Thanks to J.M. for sending me this article, published in the Spring 2013 edition of Healthy Ways Newsletter.
Coconut Oil: A New Treatment for Alcohol Addiction
Dry Drunk Syndrome
Roger Hershline, PhD, MD knows the dangers of alcohol abuse firsthand. As a young successful medical professional with a heavy workload, excessive stress drove him to drink as a means of release and relaxation. In time, Roger’s chronic drinking habit led to full-blown alcohol addiction.
His personal life suffered. As with many alcoholics whose marriage and family lives are destroyed, Roger’s life was in shambles. Intoxication and the resulting behavior often lead to fights, jail, and trips to rehabilitation centers. He tried many times to quit, but couldn’t. Feelings of anxiety, depression, and a sense of impending doom when he was sober were relieved only by drinking. His desire to escape led to his use of other drugs.
He finally ended up in federal prison, resulting in a loss of everything dear to him, including his desire to live. Because of his confinement, he was forced into sobriety, but he still suffered from the effects of alcohol addiction. Symptoms of depression, anxiety, irritability, irrational behavior, poor decisions, and cravings for liquor hounded him daily. These symptoms, known as “dry drunk syndrome,” are the reason why most alcoholics do not remain sober. Only from alcohol do they gain relief or achieve feelings of normality. These symptoms can persist indefinitely to some degree after alcohol consumption completely ceases. Even if former alcoholics remain sober, they can wind up living miserable lives and usually make everyone else around them miserable too. Dry drunk syndrome is the downfall of many a recovering alcoholic, even years after they quit drinking. Succumbing to just one drink can drive them into an uncontrollable drinking binge and further alcohol abuse.
There is more to alcoholism than simply a lack of self control or the desire for intoxication. Most alcoholics do not like the consequences of getting drunk and the devastating effects it has on their lives, yet they feel miserable without alcohol. These feelings are real. It is a mental sickness, a personality disorder that causes them to abandon rational judgment and even the sincere desire to stay sober.
Although sober, Roger struggled with the symptoms of dry drunk syndrome. He had already lost everything due to his drinking problem and didn’t want to repeat past mistakes, so he began to search for a solution to ease his symptoms. His background in medicine led him to investigate alcohol’s effect on brain metabolism. He learned how chronic alcohol consumption can interfere with brain glucose metabolism, which can have a pronounced effect on brain function. He also investigated the importance of nutrition on brain health. His journey to find the best foods to nourish and heal the alcoholic brain led him to coconut oil and to the book, The Coconut Oil Miracle. He started taking coconut oil daily and within four days experienced the same sense of relief from symptoms that he got from alcohol—without the intoxication or the hangover. He experienced a sense of well-being and the ability to think clearly and rationally while sober. Over the next few weeks, he continued with the coconut oil and achieved a complete resolution of the irritability, melancholy, and mental anguish that had plagued him while sober. His dry drunk symptoms and his cravings for alcohol were gone! Nothing else he had ever experienced in his many years with alcohol treatment had come close to matching the effects of using coconut oil.
He enthusiastically began sharing this knowledge with other recovering alcoholics who were struggling with dry drunk syndrome. They, too, experienced the same feelings of well-being and clear thinking that had eluded them during treatment. Roger is now trying to spread the word about this new drug-free treatment for alcohol addiction. Although critics may claim that this treatment is based solely on [anecdotal] evidence, there is good science to back it up.
Alcohol’s Damaging Effects on the Brain
Altered speech, hazy thinking, blurred vision, slowed reaction time, impaired memory: alcohol clearly has a pronounced effect on the brain. Some of these effects are detectable after only one or two drinks then disappear shortly after drinking stops. However, a person who drinks heavily over a long period of time may have brain defects that persist well after he or she becomes sober.
Alcohol is highly soluble in water and when it is consumed, it is absorbed quickly into the bloodstream. Once in the bloodstream, it circulates throughout the body where it can reach every cell in the body. The simple molecular structure of alcohol allows it to pass easily across the blood-brain barrier where it can come into direct contact with brain cells. Here it triggers oxidative stress and inflammation that can seriously affect brain function.1 If more than one or two drinks are consumed it can lead to the symptoms of intoxication.
If heavy drinking becomes chronic, then oxidative stress and inflammation in the brain become chronic. Chronic inflammation can lead to a disruption in normal glucose metabolism.2 Brain cells become insulin resistant and, therefore, cannot absorb glucose effectively.3 The primary source of fuel for the brain is glucose. However, glucose cannot enter the cells without the aid of the hormone insulin. Insulin unlocks the doorway on the cell membrane that allows glucose to enter. Insulin is absolutely essential. Your brain can be saturated with glucose, but if you don’t have insulin, the cells cannot get access to the glucose. If cells cannot get enough glucose to supply their energy needs, the cells degenerate and die. Without glucose, brain cells literally starve to death. This is what happens in the brain of an alcoholic. The damage caused by long term alcoholism can be just as extensive as that caused by Alzheimer’s.
Brain scans using positron emission tomography (PET) on living subjects have shown that intoxication decreases metabolic activity in certain areas of the brain controlling reason, memory, speech, coordination, balance, and vision.4-6 The decreased metabolism indicates a decrease in glucose uptake and conversion into energy. In detoxified alcoholics this decreased metabolism can persist even when the subject is sober.7 Reducing or eliminating alcohol consumption does not reverse alcohol-induced insulin resistance.8 It is insulin resistance and decreased metabolism in the brain that leads to the symptoms associated with dry drunk syndrome.
When alcohol circulates in the bloodstream it eventually passes through the liver, where it is broken down into acetaldehyde—a highly toxic substance that is the primary cause of alcohol-induced liver damage. Acetaldehyde is further broken down into acetic acid, which is a normal metabolite in humans and is nontoxic. About 90 percent of the alcohol consumed is eventually converted into acetic acid. The remaining 10 percent of the alcohol that is not metabolized is excreted in sweat, urine, and expelled in the person’s breath. The latter provides the basis for the breathalyzer test used in law enforcement and the reason you can smell alcohol in a person’s breath after they have been drinking. The liver has a limited capacity for detoxification and can only metabolize 0.25 ounce of pure alcohol per hour, leaving the remaining alcohol to continue its circulation throughout the body.
Although alcohol does not contain any nutrients, it does provide calories—7 calories per gram. This is almost twice as much as either carbohydrate or protein, each of which supplies 4 calories per gram, and just a little less than the 9 calories per gram supplied by fat. The calories from alcohol come from the acetic acid that is produced when alcohol is broken down in the liver.9 Acetic acid is a two carbon short chain fatty acid—the smallest of all the fatty acids. It is soluble in both fat and water. In the bloodstream, acetic acid can easily pass through the blood-brain barrier. Like the medium chain fatty acids in coconut oil, acetic acid can diffuse across the cell membrane without the aid of insulin, providing a quick and easy source of energy for cells. In alcoholics, portions of the brain have become insulin resistant and, therefore, cannot effectively absorb glucose. However, the brain cells can absorb acetic acid, which supplies them with an alternative source of energy. Acetic acid partially compensates for the damage caused by alcohol by bypassing the defect in glucose metabolism.
Dr. Roger Hershline believes that the disruption in normal brain metabolism is what leads to the symptoms of dry drunk syndrome. The alcoholic brain, crippled by chronic insulin resistance, is literally starving for energy, causing depression, anxiety, fuzzy thinking, and other symptoms of dry drunk syndrome. Alcohol, although toxic to the brain, increases blood levels of acetic acid, thus providing the brain with a fuel it can use despite being insulin resistant. Repeated drinking has conditioned the brain to know that alcohol consumption increases acetic acid levels, which in turn provides the brain with the energy it desperately needs for survival. The desire for alcohol is a survival mechanism in an attempt to keep brain cells alive. Once this pattern has been set, the alcoholic will have strong desires to drink despite any intellectual or emotional desire to stop.10
In alcoholics, blood levels of acetic acid remain elevated for up to 24 hours after the last drink.11 As acetic acid levels decline, the symptoms and cravings for alcohol gradually return and intensify.
Dr. Hershline’s reasoning in many ways coincides with research coming out of Yale University School of Medicine. Dr. Lihong Jiang and his colleagues at Yale are investigating the use of acetic acid during alcohol detoxification.12 Their approach is to administer acetic acid to the patients as an aid in recovery. Dr. Hershline’s approach, however, appears to be easier and potentially much more effective.
Coconut Ketones and Brain Cell Regeneration
While acetic acid can supply the brain with much needed fuel, consuming alcohol is not a very good way to go about getting it. Acetic acid can be found in various foods. Vinegar is the richest natural source, containing 4-8 percent by volume. Fermented or picked vegetables and many condiments such as ketchup, prepared mustard, and some salad dressings contain acetic acid. But the amount in most condiments is so small that it would have little effect on brain health.
There is a much better option—coconut ketones. Coconut oil is composed primarily of a special group of fats known as medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs). When consumed, a portion of these MCFAs are automatically converted into a highly dense form of energy known as ketones. Like acetic acid, ketones do not require insulin to pass though cell membranes, so they can provide an easy source of energy. Ketones are known as “superfuel” for the brain because they provide more energy than either glucose or acetic acid and are readily absorbed by nerve and brain tissue. Coconut ketones can provide brain cells with a quick and easy source of high potentancy fuel that is superior to acetic acid. By supplying ketones on a regular basis, through the consumption of coconut oil, the brain’s conditioned dependence on acetic acid and desires for alcohol can be broken.
In addition to supplying a superior source of energy, ketones improve blood flow to the brain, improving circulation and oxygen delivery. Ketones also activate certain proteins in the brain called brain derived neurotrophic factors (BDNFs) that regulate brain cell repair, growth, and maintenance. BDNFs stimulate repair of damaged tissues, promote the growth of new brain cells, remove toxins, stop oxidative stress, calm inflammation, and improve insulin sensitivity, all of which allows the brain to heal and recover from injury—including alcohol induced injury.
At one time, it was believed that we could not regenerate new brain cells. The brain cells we were born with, scientists thought, had to last an entire lifetime. When brain cells died, they were gone forever. Research over the past several years has shown that this is not true. The brain can and does generate new cells, even in old age.13 This process is called neurogenesis. These new cells originate from stem cells in the brain. Stem cells are special cells that can divide indefinitely, renew themselves, and give rise to a variety of cells types. The discovery of adult neurogenesis and brain stem cell activation by coconut ketones provides a new way of approaching the problem of alcohol-related changes in the brain and overcoming alcohol addiction.
Dr. Hershline consumed up to 8 tablespoons (109 g) of coconut oil daily in his own treatment. However, blood ketone levels can be raised to therapeutic levels with 5 to 6 tablespoons (68-82 g) daily. The oil should be divided into three 1½ -2 tablespoon doses and should be consumed with foods.
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