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Alcohol addiction and alternative medicine – new forms of treatment that promise a lot

There are many traditional methods to combat alcohol abuse, including 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 botanical medicine or phytotherapy, are the oldest form of health care known to mankind. In fact, herbs have been used as an integral part of medical and healing practice in almost every culture throughout history.

The word drug actually derives from the Old Dutch word droog, meaning “to dry” – as pharmacists, physicians and ancient healers often dried plants to use as medicine. Even today, about 25% of all prescription drugs are derived from trees, shrubs, or herbs. The World Health Organization states that of 119 herbal medicines, approximately 74% are used in modern medicine in a way that directly correlates to their traditional use as herbal medicines by indigenous cultures.

The earliest known texts containing instructions for the use of herbs as medicines date from around 2800 BC. Written by the Chinese. It is believed that Shen Nung wrote The Great Herbal (Pen Ts’ao) around this time. In this text he names about 350 plants, many of which are still used today. Over in India, the first medical Sanskrit texts, Caraka Sambita and Sushrata Sambita, of similar age to the Chinese texts, describe the use of 700 plants. Here are three primary herbs that have been studied in relation to alcohol addiction.

Many conventional drugs are also derived from herbs such as aspirin, codeine, ephedrine, morphine and quinine. The birth control pill was also originally made from the Mexican yam root. In all, there are an estimated 250,000 to 500,000 plants on earth today, but only about 5,000 have been extensively studied for medicinal use.

One reason for the lack of herbal medical studies could be that herbs, by their very nature, are not patentable. As such, pharmaceutical companies cannot own the exclusive right to sell a particular drug and are therefore not motivated to invest in testing or its promotion. Still, herbs are readily available everywhere, and many have been studied for their effectiveness in treating alcohol addiction.

Kudzu (Pueraria lobata) is an herb that is cooked with food in China and is also used in traditional Chinese medicine. Its use dates back to an ancient Chinese text entitled Ben Cho Gang Mu (Li, AD 1590–1596). It is a naturally growing weed and its root contains three main isoflavones: puerarin, daidzin and daidzein. Kudzu was introduced to North America in the southeastern United States in 1876. It was originally used to prevent soil erosion and quickly spread, overtaking farms and buildings.

Preliminary research suggests that heavy drinkers who ingest kudzu extract consume less beer when they have the opportunity to drink. So, kudzu can minimize the likelihood that a slip-up will lead to a full-blown relapse by reducing overall alcohol consumption and binge drinking. Still, kudzu doesn’t seem to reduce alcohol cravings.

Women with hormone-sensitive conditions should avoid kudzu. 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 anticoagulant or anticoagulant effects.

Another herb that shows promise 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 damage caused by alcohol and other intoxications. Milk thistle protects the liver and stimulates the secretion of bile. It has been used in the treatment of hepatitis and jaundice, and conditions where the liver is stressed by infection, excessive alcohol, or chemotherapy.

Milk thistle is also known for its ability to cleanse and rejuvenate a damaged liver. It is widely used to treat alcoholic hepatitis, alcoholic fatty liver disease, cirrhosis, liver poisoning, 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 research suggests that milk thistle, when taken orally, may reduce mortality and improve liver function tests in patients with alcoholic liver disease. Silymarin has successfully combated alcoholic cirrhosis in baboons and has been shown to be effective against various types of liver damage in rodents. Silymarin has been studied under controlled conditions in primates 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 studies of silymarin have shown beneficial effects such as improved survival. Silymarin has been studied most extensively in alcohol-induced liver disease. All-cause mortality was lower in patients treated with silymarin than in patients who received placebo. Therefore, it may be useful as an adjuvant in the therapy of alcoholic liver disease.

Milk thistle can cause allergic reactions in people who are sensitive to ragweed, chrysanthemum, marigold, and daisy. Women with hormone-sensitive conditions such as breast cancer, uterine cancer, ovarian cancer, endometriosis, and uterine fibroids should avoid it. Milk thistle should not be taken with glucuronidated drugs such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), atorvastatin (Lipitor), diazepam (Valium), digoxin, entacapone (Comtan), irinotecan (Camptosar), lamotrigine (Lamictal), lorazepam (Ativan), lovastatin (Mevacor), meprobamate, morphine and oxazepam (Serax).

Passion flower (Passiflora incarnata) is a woody, hairy climber. The European world only found out about this after the Spanish conquest of America. In 1569, Spanish explorers discovered passion flowers in Peru and named them granadillas (little pomegranates). They believed the flowers symbolized the passion of Christ. Native Americans used them primarily as a mild sedative and knew these plants by various names such as Maracock. The calming and sleep-promoting effect of the passion flower was already described in the 17th century. The first reports of the pain-relieving effects of passionflower came from North America in 1867.

Although several species have been used for their sedative effects, including Passiflora quadrangularis, only Passiflora incarnata is made into medicines and teas on a large, economical scale. It is typically used for insomnia, gastrointestinal disorders associated with anxiety or nervousness, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), and symptoms of opiate withdrawal. GAD is the most common anxiety disorder. Its main symptoms are anxiety, motor tension, autonomic hyperactivity and cognitive alertness.

In a study of passionflower and anxiety, the drug oxazepam showed significantly more problems related to work performance impairment than passionflower. The results suggest that passionflower is an effective treatment for GAD, and its low incidence of impairment at work compared to oxazepam is a distinct benefit. Therefore, passionflower shows promise as an aid in anxiety related to alcohol elimination.

More than 500 passion flower species have been identified and more than 400 artificial hybrids created. In 1995, the German Commission E approved passionflower as an over-the-counter drug for nervous restlessness. Its worldwide clinical application is demonstrated by Passiflora incarnata being listed as an official herbal medicinal product in the British Herbal Pharmacopoeia 1983, the United States Homoeopathic Pharmacopoeia 1981, the Homoeopathic Pharmacopoeia of India 1974 and in the pharmacopoeias of Egypt, France, Germany and Switzerland. In the United States, passionflower is listed on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Centers for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) list.

Another therapy, the clonidine drug, has been used as the main protocol for opiate detoxification for several years. However, clonidine has its limitations, including a lack of effectiveness for mental symptoms. However, recent studies have shown that clonidine and passionflower together are significantly superior to clonidine alone in treating mental symptoms. These results suggest that passionflower may be an effective tool in the treatment of opiate withdrawal.

Overall, recent evidence on the effectiveness of herbal supplements in treating alcohol addiction is promising. Ultimately, a comprehensive approach to recovery — including traditional medicine and non-traditional techniques — offers the greatest chance for a full recovery. Given the lack of successful alcohol recovery programs, every viable option must be pursued to help millions of sufferers worldwide.

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