Alcoholic beverages present a perfect example of the ancient virtue of moderation. While small amounts of alcohol (the equivalent of one to two drinks daily) may actually enhance health,
Conventional treatment of alcoholism involves nutritional support and various means to induce and maintain abstinence. Alcoholics Anonymous is the most effective known abstinence-promoting method, but other programs and techniques are also in use. The drugs acamprosate (Campral) and naltrexone (ReVia) have shown considerable promise. It is not clear whether disulfiram (Antabuse) actually offers any benefit.
Principal Proposed Natural Treatments
The herb milk thistle
In addition to damaging the liver, alcoholism causes a general depletion of nutrients. People who drink to excess (either because they have not quit drinking or because they are in the process of quitting) may benefit from supplementation.
At present, therefore, it is not possible to draw firm conclusions about milk thistle’s usefulness for people who overconsume alcohol. For more information, see the full
The supplement S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe) has been proposed for the treatment of alcoholic liver disease, but there is as yet no meaningful evidence that it is effective.
Chronic overconsumption of alcohol may lead to improper metabolism or outright deficiencies of numerous vitamins and minerals.
Other Proposed Natural Treatments
In a double-blind study of 64 people, use of an extract made from the skin of the fruit of the prickly pear cactus Opuntia ficus indica significantly reduced hangover symptoms as compared to placebo. 38
Other herbs and supplements that have been proposed for protecting the liver, but only on the basis of extremely weak evidence, include
One study suggests that
Herbs and Supplements to Avoid
High doses of the supplements beta-carotene and vitamin A might cause alcoholic liver disease to develop more rapidly in people who abuse alcohol. 31,32
All forms of
One animal study suggests that the herb
Numerous herbs and supplements have known or suspected liver-toxic properties, including, but not limited to,
Some articles claim that the herb
4. Trinchet JC, Coste T, Levy VG, et al. Treatment of alcoholic hepatitis with silymarin. A double-blind comparative study in 116 patients [translated from French]. Gastroenterol Clin Biol. 1989;13:120-124.
7. Benda L, Dittrich H, Ferenzi P, et al. The influence of therapy with silymarin on the survival rate of patients with liver cirrhosis [translated from German]. Wien Klin Wochenschr. 1980;92:678-683.
8. Pares A, Planas R, Torres M, et al. Effects of silymarin in alcoholic patients with cirrhosis of the liver: results of a controlled, double-blind, randomized and multicenter trial. J Hepatol. 1998;28:615-621.
11. Lucena MI, Andrade RJ, de la Cruz JP, et al. Effects of silymarin MZ-80 on oxidative stress in patients with alcoholic cirrhosis. Results of a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical study. Int J Clin Pharmacol Ther. 2002;40:2-8.
13. Mato JM, Camara J, Fernandez de Paz J, et al. S-adenosylmethionine in alcoholic cirrhosis: a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind, multicenter clinical trial. J Hepatol. 1999;30:1081-1089.
15. Barak AJ, Beckenhauer HC, Junnila M, et al. Dietary betaine promotes generation of hepatic S-adenosylmethionine and protects the liver from ethanol-induced fatty infiltration. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 1993;17:552-555.
21. Schuller-Perez A, Gonzalez San Martin F. A controlled study with polyunsaturated phosphatidylcholine compared to placebo in alcoholic steatosis of the liver [translated from German]. Med Welt. 1985;36:517-521.
22. Knuchel F. Double-blind study in patients with alcoholic toxic fatty liver. Effect of essential phospholipids on enzyme behavior and lipid composition of the serum [translated from German]. Med Welt. 1979;30:411-416.
33. Veh I, Chatterjee SS, Kiianmaa K, et al. Reduction of voluntary ethanol intake in alcohol-preferring AA-rats by kava extract. Presented at: International Congress and 49th Meeting of the Society for Medicinal Plant Research; September 2-6, 2001; Erlangen, Germany.
Last reviewed April 2009 by EBSCO CAM Review Board
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
Copyright © 2007 EBSCO Publishing All rights reserved.