Ian Spohn, ND, is a staff naturopathic doctor for Energique who enjoys challenging the dogmas of both conventional and alternative medicine. He is a passionate supporter of the paleo diet and classical homeopathy.
Encouraging patients to make healthy lifestyle changes is integral to the practice of holistic medicine, since so many modern diseases relate directly to modern lifestyles. The new year provides a perfect occasion to prioritize this with patients, since so many people spontaneously resolve to relinquish old habits around this time, or begin new ones, often with the specific goal of improving their health. But we all know from experience how many of these people are likely to fail, and wonder perhaps if there are natural means to assist patients in keeping their new year’s resolutions to become healthier.
Homeopathy offers a number of remedies renowned for effecting lifestyle change, such as the famous Nux Vomica, a constitutional remedy for characteristically ardent, zealous people who develop an unhealthy dependence on various sources of stimulation to help fuel their ambitions. Other homeopathic remedies have proven useful to reduce specific cravings for certain substances and/or behaviors, helping people to overcome these habits. These include remedies such as Quercus Glandium Spiritus, Caladium Seguinum, Staphysagria, and Saccharum Officinale. Botanicals, too, may offer support by helping to balance neurotransmitters, the derangement of which is thought to underlie many of the unpleasant effects experienced when first abandoning a favorite habit. Herbalists have traditionally recommended plants like Avena sativa (oat straw) and Passiflora incarnata (passionflower) to counteract these symptoms, and thus ease such discomfort as might otherwise foil attempts at lifestyle change. But one theory holds that there exists an even more powerful solution, a substance from the vitamin world which acts as a veritable panacea against all forms of craving, and has in fact been used intravenously as a drug under medical supervision to treat almost every form of serious addiction, including to alcohol, opiates, barbiturates, cocaine, and amphetamines[i]. This substance, which when given intravenously as a therapy has been shown not only to reduce cravings in addicts, but also to ease their withdrawal from addictive substances, is none other than nicotinamide, or vitamin B3. If high doses of intravenous B3 administered as under strict medical supervision can help people to overcome alcoholism and morphine addiction, as has been shown[ii], can taking B3 as a dietary supplement help ordinary people hoping to overcome bad habits achieve their new year’s resolutions?
It has already been recognized that there is a strange similarity between the chemical nicotinamide, otherwise known as vitamin B3, and the chemical nicotine, among the most addictive substances known. While they are not exactly the same thing, the parallel is intriguing and it has been discovered that vitamin B3 plays a number of surprising roles in the central nervous system. It controls the sensitivity of dopamine receptors, crucial to the process of craving, and affects the transcription of numerous cellular proteins known to play a role in addiction[iii]. The chemistry of addiction has been studied extensively, and the neural mechanisms which underlie craving in general seem to be universal, operating more or less the same regardless of the substance or behavior in question.
As addiction in general has become better understood, there has been a proliferation in the number of things identified as having the potential to become addictive. A proliferation of new addictions have indeed been recently and officially recognized, including food addiction, internet addiction, gambling addiction, shopping addiction, sex addiction, exercise addiction, and even surprisingly, work addiction[iv]. Unambiguously unpleasant stimuli have the potential to become addictive, such as the self-administration of pain, as can behaviors that may otherwise be considered healthy, such as pursuing one’s spiritual practice[v]. It would seem that literally anything capable of providing comfort, joy, or relief has the potential to become addictive, and many people who successfully relinquish one addiction only do so by substituting it for another. It can certainly seem salutary to give up heroin for god, or binge eating for body building, but does that really solve the underlying problem?
There is a fascinating theory which holds that all forms of human addiction are really just substitute addictions to replace our one original, primeval addiction: hunting, killing and eating red meat[vi]. This theory holds that all carnivorous predators, a category of beast which from a strictly naturalist perspective would include man, have brains designed to continually seek reward through hunting, killing, and eating, which in the wild would be the primary behavior conducive to maintaining the life of such creatures. Basically, all predators are “addicted” to hunting and eating, in the sense that their brains are wired to periodically crave and subsequently reward themselves through completion of this behavior, thus keeping them alive. Eating would seem to be the one primal addiction we can never truly overcome, nor in fact should we, and our brains are essentially designed by nature to stimulate this behavior at regular intervals, by making us crave for the thrill of the hunt, which results in a compulsive, relentless drive to satisfy this craving at literally all costs, until it is appeased by ingesting a substance only obtainable through eating meat, signaling the hunt was successful and suppressing the drive, but only temporarily. In other words, according to the theory, addiction is actually a very elegant system to stimulate, regulate, and control predatory behavior in animals, including humans.
The substance in meat which is believed to do the appeasing and suppress the restless craving is vitamin B3, an essential cofactor in the energy production of every cell and therefore a good bell-weather to regulate overall food intake. It is well known through anecdote that wild carnivores like lions, tigers, and wolves become fiercely irascible to point of endangering humans when they are hungry, and yet can seem perfectly tame once they have been fed. The fact that these dangerous predators become entirely non-threatening as soon as they’ve filled up on meat explains the circus trick of the lion “tamer,” as well as why stage magicians in Las Vegas can safely cavort with man-eating tigers. These animals’ killer instincts can be switched off, temporarily, simply by feeding them. There is evidence to support the assertion that what it is in meat that chemically flips this switch is the availability of the Kreb’s cycle cofactor nicotinamide adenonine dinucleotide (NAD), reflected by rising nicotinamide levels in the brain: as soon as the animal has eaten enough meat, vitamin B3 levels rise and the animal loses its drive to hunt, kill and eat. Experiments have proven that increasing the nicotinamide (vitamin B3) content in the diets of domestic cats, by replacing grain-based cat food with red meat, will reduce their spontaneous predatory behavior[vii].
This finding contradicts some pet owners’ fears that feeding their domestic animals raw meat will make them grow more ferocious, not less. What the science actually shows is that when cats are fed more meat, they hunt and kill fewer rodents, and not simply because they are being fed better, but because they are being fed more of a specific vitamin. Anyone who own cats will know that they often don’t hunt rodents because they’re hungry; the like to catch something, cruelly play with it for fun, kill it, and then leave it on your doorstep as a present. The fact that they leave this dead animal uneaten clearly proves that they didn’t kill it because they were hungry, and anyone who has watched a cat play with its food will be unable to deny that a chilling capacity for cruelty and brutality is not in truth a psychological perversion in some but indeed, a perfectly natural tendency common to the animal kingdom, or at least the carnivorous portion thereof, which again would include humans. If more vitamin B3 can reduce this barbarous tendency in house cats, could B3 deficiency actually explain some of the cruel behaviors observed in humans? And could the manifold addictions which invariably plague otherwise peaceful, civilized cultures be in fact helping to prevent the breakout of warfare and violence, at the cost of our physical and mental health, by compensating for sub-clinical B3 deficiency? It is a fascinating question.
In the wild, lions only hunt (and therefore only eat) about once every three or four days. Some carnivores, like pythons, can go much longer, as a result of the relatively enormous quantities they ingest in a single meal. When we consider that animals hunt and eat on their own internally regulated schedule, not out of acquired habit like humans, and that they seem to know exactly how often they need to hunt despite never counting their calories nor receiving any instruction from society about meals they’re supposed to be eating per day, it becomes obvious that something primitive in the brain is regulating their predatory behavior, compelling them to relentlessly pursue their prey like an addict seeking another hit until they at last receive some niacin as a chemical reward.
While some people seem to struggle with addictive tendencies more than others, almost everyone can admit to engaging mindlessly in some hedonic pursuit that serves no constructive purpose in their life, even if this is nothing less innocent than “binge watching” a favorite show. The fact alone that we refer to such behavior as “binge” watching betrays its addictive nature, and everyone knows how staying up late to watch just one more episode can suddenly become a helpless rapture of watching all six seasons in a single weekend while doing virtually nothing else. The widespread tendency to addictive behavior, in whatever form this might take, seems to haunt all civilized people. In fact, the invention and use of addictive substances is about as old as civilization itself. It is remarkable to consider that the ancient Sumerian Hymn to Ninkasi, a 4,000 year old clay tablet and among the oldest written documents in existence, is a recipe for making beer, without which most agricultural civilizations would probably have collapsed.
The fact that craving addictive substances is an inherent part of civilized life can be explained perfectly by the theory that all addictive craving results from niacin deficiency. Civilization ushered a massive change to the ancestral human diet, where hunter-gatherers who primarily ate red meat became farmers who instead primarily ate grain. Lean meat is by far the best dietary source of niacin, on the order of having about five times more than rice and almost ten times more than wheat. The transition from a meat-based ancestral diet to a grain-based civilized diet would therefore dramatically reduce the average niacin intake, and in fact when Dr. Gaspar Casal first described pellagra in Spain, he specifically attributed this disease of niacin deficiency not to corn, but to a lack of fresh meat in the diet[viii].
As civilized people we’re all slaves to some form of mindless craving, usually one that’s not very good for our physical, mental, or emotional wellbeing. For patients struggling to relinquish their cravings for unhealthy foods, habits and lifestyles, simply increasing niacin intake through diet or supplementation may help to appease such cravings and smooth the transition to healthier long-term choices. While pellagra is rare in the developed world, it remains a strong possibility that sub-clinical niacin deficiency underlies a surprising number of society’s ills, and that such problems could be solved simply by increasing the availability of healthy food. At the very least, it might help more people keep their new year’s resolutions.
[i] Holleran, P. DPN in the Prevention, Diagnosis, and Treatment of Problem Drinkers. West. J. Surg. Obst. Gyn. 69, 101-104, 1961.
[iii] Braidy N, Villalva MD, van Eeden S. Sobriety and Satiety: Is NAD+ the Answer?. Antioxidants (Basel). 2020;9(5):425. Published 2020 May 14. doi:10.3390/antiox9050425
[iv] Tracy, N. (2021, June 13). Types of Addiction: List of Addictions, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2021, November 17 from https://www.healthyplace.com/addictions/addictions-information/types-of-addiction-list-of-addictions
[vi] Cleary, JP. The NAD Deficiency Diseases. Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine; 1(3). Accessed online 11/24/21 at Microsoft Word – 1986-v01n03-p149.doc (nadconcierge.com)
[vii] Cecchetti M, Crowley S, Goodwin C, McDonald R. Provision of High Meat Content Food and Object Play Reduce Predation of Wild Animals by Domestic Cats Felis catus. Current Biology 2021;31(5):P1107-1111.
[viii] Hegyi, V. Dermatological Manifestations of Pellagra. Published Feb 26 2018, retrived 11/24/21 from Dermatologic Manifestations of Pellagra: Background, Pathophysiology, Etiology (medscape.com)
Any homeopathic claims are based on traditional homeopathic practice, not accepted medical evidence. Not FDA evaluated.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.