Alcohol is a poison. It's a poison with many effects on the body, ranging from the pleasant buzz and the potential health benefits of wine, but the core alcohol itself is toxic to the body. Relatively few people consume enough alcohol to die of alcohol toxicity, but there are other, more dangerous side effects.
People who consume alcohol regularly, particularly in large amounts, may experience a variety of negative side effects. These range from the typical hangover to long-term damage to the liver, which ranges from fibrosis to cirrhosis to even liver cancer and liver failure.
As we know, the liver is the body's primary detoxification organ. It's responsible for processing toxins and impurities in the body and removing them through sweat, breath, urine, and feces. Unfortunately, as the liver processes more and more toxins, it sustains damage. This damage makes it function less effectively, which means more impurities and toxins linger in your body for longer, doing more and more damage. Eventually, the cycle spirals into dangerous or deadly situations.
Quitting alcohol is an admirable goal, particularly for lifelong drinkers, regardless of your level of consumption. Alcohol is addictive because of that buzz, that high that comes with drinking, and all of the additional social and psychological pressures involved. Unfortunately, it's also quite dangerous.
Alcohol affects the brain, and over time, it changes the way the brain functions. Quitting cold turkey can be especially dangerous, as the sudden change in brain chemistry can lead to side effects ranging from dehydration to seizures. Extreme alcohol withdrawal can even be deadly itself.
Thus, it's important to wean yourself off of alcohol slowly, to adjust your body back to a healthy state.
Where does the liver come in? If your liver has been damaged through alcohol consumption, it may be beneficial to take supplements that boost the health and effectiveness of the organ while you detox and wean yourself off of the drug. Such supplements can make you feel better, keep your liver functioning at a higher level, and make it easier to break off the habit.
Make no mistake; quitting alcohol is going to be an intense and difficult process, with or without supplements. While supplements may be able to help, what's more important is a solid social structure, support network, and therapy to help manage cravings and habits.
Let's talk about what supplements might help with the liver and other parts of your body damaged by or affected by alcohol.
Milk Thistle is a fairly typical kind of thistle plant native to Asia and southern Europe, but which has spread throughout the world. It has been used as a food and medicine for a long time.
The seeds of the milk thistle plant are used as a supplement because it contains the flavonoid silymarin, which is an antioxidant that boosts liver function. It is widely used around the world to treat alcoholism, alcoholic hepatitis, and liver disease.
Essentially, what the chemical does is prevents some toxins from reaching the liver in the first place, which helps it heal without damaging itself further. Combined with a reduction of toxins taken in – that is, quitting alcohol, in this case – that helps your liver more effectively process toxins out of your body.
This bright orange spice is used in cooking, but is increasingly becoming popular as the latest form of cure-all. There may be some evidence to suggest that it has a beneficial impact on the liver, though that is more in regards to fatty liver disease than alcoholic liver cirrhosis.
If nothing else, turmeric is an antioxidant and can have beneficial effects throughout the body when taken in moderation. On the other hand, you have to carefully source your turmeric, because evidence is emerging that some sources of the spice are heavily contaminated with lead.
NAC is a highly studied antioxidant with a range of possible benefits throughout the body. When you're quitting alcohol, it helps heal and replenish the liver. It can help heal and restore damage to the liver from just about any cause except cancer, where it has proven ineffective.
You can find NAC as part of many liver supplements, and in some foods. You often find it in high protein foods, including chicken, turkey, yogurt, eggs, cheese, and legumes.
While it doesn't have a fancy technical name, artichoke leaf is commonly used as a liver supplement around the world. Artichokes are packed full of cynarin, which aids liver function by increasing bile production. This helps the body process toxins more quickly and effectively.
Artichokes are also related to thistles, and have the same silymarin flavonoid in them. Overall, artichokes are a potent vegetable to add to your diet, and you can find artichoke leaf extract or powder in some supplements, particularly those aimed at the liver.
Dandelion is an interesting plant. Decades ago, it was common as a salad green, a root vegetable, and even used as the foundation for a kind of wine. Eventually it got a bad rap as a weed, and many of its benefits were forgotten. These days, it's coming back into prominence.
Dandelion root, rather than the leaf or the blossom, is the part we're most interested in here. There is some evidence that indicates it may help boost bile production, much like artichoke. This, as mentioned, may be able to help liver function. Dandelion root also includes antioxidant properties, with all of the benefits that come along with it.
This plant is another commonly identified as a weed. Both its leaves and its fruit are commonly used as herbal remedies, though many people haven't heard of it before. It's also known as the "stonebreaker" plant, primarily because of its benefits in fighting kidney stones.
In addition to antioxidant and kidney benefits, this weed might have benefits with the liver. It has shown some promise in treating fatty liver disease, as well as other liver health benefits.
Glutamine is a common amino acid that your body can create. It's generally created in the muscles and circulates through the blood. It is used throughout the body, as part of healing, gut function, immune response, and stress management. It also helps with blood sugar management.
In addition to alcohol abuse, glutamine deficiency can be caused by cancer treatments like chemotherapy, as well as high stress events, including surgery. Glutamine deficiency has a cascading effect throughout the body and can lead to muscle wasting.
Glutamine can be found in dedicated supplements and in mixed supplements with other gut health and liver health nutrients. You can also get glutamine from food sources, including high protein meat, seafood, milk, nuts, eggs, beans, and cabbage.
Tyrosine is another amino acid. This one is more commonly used by the body in brain function, including the processing of neurotransmitters, dopamine, and noradrenaline. It's extra important during alcohol withdrawal because of the cognitive issues and mood changes that can occur.
Common side effects of quitting alcohol can include mood changes, primarily depression and anxiety, and occasionally other psychiatric disorders. While these are often temporary, they need to be treated to help alleviate the symptoms and make the process of quitting and maintaining sobriety easier.
Tyrosine can be found in supplements and in foods. Foods include cheese, soybeans, meats like beef and lamb, fish, nuts, eggs, seeds, whole grains, and dairy.
Another potential side effect of alcohol abuse and withdrawal is nerve damage. To combat nerve damage, it can be a good idea to make sure your body has plenty of the nutrients that maintain nerve transmission. In this case, magnesium is one such nutrient. Magnesium can also help with tension, stress, insomnia, and nervousness, all of which might also occur during detoxing and withdrawals.
Magnesium is common as supplements on its own and in multivitamins. You can also get it from foods such as nuts, seeds, cereal grains – especially fortified cereals – and green vegetables. Spinach has a lot, as do black beans, avocados, and kidney beans. It can also be found in some fish like salmon and halibut. Pumpkin seeds are one of the best sources, though, at 168 mg per ounce.
One possible side effect of alcohol abuse is damage to the pancreas. The pancreas has an important function for digestion and for managing blood sugar levels through the production of insulin. As such, alcoholism often leads to diabetes. To help manage blood sugar levels, the vitamins B1, B3, and B5 can all be useful.
The primary way to help manage blood sugar is to manage the sugars you take in. You need to learn if you have a blood sugar disorder, and if so, whether it's high or low, which will determine which type of diabetes you have and what sort of foods to avoid.
Additionally, taking B vitamin supplements such as a B Complex can be a great idea, even in general when you're not worried about alcohol.
- B1 (Thiamine) can be found in beef, liver, nuts, oats, oranges, eggs, seeds, peas, and yeasts.
- B2 (Riboflavin) can be found in beef, tofu, milk, fish, mushrooms, pork, spinach, almonds, and eggs.
- B3 (Niacin) can be found in liver, chicken, tuna, turkey, salmon, pork, beef, and other meats.
- B4 (Adenine) can be found in a variety of greens and fruits, including whole grains, spinach, spirulina, aloe vera, kelp, and honey.
- B5 (Pantothenic Acid) can be found in mushrooms, fish, avocados, eggs, beef, pork, sunflower seeds, and lentils.
- B6 (Pyridoxine) can be found in tuna, turkey, beef, chicken, salmon, sweet potato, sunflower seeds, spinach, and bananas.
- B7 (Biotin) can be found in nuts, milk, and egg yolks, as well as raspberries, bananas, salmon, and pork.
- B9 (Folate) can be found in oranges, asparagus, broccoli, spinach, lettuce, and eggs.
- B12 (Cobalamin) can be found in seafood, liver, nutritional yeasts, and dairy.
As you can see, generally eating a healthy diet full of vegetables and moderate portions of protein, particularly beef or fish, will get you pretty much all of the B vitamins. You can supplement your intake with targeted or general B vitamin supplements.
Another possible option is simply taking a general multivitamin regularly, while also adjusting your diet to trend towards healthier spreads of meat and vegetables. Cut out a lot of the processed ingredients and sugars, and the alcohol of course, and see a doctor for any more specific medications relating to your liver. If you have advanced liver hepatitis or cirrhosis, you'll find that supplements aren't going to do enough on their own.
As usual, it's worth mentioning that while there are potential benefits for many herbal remedies, there are no conclusive studies as to their effectiveness just yet. Science has a lot on its plate, and sometimes the least interesting herbs aren't given the attention they're due.
Overall, there are a range of possible options, both in terms of supplements and dietary additions that can help with liver health and the other side effects of alcohol abuse and withdrawal.
It's strong recommended that, rather than trying to self-medicate, you at least work with a social group or a rehabilitation clinic to assist with guiding sobriety. We're not going to recommend any one specific program or treatment center – you can find one that suits you locally – but maintaining that support network is extremely important.