Can Diet Create Alcoholics?

ALTHOUGH it may seem strange in our enlightened age, there are still areas in the world where beriberi is common. It has been known for some time that this disease is due to a diet which is deficient in thiamine (vitamin B1). . .

-Now retired, he was formerly docent of biochemistry at the University of Helsinki and Turku, Finland, as well as principal of Finland Junior College and Swedish Junior College and Seminary.

ALTHOUGH it may seem strange in our enlightened age, there are still areas in the world where beriberi is common. It has been known for some time that this disease is due to a diet which is deficient in thiamine (vitamin B1).

It has also been established that alcoholism is very common among people suffering from beriberi. 1 This observation indicates that a craving for alcoholic beverages may be related to nutritional deficiencies. Experimental support for this assumption is found in investigations carried out by a number of scientists.

In 1943, four Chilean researchers (Mardones, Onfray, Diaz, and Segovia)2 published a report of very interesting experiments with rats that were fed a diet deficient in vitamins of the B group, i.e., chiefly on white bread. This diet created a craving for alcoholic beverages in the test animals. This led the scientists to postulate a "factor N" in whole-grain flour. "Factor N" seems to have the specific property of being able to remove the craving for alcohol.

The French nutritionists, Delore and Berry, studied this interesting phenomenon more closely.3 While it is true that other factors may be associated, they found that in France the consumption of alcohol enormously increased in the same proportion as the French people left the use of dark bread and began to use white bread deficient in vitamin B complex. They were convinced that the use of whole-grain bread has a preventive effect on the craving for alcohol.

Further, they found that the lack of B vitamins manifests itself as a craving for alcohol a long time be fore the first signs of vitamin deficiency appear. Magnesium and mineral waters containing iron can remove the craving for alcohol to a degree, but whole-grain food most successfully removes it. This led Delore and Berry to the conviction that deficient nutrition promotes the craving for alcohol.

Dr. R. J. Williams and his collaborators4 at the University of Texas have arrived at similar results. They are of the opinion that the most effective way to free alcoholics from their craving for alcohol is through a well-balanced diet.

From the foregoing it should already be evident that a deficient diet can be a factor in producing a craving for alcohol in man. Since nutrition among civilized people has developed in an unfavorable direction in that the consumption of white bread, white sugar, and animal products (meat and animal fat) has considerably increased during the last decades, it seems to be indicated that this detrimental development of civilized nutrition contributes to the problem of increasing alcoholism.

Ellen G. White, who in her time was a prominent health and temperance writer, has expressed the correlation between nutrition and alcohol consumption as follows: "Many who would not be guilty of placing on their table wine or liquor of any kind will load their table with food which creates such a thirst for strong drink that to resist the temptation is almost impossible. Wrong habits of eating and drinking destroy the health and prepare the way for drunkenness." 5

While it has been noticed that a deficient, vitamin-poor diet can produce a craving for alcohol in man and thus indirectly increase alcohol consumption, it has also been noted that alcohol consumption in turn can create vitamin deficiency.

The Effect of Alcohol Intake on the Vitamin Secretion

In 1948, two scientists, Butler and Sarett,6 observed that after alcohol intake the secretion of thiamine and nicotinic acid, which are important B vitamins, increased considerably in the urine. In 1939, many years prior to these important experiments by Butler and Sarett, Dr. Karl Myrback, professor of biochemistry at Stockholm University, Sweden, told me that investigations he had conducted had shown that the thiamine content in urine increased enormously after alcohol intake. He pointed out that even moderate alcohol consumption had this notable effect. Since Dr. Myrback has never published these experiments, it should be appropriate in this connection to mention his important findings, which were confirmed later by Butler and Sarett.

In 1960, Dr. H. Suomalainen,7 the director of the laboratory of the State Alcohol Monopoly in Helsinki, Finland, reported at the Twenty-sixth International Congress on Alcohol and Alcoholism in Stockholm that his investigations had confirmed the findings of Dr. Myrback, and that the high secretion of thiamine in the urine lasted as long as a water solution with 10 percent alcohol was administered to the test animals. When the animals were given pure water to drink, the thiamine secretion decreased to the normal level.

The fact that alcohol consumption increases the secretion of thiamine in the urine means that this important vitamin is removed from the organism by the effect of alcohol.

Regardless of how this phenomenon may be explained scientifically, it is apparent that alcohol consumption causes a substantial decrease in the vitamin resources of the body at least as far as thiamine is concerned. How the other vitamins respond to alcohol intake is a question that needs to be further investigated by scientific research.

From what has been said in the foregoing, we get a simple and logical explanation for the long-known fact that alcoholics suffer from thiamine deficiency. Attempts have been made to explain this in many different ways, e.g., by assuming that the alcoholic uses a vitamin-poor diet, or that the absorption of vitamins is poorer in the intestine of an alcoholic than of a normal man.

Since a deficient, vitamin-poor diet evidently causes a craving for alcohol in man and since alcohol consumption further deprives the organism of certain vitamins, one is led to consider the value of diet therapy as part of an effective remedy for alcoholism.

Vegetarianism Counteracts Alcoholism

Inasmuch as vitamins are produced in the first place in the vegetable kingdom, and since the observations made by scientists indicate that even a diet rich in animal protein (meat) especially if it is richly flavored with salt, pepper, vinegar, and other spices obviously creates a craving for alcohol in man, a vegetarian diet has been recommended by many as a therapeutic method for curing alcoholism.

The ingenious German chemist Justus von Liebig (1803-1873) observed in his time that "persons who used vegetarian food, were not fond of wines and strong drinks." This observation is all the more noteworthy since Liebig considered meat nutrition, rich in protein, especially wholesome for man. The American physician and temperance proponent, Dr. J. H. Kellogg,8 who mentions this observation made by Liebig, lists further some twenty persons who were entirely freed from their craving for alcohol by adopting a vegetarian diet. Among others, Kellogg mentions a 32-year-old alcoholic chemist who read about Liebig's observations and who got rid of his longing for alcohol after only six weeks by going on an entirely vegetarian diet.

Dr. Hans Eppinger,9 who was the leading physician at the first clinic of internal medicine in Vienna just before World War II, made some very interesting observations concerning the favorable effect of raw (uncooked) vegetarian food in curing different diseases. He emphasized that a vegetarian diet, especially the raw diet, has a definite thirst-decreasing effect. This raw vegetarian diet reduces the need for drinking water and suppresses the craving for alcohol.

The German physician Dr. Alfred Brauchle has also emphasized that vegetarian food removes the craving for alcoholic drinks. He indicates that the fight against alcohol must therefore begin with nutrition reform.

The Bulgarian temperance authority, Dr. Kh. Neytcheff, 10 in a lecture presented at the Twentysecond International Congress against Alcoholism in Helsinki in August, 1939, entitled "Alcohol and Human Nutrition," also pointed out emphatically that ample use of flesh food, especially when it is richly flavored, is a causative factor in the craving for alcohol. Neytcheff stated in his lecture that his observations and experience from a twenty-year period have definitely proved that without a vegetarian diet there is no safe remedy against alcoholism. He also pointed out that the conditions involved in an alcoholic becoming entirely free from his craving for alcohol are (1) a strictly vegetarian diet; (2) abstinence from coffee, tea, and refined sugar (instead there should be a generous use of vegetables and fruits, as far as possible in the raw state); (3) country life and physical labor; and (4) total abstinence from alcohol and tobacco.

Similar viewpoints are also to be found in the writings of Ellen G. White. I only quote some of them:

When the message comes to those who have not heard the truth for this time, they see that a great reformation must take place in their diet. They see that they must put away flesh food, because it creates an appetite for liquor, and fills the system with disease. 11

The only safe course is to touch not, taste not, handle not, tea, coffee, wines, tobacco, opium, and alcoholic drinks. The necessity for the men of this generation to call to their aid the power of the will, strengthened by the grace of God, in order to withstand the temptations of Satan and resist the least indulgence of perverted appetite is twice as great as it was several generations ago. 12

By the use of tea and coffee, an appetite is formed for tobacco, and this encourages the appetite for liquors. 13

The principles of temperance must be carried further than the mere use of spirituous liquors. The use of stimulating and indigestible food is often equally injurious to health, and in many cases sows the seed of drunkenness. 14

Fruit, grains, and vegetables, prepared in a simple way, free from spice and grease of all kinds, make, with milk and cream, the most healthful diet. 15

Hales 16 has recommended fasting and vegetarian diet as a means of effective treatment of alcoholics. According to Munro, 17 food-therapy is applied in treating alcoholics at the Knickerbocker Hospital in New York.

In a very interesting article, "Influence of Nutrients on Intake of Alcohol," 18 Dr. U. D. Register and co-workers at Loma Linda University demonstrated that rats fed a typical U.S. teen-age-type diet with coffee and spices added and given the choice of water or 10 percent alcohol to drink, chose to drink about five times more alcohol on a body weight basis than a group of rats fed a well-balanced vegetarian diet.

The teenage diet with coffee and spices added consisted of dough nuts and coffee for breakfast; sweet rolls and coffee for the ten and three o'clock breaks; hot dog with mustard and pickle relish, soft drink with apple pie and coffee for lunch; spaghetti and meat balls, garlic bread, green beans, tossed salad, chocolate cake and coffee for dinner; candy bar, cookies, and coffee for a TV snack. Eleven of the more common spices such as black pepper, ginger, cloves, red pepper, mustard, et cetera, were added.

The authors conclude their very important report with the statement:

Groups fed diets supplemented with either coffee or caffeine consumed significantly larger quantities of alcohol as compared with animals fed the unsupplemented diet. The group fed the marginal teen-age diet supplemented with vitamins had a significantly lower alcohol intake. When heavy drinkers on the teen-age diets were fed the control diet, alcohol consumption was significantly decreased. These data suggest the possibility that metabolic controls to drinking exist which are sensitive to dietary factors.

On the basis of the above evidence, it seems to me that it would really be worth while to include a varied, tasty, and well-balanced vegetarian diet in therapy being used to help alcoholics. Such a practice should help them to over come their craving for alcohol.

Diet probably has its greatest preventive effect on alcohol intake early in life rather than after the habit has been formed. Present research seems to indicate, however, that abstinence from tea, coffee, and other stimulants, the substitution of whole-grain bread for white bread, and the reduction of the use of refined sugar to a minimum should form a part of the holistic therapeutic approach to the problem of alcoholism.


1. According to oral information in August, 1957, from Dr. L. Verhoestraete at World Health Organization (WHO), Geneva.

2. Mardones, Onfray, Diaz, and Segovia, Boletin de Education fisica, October 1943, pp. 10, 38, 39, 62-66. Ref. Der Wendepunkt, heft 5, 1957, p. 168.

3. Delore and Berry, La Presse Medicals, Nov. 11, 1955, p. 1951.

4. R. J. Williams,, "Individual metabolic patterns, alcoholism genetotrophic disease, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, vol. 35, pp. 265-271. R. I. Williams, Nutrition and Alcoholism. University of Oklahoma Press, 1951, p. 45. See also ALERT, Journal of Better Living, vol. 2, No. 3, July-September 1957, p. 18.

5. Ellen C. White, Counsels on Diet and Foods, p. 123.

6. Butler and Sarett, Journal of Nutrition, vol. 35, 1948, p. 539.

7. H. Suomalainen, Proceedings of the 26th Inter national Congress on Alcohol and Alcoholism in Stockholm, 1960, p. 160.

8. John H. Kellogg, "Causes and Cure of Intemperance," The Physical, Moral, and Social Effects of Alcoholic Poison, pp. 66-74. Battle Creek, Michigan: Office of the Health Reformer, 1876.

9. Hans Eppinger, Wiener Ktinische Wochenschrift, No. 26, 1938, pp. 702-708.

10. Kh. Neytcheff, "L'alcool et I'alimentation," Proceedings of the 22nd International Congress on Alcohol and Alcoholism in 1939, July 30-Aug. 4, pp. 287-299.

11. White, Counsels on Diet and Foods, pp. 268, 269.

12. _____, Testimonies, vol. 3, p. 4S8.

13. _____, Counsels on Diet and Foods, p. 233.

14. _____, Temperance, p. 138.

15. _____, Counsels on Diet and Foods, p. 321.

16. H. Hales, "The treatment of alcoholism," Medical Press, vol. 209, 1943, pp. 123-127.

17. A. R. Munro, "One year of success of treat ing alcoholics," Hospitals, vol. 20, pp. 35, 36.

18. U. D. Register, "Influence of nutrients on intake of alcohol," Journal of The American Dietetic Association, vol. 61, No. 2, August, 1972, pp. 159-162.

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-Now retired, he was formerly docent of biochemistry at the University of Helsinki and Turku, Finland, as well as principal of Finland Junior College and Swedish Junior College and Seminary.

March 1973

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