Last updated October 18, 2019 by Lisa Richards, CNC   Reviewed by Katie Stone, ND.

Why Do Some Supplements Contain Alcohol?

Supplements with alcohol

If you care about your health, you’ve probably taken a number of natural supplements over the years, including herbal tinctures.

You may have noticed that some of these remedies (especially tinctures) contain an ingredient that you’ve been told to avoid on the Candida diet: alcohol. In fact, one of the most common questions asked by Candida sufferers is, “Why do these supplements contain alcohol?”

When it comes to treating Candida, you will know that alcohol is very much on the ‘avoid’ list. Why? Well, in most cases, alcohol only worsens Candida symptoms and overgrowth. Regular alcohol consumption is known to weaken the immune system, hinder digestion, upset your blood sugar levels and of course, increase the toxic load on your liver.

Drinking alcohol can also lead to excess amounts of acetaldehyde, the neurotoxin that is behind hangovers. Acetaldehyde is also one of the main metabolic byproducts of Candida in your gut.

So how will you be helping your body overcome Candida if your supplements contain alcohol?

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If you’ve noticed that your supplement contains alcohol, don’t panic. The alcohol used in supplement formulas is very, very small – and it’s there for a good reason.

Why Is Alcohol Used In Herbal Supplements?

Herbalists have been using alcohol to extract the powerful medicinal properties of plants for hundreds of years.

Alcohol is a solvent, which allows manufacturers to create healing tinctures from herbs. Instead of consuming the entire plant (which would rendered ineffective due to your digestive function anyway) manufacturers are able to deliver the beneficial compounds in a concentrated form by using alcohol as a solvent. (1)

There are many reasons why alcohol is the preferred solvent for tinctures, especially for herbal tinctures like milk thistle or dandelion extract.

Alcohol is an effective and safe solvent

Alcohol is used to extract the compounds and active ingredients from herbs that aren’t water-soluble. This includes essential oils, alkaloids, and resins. It’s also the only solvent that’s fit for human consumption. It’s the best way to safely extract the beneficial compounds from the herb without using toxic substances.

Alcohol is easy to absorb

One of the major benefits of alcohol-based tinctures is that they act fast. This is because alcohol enters your bloodstream very quickly. At the same time, the capillaries in your tongue and cheeks are able to absorb alcohol-based formulas when you take a dose.

You may have taken a supplement that instructs you to place drops under your tongue. Instead of going through your digestive tract, the extract is actually entering your bloodstream directly, which means it can deliver the herb’s therapeutic properties fast. (2)

Alcohol is an excellent preservative

Without alcohol, herbal extracts would last mere days. If you’ve ever made a brew with herbs and water, you’ll know that how quickly it “goes off”! This is because water alone cannot absorb all the beneficial properties from herb materials, nor can it keep them stable for very long.

Alcohol is a very effective preservative that provides herbal extracts with a much longer shelf-life. Alcohol-based tinctures are stable for at least five years – like a bottle of rum, for example. This also means the extracts are safer to consume and much more cost-effective.

Alcohol is required to deliver therapeutic actions

Using alcohol allows the herbalist to maximise the therapeutic properties of the herbal extract. A tincture can be highly concentrated so that only a very small dose will deliver the benefits.

Surprisingly, a dose of herbal tincture will still only contain a very low dose of alcohol: about as much as very ripe banana or piece of fermented fruit!

Alcohol can help keep harmful yeast at bay

One of the reasons that alcohol is off-limits during the Candida diet is that alcoholic beverages cause spikes in blood sugar that encourage a Candida overgrowth. However, once the level of alcohol in a tincture reaches 20%, any yeast in that tincture is destroyed.

Alcohol (in small amounts) may have some health benefits

Research shows that very limited amounts of alcohol are actually beneficial to the human body, which is why it is so important to It is important to differentiate using alcohol for medicinal applications and recreational drinking.

In small doses, alcohol has a stimulating effect on the heart, improving blood flow to the arteries and even boosting peripheral circulation and preventing water retention. Some sources say it also increases secretion of the fundus gland in the stomach and boosts the ‘defence line’ of the immune system.

How Much Alcohol Is Really In Your Supplement?

When you examine the label of a herbal formula, you’ll see the ratio of herb to solvent and the percentage of alcohol. These ratios will show you the balance of herb and alcohol in the formula. This also explains how concentrated the tincture is. For example, a herbal tincture with a ratio of 1:2 contains one part plant material to two parts alcohol.

Tinctures usually contain a minimum of 25% ethanol (this is the alcohol). Depending on what the tincture is for – and the properties of the herbs – the alcohol content of different tinctures can vary. The ratio has a lot to do with how much water is in the particular plant, and how powerful each dose is.

Most tinctures use ethyl alcohol, which is a high-proof alcohol. This form of alcohol is safe for consumption and is available in a wide range of health stores. And, considering that the amount of tincture taken in each dose is very small (usually only around 20-40 drops) the amount of alcohol you will actually consume is negligible.

Remember: the beneficial effect of the herbs in the supplement or tincture are far more likely to outweigh the small chance of the alcohol affecting your body. You certainly won’t feel any alcohol-related effects after taking an alcohol-based herbal supplement, nor will it hinder your ability to recover from Candida.

The type of alcohol that should definitely be avoided is the form that makes up recreational alcoholic beverages such as wine, beer, spirits and RTDs.

These beverages not only contain far larger amounts of alcohol but often contains lots of sugars too. This is a bad combination for those following a Candida cleanse. Alcoholic beverages also increase the toxic load on your liver, which can severely hinder your ability to detoxify.

For lots more information on how to choose effective, non-toxic supplements for your Candida treatment plan, take a look at the Ultimate Candida Diet treatment program that I co-wrote with Dr. Eric Wood. It contains a hug amount of information on diagnosing and treating Candida Related Complex.

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