I was somewhat alarmed to learn this month that more than three million Britons cannot get through the day without an alcoholic fix. Alcoholism tends to bring with it a cocktail of physical and psychological problems, and can have a devastating impact on personal and professional relationships too. Emotional issues are a common feature in uncontrolled drinking, and alcoholics are often seen a people seeking to shift their perspective of the World by looking at it through the bottom of a glass. However, while psychological strife is a frequent factor in alcoholism, physiology can play its part too. Craving for alcohol can be induced by an imbalance in the body’s chemistry. What is more, correcting this, through dietary changes, is often very effective in quelling a desire to drink.
The principal energy source in the bloodstream is the sugar glucose, and the body is constantly striving to keep adequate levels of this whooshing around the system. If blood sugar levels should fall to subnormal levels, alarm bells ring within the body. One common manifestation of low blood sugar is a craving for something that will replenish fuel rapidly into the system. Some may experience this as a desire to raid the biscuit tin or vending machine. However, for others, low blood sugar may translate into an overwhelming urge to hit the bottle or bar.
In practice, keeping blood sugar levels on an even keel often does much to curb a keen desire for alcohol. Regular meals are all-important here, though healthy snacks in between can be helpful too. The early evening is a classic danger time for low blood sugar; often the result of the extended fast between an inadequate lunch and an overdue dinner. My experience is that individuals who tend to binge drink in the evening, starting with a gin and tonic or glass of Chardonnay early on, often have their problem rooted in blood sugar blues. A proper lunch, followed by some fresh fruit and maybe some nuts in the late afternoon, is often effective in evaporating a craving for liquid refreshment in the evening. In one study, alcoholics given appropriate nutritional counselling had less craving for alcohol (and sugar), and were more likely to abstain from alcohol. Now, there’s a sobering thought.
Another common feature in alcoholism is nutrient deficiency. Heavy drinkers, for instance, tend to lack B vitamins and the minerals magnesium and zinc. There is also some evidence that supplementing with nutrients can reduce alcohol craving and curb intake. Taking a good quality B-complex supplement (supplying at least 25 mg of the major B vitamins) along with additional zinc (15 ” 30 mg) and magnesium (300 ” 500 mg) each day may go some way to providing a nutritional safety net for those seeking to let go of their drinking habit.
Some scientists have theorised that alcohol craving may be related to a mood-boosting molecule known as prostaglandin E1 (PGE1). In the short term, alcohol appears to increase PGE1 levels. However, long-term drinking appear to deplete the body of PGE1, and this may predispose to depression and alcohol craving. In the body, PGE1 is made from a fat known as gamma-linolenic acid that is found in evening primrose oil. 1 g of evening primrose oil, taken two or three times a day, may reduce a desire for alcohol. Experience shows that nutritional strategies can really help to stick a cork in an overzealous drinking habit.