Sunday, August 31, 2008

Alcohol addiction and nutrition

Years ago, I studied with biochemist Roger Wiliams at The University of Texas. Williams was the discoverer of pantothenic acid, and already a respected professor emeritus in the 1970s. The course was called Biochemical and Physiological Bases of Individual Human Differences.

One of the things I learned was that people's need for various nutrients varies tremendously. Williams did experiments and discovered that rats deprived of nutrients would drink alcohol, but those that were fully nouristed lost interest. He developed a nutritional supplement to try to cover the nutritional bases of people who had unusually high requirements for nutrients.

He made two mistakes in promoting this discovery. The first was that he wrote a book stating that people who took this formula did not need to go to Alcoholics Anonymous. AA attacked him with such a vengeance that he recalled the copies of his book, because, he said he had been too arrogant. He had looked only at the physiological and not the psychological side of alcoholism.

The other error Williams made was that he gave the formula for these vitamins away free to several pharmaceutical companies. What this meant was that no company had a unique stake in promoting it to the public.

Back in the 70s, the formula was available from General Nutrition Centers in the US. I had a friend who gave these vitamins to her elderly mother, a lifelong alcoholic, and she reported that her mother spontaneously stopped drinking for the last years of her life.

I also started buying the formula for my lover. She stopped drinking completely for years, and then began drinking occasionally socially without falling back into binging. When GNC stopped making the formula, she changed to other daily vitamins, and soon went back to binging severely on alcohol.

For about a decade after Roger Williams's death, the Clayton Foundation at The University of Texas promoted information about alcoholism and nutrition. Through them I found that the Bronson company was producing the vitamins under the name Insurance Formula. For a while they seemed to have stopped making it, but they are now making an "improved" formula that still credits Roger Williams:

I gather there might be a supplement being produced by the Lilly company used in alcoholism recovery, including by the US military, but I haven't been able to get any details.

There's a tribute website about Williams by Donald R. Davis of the Biochemical Institute that is incomplete as to listings of Williams's work.

After much difficult searching online, I found this page that has a version of the Roger Williams formula that you can try yourself:

The author tells an anecdote very similar to the ones I mentioned - of a woman who was able to stop drinking completely and then drink occasionally while on this kind of supplementation.

I am going to copy the relevant portion of the text below, in case that site shuts down.

Here's the "doctor yourself" formula info:

There is a proven nutritional treatment for alcoholism," I said. "Roger Williams, PhD, a chemistry professor at the University of Texas and former president of the American Chemical Society, has written extensively on the subject. His work dates from 1950 to the mid-seventies."
"What does he recommend?" Betty said.
"Megadoses of vitamins and an amino acid called L-glutamine." I stood up and walked over to a bookcase, pulled down a couple of references, and returned to my squeaky brown swivel desk chair.
"Here we go," I said. "You might want to write this down. Thousands of milligrams of vitamin C a day, in divided doses; all the B-vitamins, especially thiamin, in a B-complex supplement, five times a day; and about three grams of L-glutamine. This, a general good diet, with an avoidance of sugar, is essentially it. ...

There is some more about the formula later on the page:

vitamin B-1 supplements are essential. And to get maximum results, additional nutrients must also be provided in abundance through supplementation.
Which ones, specifically?
1. Vitamin C to saturation (on the order of 10,000 to 20,000 mg per day and more). ...

2. B-complex (comprising 50mg of each of the major B-vitamins, 6 times daily). Extra thiamin and extra niacin may be helpful. Unlike drugs, the B-vitamins work best together.
3. L-Glutamine, (about two or three thousand milligrams). Decreases physiological cravings for alcohol.
4. Lecithin (2 to 4 tablespoons daily). Provides inositol and choline, related to the B-complex. Lecithin also helps mobilize fats out of the liver.
5. Chromium (at least 200 to perhaps 400 mcg chromium polynicotinate daily). Chromium greatly reduces carbohydrate mis-metabolism, and greatly helps control blood sugar levels. Many, if not most, alcoholics are hypoglycemic.
6. A good high-potency multi-vitamin, multi-mineral supplement as well, containing magnesium (400 mg) and the antioxidants carotene and d-alpha tocopherol.

That site is by Andrew Saul,author of the books FIRE YOUR DOCTOR! How to be Independently Healthy and DOCTOR YOURSELF: Natural Healing that Works.

Now, here is another item I found online and have lost the link for:

Vitamin supplements for alcohol withdrawel and anxiety


I wish I would've had this information handy in my first 30 days! Be aware that many of these supplements are harmful to your liver when combined with booze!!

Many alcoholics are deficient in B vitamins, including vitamin B3. John Cleary, M.D., observed that some alcoholics spontaneously stopped drinking in association with taking niacin supplements (niacin is a form of vitamin B3). Cleary concluded that alcoholism might be a manifestation of niacin deficiency in some people and recommended that alcoholics consider supplementation with 500 mg of niacin per day. 4 Without specifying the amount of niacin used, Cleary's preliminary research findings suggested that niacin supplementation helped wean some alcoholics away from alcohol. 5 Activated vitamin B3 used intravenously has also helped alcoholics quit drinking. 6 Niacinamide-a safer form of the same vitamin-might have similar actions and has been reported to improve alcohol metabolism in animals. 7

Deficiencies of other B-complex vitamins are common with chronic alcohol use. 8 The situation is exacerbated by the fact that alcoholics have an increased need for B vitamins. 9 It is possible that successful treatment of B-complex vitamin deficiencies may actually reduce alcohol cravings, because animals crave alcohol when fed a B-complex-deficient diet. 10 Many doctors recommend 100 mg of B-complex vitamins per day.

Alcoholics may be deficient in a substance called prostaglandin E1 (PGE1) and in gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), a precursor to PGE1. 11 In a double-blind study of alcoholics who were in a detoxification program, supplementation with 4 grams per day of evening primrose oil (containing 360 mg of GLA) led to greater improvement than did placebo in some, but not all, parameters of liver function. 12

The daily combination of 3 grams of vitamin C, 3 grams of niacin, 600 mg of vitamin B6, and 600 IU of vitamin E has been used by researchers from the University of Mississippi Medical Center in an attempt to reduce anxiety and depression in alcoholics. 13 Although the effect of vitamin supplementation was no better than placebo in treating alcohol-associated depression, the vitamins did result in a significant drop in anxiety within three weeks of use. Because of possible side effects, anyone taking such high amounts of niacin and vitamin B6 must do so only under the care of a doctor.

Although the incidence of B-complex deficiencies is known to be high in alcoholics, the incidence of other vitamin deficiencies remains less clear. 14 Nonetheless, deficiencies of vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, and vitamin C are seen in many alcoholics. While some reports have suggested it may be safer for alcoholics to supplement with beta-carotene instead of vitamin A, 15 potential problems accompany the use of either vitamin A or beta-carotene in correcting the deficiency induced by alcoholism. 16 These problems result in part because the combinations of alcohol and vitamin A or alcohol and beta-carotene appear to increase potential damage to the liver. Thus, vitamin A-depleted alcoholics require a doctor's intervention, including supplementation with vitamin A and beta-carotene accompanied by assessment of liver function. Supplementing with vitamin C, on the other hand, appears to help the body rid itself of alcohol. 17 Some doctors recommend 1 to 3 grams per day of vitamin C.
Kenneth Blum and researchers at the University of Texas have examined neurotransmitter deficiencies in alcoholics. Neurotransmitters are the chemicals the body makes to allow nerve cells to pass messages (of pain, touch, thought, etc.) from cell to cell. Amino acids are the precursors of these neurotransmitters. In double-blind research, a group of alcoholics were treated with 1.5 grams of D,L-phenylalanine (DLPA), 900 mg of L-tyrosine, 300 mg of L-glutamine, and 400 mg of L-tryptophan (now available only by prescription) per day, plus a multivitamin-mineral supplement. 18 This nutritional supplement regimen led to a significant reduction in withdrawal symptoms and decreased stress in alcoholics compared to the effects of placebo.

The amino acid, L-glutamine, has also been used as an isolated supplement. Animal research has shown that glutamine supplementation reduces alcohol intake, a finding that has been confirmed in double-blind human research. 19 In that trial, 1 gram of glutamine per day given in divided portions with meals decreased both the desire to drink and anxiety levels.


  1. I ordered the Bronson Insurance Formula vitamins for a friend, who is trying them now in addition to her usual daily vitamins. The Insurance Formula label recommends taking a tablet 3 times a day. However, the old GNC formula seemed to work for the people I knew taking 1 a day.

    By the way, Donald Davis, who wrote the tribute page to Roger Williams, is also responsible for suggesting the improvements to the Bronson formula.

  2. How has it worked out for your friend, FW?

    Any other readers have any experience with this formula to share?

  3. Seems to help a lot. The physical craving for alcohol is only one element, but losing the craving makes it easier to address the habit and the emotional and social elements, which may play greater or smaller roles depending on the person.

  4. Hi there,

    wow! i always thought that the nutritional side was a huge reason for the cravings.
    Could you please specify where I can get this formula (im in Canada) ASAP!
    There is a orthomolecular dr. here but cant afford his treatment prices and to buy the product.......waiting in earnest,
    Kindest regards,

  5. Hi there,
    could you please tell me where in Canada i can get the alcohol formula, if possible, waiting in earnest!

  6. I don't know if anybody in Canada is making these vitamins. I ordered about ten bottles of them from the US over the internet at once to save on shipping. There's a link for it here:

    Once again, I advise that they are very helpful and might be sufficient in themselves but to keep from relapsing when you can't get them, among other reasons, it's also good to address your habits and the feelings that make drinking attractive to you.

    There's a book by Corinne Gerwe called The Orchestration of Joy and Suffering that talks persuasively about how addictions and dealing with unpleasant feelings stimulated by life are related. Vancouver's Gabor Mate writes about this kind of thing, too, but I think he may be more pessimistic.

  7. The vitamins are not very expensive compared to many other supplements, actually.