There are many traditional ways to fight alcoholism, such as rehabilitation, medication, psychotherapy, and 12-step programs. However, given the limited success of these options, alternative medicine is receiving renewed attention. In fact, herbal supplements, also known as botanicals or phytotherapy, are the oldest form of health care known to man. In fact, herbs have been used as an integral part of medical and healing practices in nearly every culture throughout history.
The word medicine is actually derived from the Old Dutch word droog, which means “to dry” – as apothecaries, doctors and ancient healers often used dried plants for their medicinal purposes. Even today, about 25 percent of prescription drugs still come from trees, shrubs, or herbs. The World Health Organization states that out of 119 medicines derived from plants, about 74 percent are used in modern medicine in ways that are directly related to traditional uses of plants as medicines by indigenous cultures.
The earliest known text, with instructions on how to use herbs as medicine, was written by the Chinese around 2800 BC. Shennong is believed to have written Pen Ts’ao (大草本) around this time. In this essay, he cites some 350 plant species, many of which are still in use today. In India, the first Sanskrit medical texts, Caraka Sambita and Sushrata Sambita, are similar in age to Chinese texts and describe the use of 700 plant species. Three main herbs are listed here because they have been studied in relation to alcohol addiction.
Many traditional medicines are also derived from herbs, such as aspirin, codeine, ephedrine, morphine, and quinine. Even the birth control pill was originally made from the Mexican yam. In total, there are an estimated 250,000 to 500,000 plant species on Earth today, but only about 5,000 have been extensively studied for their medicinal properties.
One of the reasons for the lack of research in herbal medicine may be that herbal medicines, by their very nature, cannot be patented. As such, pharmaceutical companies cannot have exclusive rights to market specific drugs, and therefore have no incentive to invest in testing or promoting them. Yet herbal remedies are widely available, and many have been studied for use in the treatment of alcohol addiction.
Pueraria Lobata is an herb that is cooked with food in China and also used in traditional Chinese medicine. Its use can be traced back to an ancient Chinese document titled Benzu Gangmu (Li, 1590-1596 AD). It is a naturally occurring weed, and its roots contain three main isoflavones: puerarin, daidzein, and daidzein. Pueraria was introduced to North America in 1876 in the southeastern United States. It was originally used to prevent soil erosion and quickly spread to farms and buildings.
Preliminary research suggests that heavy drinkers who take kudzu root extract drink less beer when given the opportunity to drink alcohol. Pueraria thus minimizes the likelihood of missteps leading to outright relapse by reducing total alcohol intake and binge eating patterns. However, kudzu does not seem to reduce alcohol cravings.
Women who are hormone-sensitive should avoid kudzu root. Some of these diseases include breast cancer, uterine cancer, ovarian cancer, endometriosis, and uterine fibroids. Kudzu may increase the risk of bleeding when used with other drugs that have antiplatelet or anticoagulant effects.
Another promising herb is milk thistle (Silybum marianum), which has been used in Europe for centuries as a remedy for liver problems. This herb has the remarkable ability to protect the liver from alcohol and other poisons. Milk thistle protects the liver and stimulates bile secretion. It has been used to treat hepatitis and jaundice, as well as conditions in which the liver is stressed from infection, excessive alcohol consumption, or chemotherapy.
Milk thistle is also known for its ability to cleanse and repair a damaged liver. It is widely used in the treatment of alcoholic hepatitis, alcoholic fatty liver, cirrhosis, hepatotoxicity and viral hepatitis, and to protect the liver from the effects of hepatotoxic drugs.
The active ingredient in milk thistle is silymarin, a substance contained in the seeds. Clinical studies suggest that taking milk thistle by mouth may help reduce mortality and improve liver function tests in people with alcoholic liver disease. Silymarin has been successfully used against alcoholic cirrhosis in baboons and was found to be effective against various types of liver damage in rodents. Silymarin was studied in primates under controlled conditions and found to counteract alcohol-induced oxidative stress and delay the development of alcohol-induced liver fibrosis.
In human patients with alcoholic liver disease, controlled trials of silymarin have shown beneficial effects, such as improved survival. Silymarin is the most well-studied in alcoholic liver disease. Overall mortality was lower in patients who received silymarin compared with those who received placebo. Therefore, it can be used as an adjuvant drug in the treatment of alcoholic liver disease.
Milk thistle may cause allergic reactions in people who are sensitive to ragweed, chrysanthemums, calendulas, and daisies. Women with hormone-sensitive conditions such as breast, uterine, ovarian, endometriosis, and fibroids should avoid use. Milk thistle should not be taken with glucuronidating drugs such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), atorvastatin (Lipitor), diazepam (Valium), digoxin, entacapone (Comtan), i Rinotecan (Camptosar), lamotrigine (Lamictal), lorazepam (Ativan), lovastatin (Mevacor), meprobamate, morphine, and oxazepam (Serax).
Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) is a woody, hairy, climbing vine. The European world didn’t know about it until after the Spanish conquest of the Americas. In 1569, Spanish explorers discovered passion fruit in Peru and named it granadillas (little pomegranate). They believed the flowers symbolized the Passion of Christ. Native Americans used them primarily as a mild sedative and knew the plants by various names, such as malacoque. The sedative and hypnotic properties of passionflower were described as early as the 17th century. The first report on the analgesic effects of passionflower came from North America in 1867.
Although several species are used for their sedative properties, including passionflower, only passionflower is widely and economically processed into medicines and teas. It is commonly used for insomnia, gastrointestinal distress related to anxiety or stress, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), and opioid withdrawal symptoms. Generalized anxiety disorder is the most common anxiety disorder. Its main symptoms are anxiety, motor tension, autonomic hyperactivity, and cognitive alertness.
In a study on passionflower and anxiety, the drug oxazepam was shown to have more problems related to impaired work performance than passionflower. The results show that passionflower is an effective drug for generalized anxiety disorder, and its lower incidence of impaired work performance is a distinct advantage compared with oxazepam. Therefore, passionflower is expected to help relieve anxiety associated with alcohol recovery.
More than 500 species of passionflower have been identified and more than 400 artificial hybrids have been bred. In 1995, the German E-committee approved passion flower as an over-the-counter drug for the treatment of nervous disorders. Passiflora is listed in the British Herbal Pharmacopoeia 1983, the American Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia 1981, the Indian Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia 1974 and in Egypt, France, Germany and Switzerland. In the United States, passionflower is on the Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) list by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN).
Another therapy, the drug clonidine, has been used as the mainstay of opioid detoxification for several years. However, clonidine has limitations, including a lack of efficacy for psychiatric symptoms. However, recent research has shown that clonidine and passionflower together are significantly better at treating psychiatric symptoms than clonidine alone. These findings suggest that passionflower could be an effective drug for managing opioid withdrawal.
In conclusion, recent findings on the effectiveness of herbal supplements in treating alcohol addiction are promising. Ultimately, a holistic approach to recovery—including traditional medicine and nontraditional techniques—provides the greatest chance for full recovery. When you consider the lack of successful alcohol recovery programs, it is imperative to utilize all available options to help the millions of suffering people around the world.