Depression-Free Naturally: How Nutritional Medicine Can Treat Depression and Alcoholism Safely

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(Updated Dec. 26, 2021)

Taking prescription antidepressants, downing a couple bottles of booze, shooting up or sniffing street drugs – all of these can ultimately let loose an invisible Sorcerer’s Apprentice going wild inside the body’s chemical laboratory. Depending on personal history, biochemical individuality, and genetic predisposition, the addiction to legal drugs prescribed by a doctor, cocaine from the streets, or alcohol can wreck a person’s life, perhaps even leading to suicide.

Most astonishingly, addiction of any kind may ultimately be the body’s desperate attempt to deal with overwhelming allergy to the very substance that is being craved.

Given that the antidepressant market in 2002 was roughly US$5 billion (Wall Street Journal, April 11, 2003), and that large research studies on identical twins and adopted children have proven that the tendency to alcoholism is hereditary, the problem of chemical dependence has all the elements of profound tragedy with its characteristic inevitabilities, hope, despair and a slim chance of rescue.

The Biochemical Blueprint of Alcoholism

The brain and liver chemistry of alcoholics differs in fundamental ways from non-alcoholics. In alcoholics, alcohol changes twice as fast into acetaldehyde which, subsequently, turns into acetic acid twice as slowly as in regular people, and therefore leaves the body much more slowly via breathing and urination. As acetaldehyde accumulates instead of being detoxified in the liver, it enters into a deadly dance in the brain with existing neurotransmitters where it makes tetrahydroisoquinoline (THIQ), a morphine-like substance that produces euphoria and immensely energizes the true alcoholic. So a real boozer can drink huge amounts without getting sedated and numb; for years he or she can drink everybody under the table and go to work the next morning without a hangover.

Conversely, many Asians (about half) experience nausea and a racing heart from alcohol because their livers lack a second detoxification enzyme that Europeans happen to possess. On the other hand, many northern Europeans tend to become alcoholics due to a genetic predisposition toward depression, from childhood on. This is due to an innate difficulty in maintaining essential fatty acids (EFAs) necessary to make prostaglandins which prevent depression, convulsions, and hyperactivity. When such people drink alcohol, the production of prostaglandins is instantly sped up and they briefly feel normal.

But increased and sustained alcohol consumption eventually no longer works to raise prostaglandin levels, and the full toxicity of alcohol takes effect. The great Scottish orthomolecular psychiatrist and EFA researcher, David Horrobin, treated such alcoholics successfully by giving them essential fatty acids, which not only cured them of alcohol craving and depression, but in advanced alcoholics  it restored even their injured livers. Horrobin proved that this approach also prevents fetal alcoholism in pregnant alcoholic women.

Curing Addiction and Depression with Orthomolecular Medicine

Over the past 25 years, American researcher, author, nutritionist, and biochemist Dr. Joan Mathews-Larson, PhD, has put into practice the cutting edge scientific and clinical knowledge on the biochemistry of chemical dependence, and made this available through two bestselling books on depression and alcoholism (Depression-Free Naturally, and Seven Weeks to Sobriety). Her program, conducted at the Health Recovery Center in Minneapolis, has saved tens of thousands of lives nearly ruined by a body chemistry gone out of control – not due to lack of will power, as the reigning paradigm on addiction keeps assuming, but because an inherited flawed chemistry, when left uncorrected and unaided, is stronger than insight and will.

“Mind over matter” needs to be trashed, along with other golden sayings that are outdated, such as “spare the rod and spoil the child,” or “a woman’s place is in the kitchen”. Among those not-so-golden oldies is the notion of the “alcoholic personality”. It was laid to rest by a 40-year study conducted by Harvard Medical School.

Dr. Mathews-Larson, a student of orthomolecular and environmental medicine, had the good fortune to study with its pioneers Dr. Linus Pauling, Dr. Abram Hoffer, Dr. Theron Randolph, and Roger Williams (discoverer of pantothenic acid). She insists that there can be no healthy mind without a chemically balanced brain. All forms of chemical dependence are an illness like diabetes – not curable by “head talk” or “spiritual rebirth,” she observed.

Mathews-Larson gained this insight in the hardest possible way – through the suicide of her alcoholic teenage son in the 1970s. He had received the best available care in a 12-Step Program-oriented hospital.

Following his death, she intensively researched addiction medicine and was amazed to find that those treating the condition generally did not seem to be aware of the basic research whose findings contradict the assumptions of clinical practice. She learned that even though the success rate of Alcoholics Anonymous-focused treatment was dismal (21% still sober after one year, 7% after four years with suicide in one of four of the deaths of treated alcoholics), to this day it remains the guiding paradigm. Worst of all: most of those who do stay sober by pure willpower choose to submit to a grey and joyless life in the full knowledge that only alcohol gave them a sense of what the rest of us call normal. On the other hand, the success rate of people treated at Mathews-Larson’s Health Recovery Center is consistently between 75% and 80%, as measured a decade or more later, and the joy of life is not sacrificed in that recovery.

The Aging BrainTreatment at the Health Recovery Center takes the classic orthomolecular approach by doing all the necessary tests to ascertain the individual toxicity levels present and measuring the degree to which nutrients required by the brain, the liver, and the cells in general, are missing, and which ones need replenishing. The food allergies that hide in all addictions are ferreted out. Thyroid disorders resulting from the poor diet that alcoholics tend to consume are investigated.

Alcoholics suffer from hypoglycemia, which is the basis of the vicious cycle involving anxiety, depression, and panic leading to more alcohol consumption. Fungal overgrowth, such as candida which is both neurotoxic as well as destructive to the immune system, is also very common in alcoholics due to alcohol’s high sugar content, and made worse in those who smoke as well as drink. Addicts and medicated people also may have very high levels of the toxic stress hormone cortisol and accompanying problems with their adrenal glands, often leading to diabetes.

The aim of Mathews-Larson’s treatment is to repair the chemical imbalances caused by heredity which lead to desperate attempts by the body at achieving a sense of normalcy. Most addicts hooked on alcohol or street drugs are also prescription medicated when they come into therapy. Fortunately, vitamin C by intravenous administration detoxifies them, as they all share the same basic chemistry and type of toxicity. As well, essential fatty acids work to restore the levels of prostaglandins to normal; the omega-6 chain consists of gamma linolenic acid – 3 caps (300 mg each) given daily with food; the omega-3 EFA is fish oil made from coldwater fish – 2 tablespoons are given daily. As well, B vitamins along with tryptophan and other amino acids and natural hormones, such as DHEA, work to restore health through balancing body chemistry.

Prescription Medications Exacerbate Chemical Imbalances Already Present in Addicts

The link between alcoholism, depression, abuse of street drugs and long-term use of prescription antidepressants is found in the chaos that all these substances cause among neurotransmitters, also known as peptides or hormones. Metaphorically speaking, these substances all have the potential to cause a person’s circuits to be fried.

Neurotransmitters are chemical substances that transmit messages across nerve synapses and, therefore, are the communication system of the brain with itself, the whole body, and the body with the brain. This communication system is of such exquisite precision that world-renowned brain researcher Candace Pert is frankly appalled at the “false precision” claimed by the manufacturers of antidepressants. She warns that “we are dealing with an immensely complex psychosomatic network [involving biochemistry and emotion], one with trillions of shared components – the peptides and the receptors [on each cell] – throughout many systems and organs… we could be inadvertently affecting the ability of our natural killer cells to attack mutated cells that are on their way to becoming a cancerous tumor. But no one’s doing the research to explore these kinds of effects.” (Pert, Molecules of Emotion, 1997, p. 267)

Her fears were well founded: It is now known that taking antidepressants increases the risk of breast cancer almost twice as much as smoking, knocks out the neurotransmitters permitting a healthy sex drive in about 70% of patients, reduces the neurotransmitter dopamine by 57% causing Parkinsons-like symptoms, and doubles the suicide rate compared to un-medicated depressed people. Trying to get off these antidepressants is as difficult as trying to kick alcoholism, because the nutrients required to overcome the cravings and dependence are seriously depleted by these drugs – especially the EFAs and the B vitamins.

An exhaustive analysis of the harm that antidepressants cause can be found in Harvard psychiatrist J. Glenmullen’s book Prozac Backlash. The book’s supporting medical literature was so compelling to a federal judge in the U.S. in 2002 that he ordered GlaxoSmithKline to discontinue all TV commercials nationwide that claim antidepressants are not addictive (USA Today, August 20, 2002). Earlier, the Journal of Mind and Behavior (1995, no. 16) published an overview of antidepressants entitled “Psychiatric drugging: forty years of pseudoscience, self interest and indifference to harm,” indicating how strong the pharmaceutical industry’s grip is on medicine, and how gullible some doctors are when charmed by drug representatives.

The Role of Allergies in Addiction and Depression

Possibly the most intriguing aspect of addiction of all kinds is the fact that they are allergies writ large. The father of environmental medicine, Dr. Theron Randolph of the University of Chicago, made this discovery starting in the 1950s. He noticed that participants in AA meetings were constantly eating candies made of the same substances that their alcohol of choice had been made.

“Most often in my experience,” he wrote, “depression is caused by lifelong addictions to common foods, drinks, and environmental chemicals.” Dr. Randolph described the not-so-merry-go-round of allergic reaction moving into an adaptive/addictive response which “is part of an overall continuum of symptoms in which a patient progresses from various levels of stimulation to corresponding levels of withdrawal in a predictable way.” (See reference list.)

Dr. Larson’s books describe how addicts with high histamine levels tend to succeed in suicide attempts when depressed, because of the high energy levels and impulsiveness which an excess of histamine confers. Alcohol, hard drugs, and antidepressants all work to drastically reduce histamine and initially calm people down who suffer from this innate imbalanced body chemistry. Excessive histamine output not only causes runny noses, asthma, and allergic reactions of all kinds, but in overwhelming doses causes unbearable agitation and panic with the potential of suicide. Indeed, histamine is the main factor in all allergies and allergic disease – both for good as a central regulating force and for bad as a chaotic disruptor – depending on the prerequisite balanced functioning of the on and off signals on cellular receptors. Those receptors cease to function when toxic drugs destroy them.

Orthomolecular Approach is Helping People

In November of 2003, Dr. Larson lectured at Whole Life Expo on two topics: “Bio-Chemical Repair – The Missing Piece that Ends Alcoholism,” and “Restore Emotional Wellbeing Permanently with the Chemicals that Run Your Brain.” These presentations offered insight into all forms of addiction and their attendant depression and allergies. Most importantly she offered solutions that work. She shared one interesting case history as follows: A patient came to her, with a gun hidden in his pocket, after unsuccessfully trying every possible treatment to escape his depression. He told her, “This is my last attempt. If this doesn’t work I am shooting myself.” Following a couple of weeks of intensive orthomolecular detoxification and nutrient cellular replenishment, Dr. Larson was astounded to see him whiz past her office window one morning — doing cartwheels on the lawn in the sunshine. He told her he felt normal for the first time in his living memory.


Joan Mathews-Larson, Age 90, passed away peacefully on November 19, 2019. Joan began her work over forty years ago. The loss of her son Rob, shortly after he completed a top-rated, 12-step treatment program, fueled a passionate search for more effective solutions to treat addictions. Convinced that alcoholism is not the result of emotional triggers or willpower weaknesses, Joan delved into the scientific research. She holds a doctorate in human nutrition and is the author of the national bestseller Seven Weeks to Sobriety, as well as Depression Free, Naturally. Her books have led the field into new ways of understanding chemical addictions and mental health problems. They have both been translated into several languages.



  • J. M. Larson, Depression-Free Naturally, Ballantine, 1999
  • J.M. Larson, Seven Weeks to Sobriety, Ballantine, 1997
  • J. M. Larson, “Biochemical Repair: The Missing Piece that ends Alcoholism and Addiction”, April 2003, tape-recorded lecture available through Audio Archives: (905) 889-6555, tape no. 030410-090
  • P. Breggin, MD, Toxic Psychiatry: Why Therapy, Empathy and Love Must Replace the Drugs, Electroshock, and Biochemical Theories of the “New Psychiatry,” St. Martin’s Press, 1991
  • S. Fried, Bitter Pills: Inside the Hazardous World of Legal Drugs, Bantam, 1998
  • J. Glenmullen, Prozac Backlash: Overcoming the Dangers of Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, and Other Antidepressants with Safe, Effective Alternatives, Simon & Schuster, 2000
  • D. Healy, The Antidepressant Era, Harvard, 1997
  • A. Hoffer, MD, Hoffer’s Laws of Natural Nutrition, Quarry Health Books, 2001
  • T.J. Moore, Prescription for Disaster: The Hidden Dangers in Your Medicine Cabinet, Simon & Schuster, 1998
  • T. Randolph MD, An Alternative Approach to Allergies: The New Field of Clinical Ecology Unravels the Environmental Causes of Mental and Physical Ills, Harper Collins, 1990
  • J. Robinson, Prescription Games: Money, Ego and Power Inside the Global Pharmaceutical Industry, MacClelland & Steward, 2001
  • F. Ravikovich, MD, The Plot Against Asthma and Allergy Patients: Asthma, Allergies, Migraine, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome are Curable But the Cure is Hidden from the Patients, Kos Inc. November 2003
  • C. Simontacchi, Crazy Makers: How The Food Industry Is Destroying Our Brains and Harming Our Children, Tarcher Putnam, 2000
  • A. Tracy, Prozac: Panacea or Pandora?: The Rest of the New Class of SSRI Antidepressants Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, Lovan, Luvox and More, Cassia Publications, 2001
  • D. Horrobin et al. Phospholipid Spectrum Disorders in Psychiatry and Neurology, Marius Press, UK, 1999
  • D. Horrobin, “Prostaglandins and Essential Fatty Acids: A new Approach to the Understanding and Treatment of Alcoholism”, Psychiatry in Practice, Aug. 3, 1984

For physicians reading this, read and learn how to practice this type of medicine:

  • J. A. Bralley & R.S. Lord, Laboratory Evaluations in Molecular Medicine: Nutrients, Toxicants and Cell Regulators, Institute for the Advancement of Molecular Medicine, 2005


Helke Ferrie is a medical science writer with a master's degree in physical anthropology. Her specialty lies in investigative research into ethical issues in medicine and the politics of health. She started her investigative journalism career in the mid-1990s, looking at issues of medicine and environment. She has been a regular contributor to Vitality Magazine ever since. Helke has also authored books on various subjects including: "Ending Denial: The Lyme Disease Epidemic", "What Part of No! Don't They Understand: Rescuing Food and Medicine from Government Abuse", and "The Earth's Gift to Medicine".

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  1. S Divya Abirami
    February 27, 14:49 S Divya Abirami

    Very informative article

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