliminate cravings. Protein is rich in amino acids, provides fuel for the body and brain, and helps balance brain chemistry by boosting the levels of mood-regulating neurotransmitters. The first 40 grams of protein eaten every day goes to rebuilding the immune system. If you are not rebuilding your immune system, you’ll have a hard time rebuilding your brain chemistry to be happy and think straight.

Alcohol Addiction, Sugar and Candida Overgrowth. Former alcoholics often replace alcoholic drinks with sugary sweets and sodas without realizing that sugar disrupts intestinal flora, destroys their microbiome, and feeds Candida overgrowth, yeast and fungal overgrowth. Many alcoholics have also been exposed to toxic mold.

People with Candida overgrowth who eat a lot of sugar can actually become drunk because Candida can ferment sugar and carbohydrates, and produce alcohol! Candida saturates the body with a toxic by-product call acetaldehyde. Excess acetaldehyde is similar to alcohol poisoning.

Walk into any AA meeting and you’ll find a spread of candy, cakes and cookies. Some alcoholics will even convert the sugar to alcohol metabolically and maintain their alcohol addiction in this way. There are well-documented cases of inebriation caused by sugar, starchy carbohydrates and soda consumption, and Candida overgrowth in persons who abstain from alcohol. The yeast are capable of converting dietary carbohydrate into alcohol, known as auto-brewery syndrome. What happens is that the recovering alcoholic is actually making ethanol (alcohol) within their gut following the consumption of sugar and starchy carbohydrates when that carbohydrate is fermented by yeast with in their GI tract. When the alcoholic turns to sugar, he/she is often fueling himself with alcohol throughout the day.

When recovering alcoholics remove sugar from their diets, the chances of them relapsing is slim especially when they have a supportive network like AA.

Nutrient Therapy for the Recovering Alcoholic

An alcoholic or recovering alcoholic requires specific nutrients and diverse diet of vegetables, fruits, animal protein and healthy fats. They seem to do best with three nutrient-dense meals daily and should never go more than four hours without food to avoid hypoglycemia. All attempts should be made to avoid sweets, sugary beverages, fast food and starchy carbohydrates.

Addressing nutritional deficiencies and bio-individualized nutrient needs of the recovering alcoholic is crucial and absolutely necessary for long-term success. 

Nutrient support is bio-individualized based on each person’s unique biochemistry. Those with mood disorders, anxiety, ADD, depression, Bi-polar, schizophrenia, alcoholism should all be screened for Pyroluria using a simple urine test. Elevated pyrroles alter brain chemistry, and deplete Vitamin B-6 and zinc and cause oxidative stress. A comprehensive stool test to rule out underlying infections, an organic acid test to assess neurotransmitters, and a functional blood chemistry analysis to identify nutrient deficiencies are extremely helpful in balancing body chemistry.

Alcohol and Nutrient Support

Primary Nutrient Therapy

  • B vitamins, specifically thiamine, folate, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12
  • Omega-3s and essential fatty acids
  • Zinc and magnesium
  • Digestive enzymes, bile support and hydrochloric acid
  • Vitamins D and K
  • Probiotics
  • Multi-vitamin and mineral
  • L-glutamine powder

Healing and recovering from any addiction is a life-long process.

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