Recovery Science: The role of nutrition in recovery

Diet and nutrition are important components of a healthy lifestyle. We don’t talk about them much in counseling because we focus primarily on thoughts, emotions, and their impact on behavior. I think we’re missing an important opportunity to address the physical component of recovery from addiction, depression, anxiety, and any number of other common disorders. Maybe we need additional training on the role of nutrition in recovery?

I would argue that most people in recovery, whether it be from substance abuse or a mood disorder, don’t get the nutrition they need to fully recognize the benefits of the cognitive, emotional, and behavioral changes they are making. Our bodies and brains need the right fuel to work properly, and the fact is, most of us do a terrible job of supplying that fuel.

I don’t talk about this much because the past is not how I choose define myself; but the truth is, I am a recovering addict. I’m also a licensed counselor and a lot of other things that take priority over my past. However, I think it may be helpful to share some of my story with others in recovery.

When I first got into recovery, I put on around 40 pounds and ate like crap. It’s a wonder I was able to maintain with all the negative side effects of my diet and lifestyle. I didn’t exercise, drank tons of coffee and smoked a couple of packs of cigarettes per day. Although I was feeling pretty good about my new path, I was starting to feel bad about my appearance and general health.

I also suffered from depression and took pretty hardcore anti-depressants for a few years. What I didn’t know about was something called “discontinuation syndrome”, which for me included the pretty nasty effect of wanting to throat-punch nearly everyone in my life any time I tried to quit taking them. It took a while, but I was finally able to wean off the drugs without going into another depression (or homicidal rage).

It wasn’t until I went back to college and started to focus more on my diet and health that I really experienced the full benefits of recovery. By taking the lessons I had learned about behavior modification, the stages of change, and relapse prevention, I’ve been able to transform my diet and regain some of the health I lost during my addiction and early recovery. I’m still not in perfect health and the record, I still drink a lot of coffee.

As a counselor, I often ask people about their standard diet. The response usually isn’t very positive. Those with alcohol problems generally don’t eat much of anything and when they do, it’s usually empty carbs. People with depression generally either don’t eat or only eat foods that “feel” good, which usually aren’t good for you. Many people are so used to eating fast food and other processed stuff that they obviously aren’t getting the nutrients needed by a normal healthy adult.

A short web search will produce several research studies on the connection between nutrition and behavior. Our brains need the proper nutrition in order to function appropriately and we need our brain working at its peak level in order to recover from addiction or depression.

There are many supplements on the market but it’s tough to know what to choose. Here are some important nutrients I’ve identified along with information on their function and uses:

B-Complex Vitamins – Including Thiamine, Riboflavin, Niacin and Folic Acid…nutrients often lacking in those recovering from addiction. Several of these vitamins are known to be associated with irritability when deficient (Werbach, 1995).

Calcium: Heavy drinking and drug use take a toll on bone health. Many substances, including alcohol, can rob your body of calcium and can even prevent your body from utilizing the calcium you get. (WebMD, 2015)

Magnesium:  Needed for the health of muscles, including the heart, and for the transmission of electrical signals in the body. Magnesium deficiency, which enhances catecholamine secretion and sensitivity to stress, may promote aggressive behavior (Werbach, 1995).

5-HTP: Supplements for this amino acid may raise levels of serotonin in the brain. Some studies have found that 5-HTP supplements help relieve depression. Some research showed that 5-HTP worked as well as some antidepressants (WebMD, 2015). It is the dietary precursor to serotonin, and several lines of evidence have suggested that the amount of tryptophan in the diet relates closely to aggressive behavior. (Werbach, 1995).

GABA: A neurotransmitter that blocks impulses between nerve cells in the brain. Low levels of GABA may be linked to anxiety, mood disorders, epilepsy, and chronic pain. Researchers suspect that GABA may boost mood or have a calming, relaxing effect on the nervous system. (WebMD, 2015).

Ashwaganda: The root and berry of the ashwagandha plant are a traditional Ayurvedic medicine in India. Ashwagandha is used as a tonic (it is sometimes referred to as the “Indian ginseng”) to improve physical and mental health (WebMD, 2015).

Chamomile: Chamomile is an herb that people have used for centuries to calm an upset stomach or to help with sleep. (WebMD, 2015). Animal studies confirm that small amounts seem to relieve anxiety, while larger quantities aid sleep (Douglas, 2015)

DMAE (Dimethylaminoethanol): Is a chemical that is involved in a series of reactions that form acetylcholine, a chemical that is found in the brain and other areas of the body. Acetylcholine is a “neurotransmitter” that helps nerve cells communicate. It has been used for treating attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Alzheimer’s disease, autism, and a movement disorder called tardive dyskinesia. It is also used for improving memory and mood; boosting thinking skills and intelligence; and increasing physical energy, oxygen efficiency, athletic performance, and muscle reflexes. (WebMD, 2015).

These ingredients can be found in any number of different supplements on the market and could possibly make the difference between success and struggle in recovery. They can all be found in the new supplement called Boost-R Advanced Mood formula by Recovery Science.

I’ve got to include a disclaimer that these statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and also let you know that this product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. That’s what the bottle says and that’s what the manufacturer requires.

Obviously, a vitamin isn’t going to keep you clean and sober and won’t cure your depression. However, I believe good nutrition can make the difference between success and struggle in recovery. Give yourself a fighting chance in recovery and give this product a try.

Nutrition in recovery