“Nutrition intervention, provided by a qualified dietetic practitioner, is an essential component of the treatment and recovery from chemical dependency.”
American Dietetic Association Position Statement – 1990
It Just Makes Sense
Most of us know the dire impact of poor nutrition and lack of exercise on our bodies. Chemical abusers take poor dietary and lifestyle choices to a new level, compounding the significant damage they already are doing to their bodies from ingesting drugs and alcohol. All addicts actively abusing are malnourished to some degree.
These realities are even more profound in adolescent addicts going through puberty and the developmental years. Excessive chemical abuse and poor nutrition during these formative years can detrimentally impact physical development, and can atrophy psychological development. Some have even suggested that lasting damage is less from drugs and alcohol than from poor dietary habits.
Nutritional food supplies energy to the body and provides the building blocks needed to replace worn or damaged cells, maintain body structure and functions, and enhance growth. Food must be digested for use by the body. Digestion begins in the mouth and continues in the stomach and intestines, with assistance from the pancreas. The nutrients from digested food are absorbed from the intestines into the blood and transported to the liver. The liver prepares nutrients for immediate use or storage for future use. All digested nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and proteins have an essential purpose in our bodies. Any deficiencies negatively impact the body, its organs, and the brain.
Chemical abuse is a major cause of nutritional deficiency in the US. It burns up enormous amounts of critical nutrients, vitamins, and minerals in the body. Alcohol and drugs actually keep the body from properly absorbing and breaking down nutrients and expelling toxins; thus, stifling attempts at nutritional intake. Additionally, abusers often experience a sense of fullness while having eaten little or nothing, leading to poor eating habits and malnutrition. Addicts often forget what it’s like to be hungry and may interpret this feeling as a drug craving. Because they have neglected their diet, addicts often experience gastrointestinal disorders such as diarrhea, constipation, an inability to digest foods properly, and a poor appetite.
A Vicious Cycle
Addiction and poor nutrition is a vicious circle. Not surprisingly, addicts are more concerned about their drug of choice than making good choices about a healthy diet. Breaking this cycle can be difficult, but it is essential during recovery.
Good nutrition is the building block of life. During recovery, good nutrition is critical as the addict seeks to rebuild his/her body. Nutritional therapy addresses the essential nutrients that are sometimes missing from the body because of poor diet and lifestyle choices, especially the choices of an addict. By returning these essential nutrients to the body, healing often moves forward more quickly. Nutritional therapy can include dietary regulation and restriction, vitamin and mineral supplements, amino acid dips, and intravenous nutrition. A full-blood workup or a hair element analysis is often used to determine nutrient deficiencies.
Nutritional Recovery Guidelines
The essence of recovery is changing negative behaviors into positive ones. Learning to make healthy food choices is important to achieving a healthy lifestyle. When people feel better, they are less likely to relapse—balanced nutrition helps improve mood and health. The best place to begin is the new food pyramid from the US Department of Agriculture. The pyramid emphasizes fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products, lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, beans, and nuts, and a diet low in trans fats, saturated fats, cholesterol, sodium, while avoiding sugar, caffeine, and processed and junk foods.
Fresh fruits and vegetables help lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of stroke and heart disease, and lower the risk of digestive problems. Don’t stick to the green veggies; consume all the colors to ensure that you provide your body the full nutrients it needs.
Grains are an essential part of healthy eating, and whole grains are best. Grains are good sources of complex carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals, and they’re low in fat. Whole grains contain more fiber and are better sources of important nutrients such as selenium, potassium, and magnesium. Whole grains include barley, brown rice, buckwheat, bulgur, millet, oatmeal, whole-wheat bread/pasta/crackers, and wild rice. Ensure that the product is truly whole grain and that grains are among the first ingredients listed.
Vegetable and animal proteins appear to have similar health value, so consumption is a matter of preference. Sources of vegetable protein include beans, nuts, and whole grains. Fish and poultry are the healthiest sources of animal protein; if you crave red meat (i.e., beef, pork, lamb), eat the leanest cuts. Avoid all processed meats like hot dogs and cold cuts.
Fats can be good or bad. Good fats are unsaturated (i.e., monounsaturated, polyunsaturated) fats that can improve blood cholesterol levels, stabilize heart rhythms, and ease inflammation, in addition to other benefits. Monounsaturated fats are found in nuts, seeds, and oils such as canola, peanut, and olive. Polyunsaturated fats (including the critical Omega-3 fats) are found in fish, walnuts, flaxseeds, and oils such as sunflower, corn, soybean, and flaxseed.
Bad fats are saturated fats found mainly in meat, seafood, poultry with skin, and whole-milk dairy products. Trans fats are the worst of the fats and are found in commercially prepared foods, margarines, snack foods, processed foods, and French fries.
Essential Water For Overcoming Addiction
Water accounts for about 60 percent of human body weight. Every system in the human body depends on water for optimal functioning. Water flushes toxins from our system, including the kidneys, which may have been damaged from abuse. The human body loses water every day through perspiration, breath, urine, and bowel movements. This water must be replaced daily. Even a mild case of dehydration can make one feeling tired and drained. Don’t wait until you feel thirsty. By that time, you may already be dehydrated.
Supplements For Drug Addiction
In addition to balanced nutrition, often additional nutrients and amino acids are needed during recovery. Supplements can prove a critical benefit in helping revitalize a body that has been depleted of essential nutrients from chemical abuse and poor eating habits. Nutritional supplements can also restore the proper biochemical balance in the brain. Supplements can include vitamin B complex, calcium, magnesium, vitamin C, L-glutamine, L-tyrosine, glutathione, L-phenylalanine, D-phenylalanine or DL-phenylalanine, L-tryptophan, and GABA (Gamma-amino butyric acid).
Much of this is what we need to be doing anyway: good nutrition, exercise, and taking supplements. So it makes perfect sense. During recovery, always consult a dietician and/or a physician to ensure the proper and optimum nutritional balance for your unique body.
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