Could megadoses of energy-giving NAD—which allegedly relieves withdrawal symptoms, flushes out stored drugs in the body and replenishes balance in the brain—really be the cure-all for addiction as well as many other diseases and mental health disorders?
When Paul decided again it was time to do something about his drug addiction, he knew the usual routes wouldn’t work. While using a variety of substances for at least two-thirds of his life – injecting heroin in the last 20 years of it – he also became a veteran of just about every traditional rehab/detox program in the book. Twelve to be exact; with no permanent results or positive outcomes to speak of.
Hearing the remarkable claims from a Brain Restoration Therapy outpatient clinic immediately sent him into skeptic mode: This is too good to be true. How can I kick drugs with just an infusion of some concoction? What about withdrawal? Side effects? And, if it really works, will it last? Sounded far too simple for this jaded, somewhat cynical, pushing-60 drug addict.
Figuring he had nothing to lose, he called and arranged a free consultation. After listening to details of their success rate and impressed with assertions of little or no withdrawal symptoms, he signed up for the treatment – albeit with some reluctance. His wife’s divorce threat had something to do with enrolling, but it was more about life hitting bottom one more time.
Groggily arriving at the crack of 9 am the next day, a warmly friendly nurse in navy blue scrubs hooked him up to an IV. Told that all he needed to do was relax, he settled into the oversize leather lounge chair. If nothing else he’d be able to listen to music, watch a few videos, and read a bit, he thought. Observing the slow drip of clear liquid entering his veins, he listlessly wondered what he would do next if this latest treatment failed.
At the end of the first eight-hour treatment, Paul says he already felt different. He couldn’t quite explain it, he recalls, but his mind was clearer. He felt energized. More alive. And definitely more present.
Returning daily for nine more treatments, he noticed a growing list of undeniable and rather dramatic changes. His outlook was more positive and he was optimistically able to imagine a future for himself, one he’d stopped envisioning years ago. His mind was as sharp as it had been prior to years of drug use.
The best part, he says, true to the claims, there were few or no withdrawal symptoms, therefore no need for a replacement drug to get him through yet another grueling detox. He also realized he had no cravings, the primary cause of his continued bouts of relapse. His disbelief completely gone, he recalls, he concluded he was drug free.
But would it last?
Ann Rodgers, the Director of Brain Restoration Therapy, meets me at the door of the Center for Health and Wellbeing in San Diego, CA., where the clinic operates under medical supervision. It’s difficult to not get caught up in her animated explanation of the benefits of this program. “The treatment utilizes a megadose of NAD [Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide is a co-enzyme of niacin that is the key fuel for energy production in every cell of the body] in an IV form, and it’s clinically proven with a 90% no-craving statistic,” she excitedly offers.
Listening quietly as she rapidly fires glowing statistics in my direction, my skeptical mind revs into full gear. “With literally no reported side-effects,” she says, “the protocol reduces withdrawal symptoms by 70-80% without using replacement drugs, and restores the patient’s clarity and well-being to pre-use levels. Six to ten days of treatment is like a seven or eight month jump-start to recovery.” All this expounded with the tone of a bragging parent.
Rodgers tells me that although relatively new to America, NAD treatment has been successfully used in South Africa since 1961, with centers there reporting more than 22,000 people treated. [Rodgers could not provide any research report from South Africa to confirm this, only a report from individual clinicians who treated patients with NAD. Separately, I could not confirm the 22,000 figure.]
The first NAD clinic to open in the States was in Springfield, Louisiana, founded by psychotherapist Paula Mestayer, M.Ed, LPC, FAPA, along with her psychiatrist husband Richard. The couple discovered the treatment when their 16-year-old adopted daughter became addicted to alcohol and found her way into NAD treatment. Thrilled to see her positive results, they conducted their own research and in 2001, putting aside their cumulative years of treating addicts with therapy, they opened the Springfield Wellness Center on a private 500-acre estate. They claim to have treated more than 1,000 patients since then with NAD.
Springfield Wellness Center’s ten day addiction detox, Mestayer asserts when I contact her, has been used successfully on people hooked on prescription drugs, alcohol, opiates, benzos, stimulants, cocaine, marijuana, suboxone, and methadone.
Mestayer noted in our interview that “like a thumb print, all brains are unique, so this protocol is more like an art than a science.” Each patient, she pointed out, responds differently to NAD, with one factor being their type of addiction. She therefore adjusts the dosage and prescribes booster NAD treatments when necessary, especially when a patient feels vulnerable or if any cravings return. “I always emphasize that there may be a period of time where they need maintenance, either by an occasional booster or other means of support. Some patients have gone nine years without needing a booster, but many do.” Mestayer generally prescribes oral NAD as a supplement to the IVs, on the grounds that the more NAD that builds up in an addict’s system, the less prone he or she is to succumbing to cravings.
Mestayer emphasizes that the treatment is “not a cure, but rather maintenance,” and notes that it remains a mystery as to why NAD works more successfully on some addictions than others. “The highest success rate is on alcohol and opiate users,” she says. “The only failures are people who were using during the treatment or not committed to their maintenance.” Even so, she like Rodgers encourages all patients to seek therapy and support groups to address underlying psychological issues.
In California, I asked Rodgers if the treatment is just a substitute “high.” Rodgers countered with “it’s a state of well-being that allows the client to feel content with their life, so many don’t even consider going back to being an addict, no desire for that miserable life anymore. It’s as if they become themselves again, back to their natural state, seeing themselves as a different person, separate from being an addicted person. It’s not just a detox; it’s a total state of sobriety.”
With only a handful of other U.S. clinics in existence, the technology has yet to become familiar to most of the recovery community. Even so, Ann Rodgers says she is certain that once knowledge of NAD spreads, it will be seen as a revolution in addiction treatment. “[Members of] the AA community have been resistant to it at first, but once they read the evidence and witness the results, they embrace it,” she claims.
Her San Diego clinic is modern, serenely comfortable and well-appointed. Located on the first floor of the larger health center, it’s been open for over three years and has treated nearly 40 patients. Rodgers recently opened another facility in Los Angeles, CA, at the Center for Optimum Health.
HOW THE TREATMENT WORKS
Dr. Janette Gray, a California licensed internist and a pioneer in combining allopathic and holistic medical approaches, is the center’s medical director. Board certified in Holistic Integrative Medicine, she worked for years in the prison system helping inmates get off drugs and has extensive experience with the agonies of drug withdrawal. “Seizures, nausea and vomiting, intense sweating and physical pain are standard, but that is greatly minimized with this program,” she tells me. “The most common withdrawal symptom is feeling a little bit flu-ish…[which] passes quickly.”
Gray rattles off to me a scientific explanation behind the BR treatment. The protocol, she says, employs a proprietary NAD formula administered by IV. NAD is an element that reacts with oxygen in the cell’s mitochondria in order to create energy for movement, breathing, heartbeat, blood pumping, digesting food, brain functions, and generally living life. It is available in low doses over the counter.
Studies have found that those with extremely low NAD levels (which can be present even at birth) are far more vulnerable to addiction as well as other diseases and to chronic physical conditions. There is a preponderance of low levels of NAD present in Western society as it is mostly lost in cooking and food processing. What little remains is broken down by stomach acid, degraded before it’s absorbed from the digestive tract.
When the clinic’s all-natural NAD is received directly through an IV, the nutrients bypass the stomach and go directly to the receptors in the brain, Gray tells me. According to Gray, this immediately produces palpable positive results as the nutrients bathe the brain in a continuous pool of natural and highly therapeutic co-enzymes.
Since NAD is a detoxifier, it takes days (rather than weeks or months), to flush out stored drugs from the body and its organs, replenish balance in the brain, and reverse damage. Results can be mental clarity, cognitive function increase, focus and concentration returns, more energy, better mood, positive outlook. And this happens cold turkey.
“We find that one of the big reasons this treatment works is because it’s so rapid,” Gray says. The majority of drug addicted individuals, she claims, need about ten days of infusions, sometimes less. “It keeps people inspired when they see fast results,” she adds, “especially when they feel better than they did before, or perhaps ever in their life.”
Based on each individual, Gray like Mestayer sometimes recommends a periodic “booster” which can be one or two days of IV to support the results achieved in the initial treatment. She also prescribes a co-enzyme that, she says, helps maintain higher levels of NAD in the body. If a client relapses, she claims, one or two treatments can quickly get them sober and craving-free again.
The clinic also offers a four day “Tune Up” treatment for those suffering from stress, anxiety, irritability, low energy, PTSD and depression. The clinics also address other non-substance related addictions such as gambling.
NAD was first discovered in 1936, but World War II stopped the research. It was patented for treatment of drug addiction and schizophrenia in 1961 based on an 11,000 patient study. Sloughed aside with the discovery of methadone – a far more lucrative choice at the time for drug companies – NAD went “underground.”
Research has shown that NAD increases the synthesis of certain neurotransmitters in the brain known to be effective in correcting specific chemical imbalances. Some of these chemical imbalances underpin addiction, mental illness, anxiety, aggression, depression, despair and hopelessness. Fatigue is often the first signal of NAD deprivation; other clues may include depression and anxiety in children. Almost any chronic disease, including Parkinson’s, can also be indicative of deficiency.
There is some research and other reports indicating that NAD might be effective treatment for a host of other ailments including schizophrenia, PTSD, chronic fatigue, weak immune system, memory disturbance, sleep problems, concentration defects, blood pressure, poor cholesterol levels, sugar metabolism and diabetes, muscle pain and weakness, joint pain and stiffness, headaches, fevers, sore throats and swollen lymph glands. Clinical research has shown it is a potent biological antioxidant which can aid in preventing cell damage and a variety of diseases, cancer included.
There is also some evidence that NAD therapy can help with aging. Dr. David Sinclair, professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School, in a paper published in the journal Cell, describes a compound naturally made by young cells that is able to revive older cells, allowing them to be energetic and youthful again. With adequate amounts of NAD, aging can theoretically be reversed, he asserts. “When we give the molecule, the cells think oxygen levels are normal and everything revs back up again,” Sinclair wrote.
Pondering these claims raises the un-researched theory of whether NAD deficiency might be an unrecognized epidemic disease of our time.
THE BIOCHEMICAL PATH TO PERSONAL DEFICIENCY
Before I interviewed patients of the two clinics to determine whether they validated the positive assertions of Rodgers, Gray and Mestayer (they do, as you will read below), I decided to research more carefully the biology of the NAD process to determine whether there is a basis in science for their claims even in the absence of double-blind long-term studies. What I learned is relevant to the health, mental vitality and even possibly, as Sinclair asserts, to the aging of each of us, not only to addicts.
I learned that a range of vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, proteins and fats from our diet provide the building blocks to create what medicine refers to as the “Citric Acid Cycle,” which names the energy it takes to produce NAD and link it with hydrogen (NADH). NADH enters the electron transport chain in the mitochondria and is sparked with oxygen – and the outcome is energy. This in turn fuels the 86,000 daily beats of the heart, enabling muscles to contract, and provides the cellular energy requirements of the 100 trillion cells of the body. The brain consumes about one-third of all the energy produced, so if the NADH is low, brain functions suffer. If any of the nutritional factors that produce NAD are low, energy production is weakened.
Often NAD deficiency is first evident in brain-related symptoms of poor concentration, difficulty focusing, and attention deficit disorders. If the energy shortage lasts long enough, brain neurons cannot synthesize neurotransmitters. When this occurs, the molecules of consciousness (such as serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline) are affected. Anxiety, depression, sleep disturbance and other mood changes can then arise.
Also important to know is that the crucial enzymes that catalyze the Citric Acid Cycle are inhibited or destroyed by chemical toxins that create oxidative, or free radical damage. Sources of the damage include cigarette smoke, drugs, chronic stress, sedentary living, as well as the accumulation of the myriad toxins found in daily life such as in pesticides.
Along with acquired NAD deficiency, there may also be a genetic disorder that is present at birth. Symptoms can appear in young children as difficulty sleeping, behavioral problems, hyperactivity, impaired concentration, academic stress and underachievement.
Moreover, NAD deficiency that induces fatigue and depression increases a propensity to use drugs and alcohol in order to improve energy and mood – simply to feel better. The self-medicating cycle is a common story reported by many addicts, and leads to even lower NAD. A vicious cycle ensues.
There is some history to using megavitamins as potential cures for addiction, including dating back to Bill Wilson’s (aka “Bill W.” the revered co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous) ideas and experience. In 1960 Wilson underwent a major shift in his beliefs about the value of nutrition in achieving sobriety when he met Dr. Humphry Osmond, who introduced him to the concept of megavitamin therapy. Curious, Wilson became a guinea pig, taking 3,000 mg of niacin daily. Within a few weeks, fatigue and depression (symptoms of low NAD) which had plagued him for years, were gone.
Seeking to share this exciting discovery, Wilson gave the same doses to 30 of his close friends in AA, hoping it could be replicated. Of the 30, 20 he later reported became free of anxiety, tension and depression in one or two months. This dramatically reduced their alcohol consumption.
Wilson wrote a detailed report called “The Vitamin B 3 Therapy” and distributed thousands of copies as a pamphlet. Because the information was controversial, way ahead of its time and ran counter to the precepts of the 12-Step Program, Wilson became unpopular with the board of directors of AA International and the information was squelched
THE PATIENTS HAVE THEIR SAY
Unfortunately, newer in-depth scientific studies in the U.S. on the long-term benefit of NAD treatment on addiction and alcoholism have never been financed. That leaves largely the claims of clinic operators and their patients to bear out the assumption that, by virtue of its catalytic role in the body, NAD might in fact be an effective agent in addiction and alcohol treatment.
Rodger’s California centers are too new to have meaningful data on the long-term effects of NAD treatment based on follow-up interviews with patients, though Rodgers says she intends to set up a formal study of her patients in the near future. Mestayer’s Louisiana clinic did collect data for some years which was lost when their clinic was hit hard during hurricane Katrina. She has been collecting more recent statistics on the long-term effects of the NAD formula her clinic uses which, she claims, show an even higher success rate than the earlier formula.
In fact, the statistics if true are astounding, with some earlier participants in the Louisiana clinic achieving, according to Mestayer, nine years of sobriety.
“Statistically,” Rodgers claims, “70% of patients are craving-free by day five; 90% by day ten.” She adds that some reported having no physical memory of how drugs even felt, clearing their desire for them.
As testimonials, Rodgers provided me several video-taped former patients, each boasting tremendous success. One was from a man who claimed he had been taking 30 Oxycontins a day for 12 years. Another was from a woman who had been suicidal, shot speed for 20 years. Another woman reported a personal trauma that threw her into deep depression. Each claimed to have maintained a drug free life since their treatment.
I inquire about Paul who went through treatment three years ago: Is he still clean and sober?
“Not only is he clean and sober, he paid for two of his friends to do the treatment,” Rodgers tells me, with tears in her eyes. “He no longer defines himself as an addict since his thought patterns have shifted and he sees life so differently.”
Separately, I interviewed four people who have gone through treatment at either the San Diego or Springfield, Louisiana centers. Their stories:
• Doug, a health-conscious personal fitness trainer who experienced CTS (Chronic Traumatic Encylopathy) from several football injuries, would drink copious amounts of vodka at night to allow his amped-up body and mind to relax and shut down. He tried exercise and nutrition to get past anxiety-based insomnia; nothing worked. He knew that a 12-step program or therapy that dealt with past history wouldn’t work for him given that his issue was clearly a chemical imbalance. After just 20 minutes with his first NAD IV, he experienced a state of well-being he hadn’t felt in his entire adult life. His angst was gone, and the neuro-transmitters that lay dormant in his brain felt alive again. After the first day of treatment he was able to sleep soundly, and he told me he’d been craving-free for more than four months. He takes an NAD supplement and goes back monthly for a booster.
• After several tours of duty in Iraq, Patrick, a Marine, became a heavy heroin user after trying many other ways to self-medicate his PTSD and resulting insomnia. He admitted himself to two traditional inpatient treatments, one lasting 57 days. The first day out of each, he relapsed. After day four of the NAD treatment, during which he experienced no withdrawal symptoms, he felt completely clear and now sleeps without nightmares. He gets boosters once a month and has been drug free for several years.
• Steve, also an Iraq veteran, had nine neck surgeries in five years. He used pain pills and opiate drugs to deal with constant physical pain as well as intense PTSD. He entered the NAD program out of a desperate desire to be free of his addictions in that he has children and perceived a good life ahead of him. Starting the NAD program with a pain scale of eight, within ten days the pain eased down to a one. On bad days, he says, it now goes up to a two, but is easily managed with a couple of Aleve. With only slight withdrawal symptoms, he told me he is now 100% craving free and his PTSD is also gone. He continues to take the oral NAD supplement but has not needed any booster treatments. He did the program in November, 2013.
• Sandy is a young woman whose addiction to pain killers and amphetamines spiraled from recreational use to a full-on necessity. For three years she was not able to get out of bed without drugs, the lowest point of her life. She researched various other programs and told me she was baffled by the concept of replacing one drug addiction with another as a “cure.” After eight days of NAD treatment, she no longer thinks about using at all. Her mood is good, her energy is up, and she’s happy, she reported. Clean for a year and a half, she believes it was the combination of the in-home IV treatment she received and the warm caring from the clinic staff that made the difference. She has had two boosters and believes she won’t need any more to remain addiction free.
I ask Ann Rodgers if the treatment works for everyone and if not, is there a typical profile of the person for whom it doesn’t work? “No, it doesn’t work 100% of the time,” she replies. “Interestingly, sometimes it doesn’t work for young heroin addicts. It could be because they aren’t emotionally mature enough to deal with their issues, or perhaps they don’t have a good support system in place yet.”
One young man, Rodgers notes, went through the program a year ago and did extremely well until he entered an intimate relationship. “That triggered emotional issues,” Rodgers says, and he returned to the arms of heroin. The Center then refused to treat him again as he refused to enter rehab, an essential aftercare resource in which clinic patients are encouraged to participate.
“Patients often feel like a fish-out-of-water when out of the drug culture they are accustomed to, and they need to find a structure to help them live drug free,” Rodgers explained. Accordingly, patients are informed of the importance of addressing any long-standing psychological issues and of re-learning how to live life as a non-addicted person, and they are encouraged to enter after-care programs that provide such support. “Rehab programs work so much better after doing NAD therapy since the person is so clear, more willing to make it work in their lives,” Rodgers says. “Their confidence allows them to make significant shifts in other areas of life so they are far less likely to relapse when they re-enter society.
“We really see ourselves reversing the customary order of mind/body to body/mind… by addressing the bio-chemical issues first it makes it so much easier to shift other areas of an addict’s life.”
The staff advocates other follow-up support groups that can include 12-step programs and/or conjunctive therapies such as outside psychological and spiritual counseling. As part of one of the largest integrative medicine centers in California, the Center for Health and Wellbeing, its own related therapeutic center offers intensive psychotherapy along with a recovery coach. Patient options include an IOP, sober living, or simply going home. The center also offers a full menu of complementary programs including massage therapy, cranial sacral therapy, naturopathic, nutritional counseling, acupuncture, marriage and family therapy and chiropractic, all of which Dr. Gray prescribes on an individual basis.
Separate from after-care, could NAD itself turn out to be something of a miracle cure or at least pre-cure for addicts? As more people go through the programs, there will be more statistics on permanency of results but no fully authenticated research until some serious independent and double-blind studies are undertaken by scientists, medical professionals or companies who can attract the funds to finance research. Meanwhile, NAD figures to remain something of a blip on the treatment scene attracting people like Paul who said simply: “There is just nothing to lose.”