By Patty Butts, Ph.D.
Since my first counseling internship at the University of Utah Alcohol and Drug Center, I have believed there is a chemical component to addiction. Because I had relatives with diabetes and some who were alcoholics, I asked my clients how many had diabetes in their family. Eighty percent of them reported there was diabetes in their family background. The idea of a chemical component was not well-supported more than twenty years ago. Now, when I pull up addictions and nutrition on the internet there are over 18 million entries, and some experts believe that biochemical imbalances may be the cause of addictions. I believe it is both emotional, spiritual, and chemical.
Dr. Janice Phelps, author of The Hidden Addiction and How to Get Free From It, suggests addiction stems from individual biochemistry and says, “Long before a child can get involved in drugs and alcohol, he’s often gotten very addicted to sugar.”
She believes there is an addictive body from birth and it may be evidenced in childhood by the presence of colic, hyperactivity, loss of sleep, irritability, crying and learning disabilities.
Dr. Leon Chaitow points to a link between brain chemistry and food addictions. The neurotransmitter, serotonin, is a calming, analgesic-like substance which is secreted in response to carbohydrate and sugar consumption.
Addiction to sugar may be a misguided attempt to replenish serotonin in the body.
Counselor, Kathleen DesMaisons, says many addictive people have an actual biochemical flaw in the way they process sugar and carbohydrates. This problem with metabolism causes an addict to respond to sugar as if it were alcohol and to white flour products as if they were sugar.
Among other things, DeMaisons uses dietary interventions to change a patient’s neurochemistry and nutrient deficiency, and begins with an increase in protein. Good sources of protein include fish,tofu, almond butter, nuts, seeds, almond and soy milk.
Complex carbohydrates such as vegetables should be encouraged, but most fruits should be avoided because of the high sugar content. Exceptions are fresh limes, lemons, white grapefruit, avocados, and tomatoes.
Addicts need to avoid dairy products, white flour, and sugar, and be aware of hidden sugars, particularly corn syrup, dextrose, sorbitol, and manitol. They should also avoid artificial sweeteners, except stevia, which is a good sugar substitute.
Milk thistle supplements and oat straw tea may help cleanse the liver while an addict is going through withdrawal.
Clients who follow this eating plan may notice a significant difference in three to four days.
Dr. DesMaisons pioneered the field of addictive nutrition and has helped thousands of people with her nutrition-based program, online recovery community and numerous books that define sugar sensitivity. Her work defined sugar sensitivity: what it is, how it affects the mind and body, and how to heal it. This is her web site: www.radiantrecovery.com.
Julia Ross, director of Recovery Systems in Mill Valley, California believes nutritional therapy is a modality for helping addicts and eating disorder patients.
She believes rebalancing brain chemistry, eliminating allergy-producing foods and supplementing diet can lead addicts back to health.
Ross uses amino acids in her program, “because they’re the specific fuels used to create natural ‘feel good’ chemicals in the body.”
These chemicals have different functions. Endorphins are the body’s natural heroin. Norepinephrine is the body’s natural speed, and gamma-aminobuytric acid (GABA) is its natural sedative. Serotonin helps us sleep peacefully, boosts feelings of self-esteem, buoys us up, keeps us from getting depressed at night or during winter, prevents aberrant cravings for sugar and other refined carbohydrates and alcohol, and prevents agitated depression and worrying.
Ross explains a lack of vital amino acids, due to excessive drinking, or starvation (anorectics), malnourishes the brain and the body has nothing to make it feel good. With our patients, “We know what the deficiencies are by what drugs they are using and by what symptoms they present.”
“With amino acid therapy, the brain uses these nutrients to quickly restore normal brain neurotransmitter levels and raise them higher than before the clients ever abused alcohol or drugs.” Patients routinely tell her that they have never felt this good.
Withdrawal from addictive substances should be supervised by a qualified health expert. Those who are on prescription drugs should consult their physician or doctor before taking some nutritional supplements.
According to the Recovery Center, patients who have deficiencies in of important brain neurotransmitters that govern mood and emotion may be helped by amino acid supplementation. Those who lack norepinephrine may use cocaine, speed, tobacco, marijuana, alcohol, and sugar. The amino acid supplement listed is L-tyrosine.
Addicts lacking GABA may use valium, alcohol, marijuana or tobacco and the supplement listed to help is GABA and L-glutamine.
Heroin addicts may lack endorphins and the amino acid supplement listed is dL-phenylalnine. Check with your doctor or pharmacist about supplements.
Addicts who use ectasy, sugar, marijuana, and tobacco may be subject to irritability, sweet cravings, depression, and obsession. The amino acid listed is L-tryptophan.
At the Recovery Center, clients are screened for allergic reactions to certain foods—usually dairy products and gluten (found in wheat, rye, barley, spelt and oats).
Yeast overgrowth, candida, is also screened for. Low calorie, low fat diets are avoided because a rebound effect causes more cravings. Fresh raw vegetables and protein are the building blocks of the diet. Raw spinach is a good source of protein, vitamins, minerals and has 18 amino acids. “The more raw food the better because the body breaks it down easier. You don’t need to worry about calories if you can digest and absorb food properly,” Ross says.
Essential fatty acids found in fish, flax and evening primrose oils are integral part of the diet plan. Other supplements include chromium, which is crucial for blood sugar balance to stop cravings, B-complex vitamins (I like the sublingual liquid drops)help with mood balancing and stress, magnesium helps relax muscles and aids in falling asleep, and potassium is one of the crucial electrolytes that keeps the heart beating on a regular schedule. It is low in anorectics and bulimics.
Alcoholics can have convulsions due to a lack of magnesium.
The traditional model of emotional/spiritual recovery in treatment is 25 percent for long-term recovery, but according to Ross adding a nutritional component raises this to about 75 percent.
Sunshine can raise serotonin levels. If you live in a climate where you have long winters and don’t see much sunshine, you can use light therapy. I like the Go-Lite and purchased mine at Costco. To check your circadian rhythms go to www.apollohealth.com. and click on circadian rhythms and then assessment.