Nutrition and Addiction: The Connection
Addiction is a chronic condition that begins in the brain. This is an important piece of information, as some don’t realize how closely connected addiction and the brain are. Addiction changes the way the brain works, including how neurons communicate via the neural network throughout the body. Once this communication is out of order, the brain has trouble telling different areas of your body how to function and how to feel.
During recovery, the brain begins to heal. Without the right nutrition, however, this process will be slow or even non-existent.
Nutrition and Addiction: The Brain
To function correctly, the brain needs two things: oxygen and glucose. Glucose doesn’t remain in our bodies forever. We have to keep eating the right foods to replace the glucose and keep our brain functioning.
Unfortunately, when addiction changes the way the brain works, those who struggle with addiction may find themselves having a hard time eating right. They may also experience negative nutritional effects from their substance abuse, including:
- Lack of motivation to eat healthily
- Stomach mucous lining irritation
- Depletion of nutrient stores
- Disruption of how the brain uses nutrients
- Malabsorption of nutrients
- Strong cravings for sugar and caffeine
Neurotransmitters and the Brain
Neurotransmitters are chemicals in the brain that reward us with feelings of pleasure, comfort or well-being. Activities like a first kiss, a home run hit or seeing your child for the first time all produce these pleasurable chemicals that make you feel good.
Addiction interrupts the natural products of these neurotransmitters and may actually change the brain’s biochemistry. This means that instead of the brain reacting to things you would naturally feel good about, like exercising or sex, it only produces those good feelings when you use the drug. As a result, the drug becomes the only thing in an addict’s life that gives that those wonderful feelings.
Amino Acids, Food and The Brain
Amino acids have been shown to help heal an addicted brain. Here are just a few that can help.
- Tryptophan– This amino acid helps increase serotonin production, a natural anti-depressant in the brain. Find it in foods like chocolate, but also more healthy options like yogurt, milk, eggs, poultry, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds.
- GABA– A natural stress reducer, GABA is found in a variety of foods like bananas, broccoli, halibut, almonds, lentils, brown rice and oats.
- Phenylalanine– This amino acid helps increase the lifespan of endorphins and reduce depression. Find it in fish, eggs, milk and cheese.
- L-Tyrosine– L-Tyrosine helps produce dopamine and epinephrine in the body to encourage alertness, clarity and concentration. It can be found in common foods like avocados, bananas, lima beans, milk, cottage cheese, chicken and turkey.
Long-Term Recovery With Nutrition
When people first come into addiction treatment, they are often nutritionally deficient. Their addiction has left them caring only about their next fix. As a result of this and the cravings associated with my amino-acid deficiencies and drug use, many eat processed foods and too much sugar.
The first step toward recovery is the right nutrition plan full of amino acids. While it may take weeks or months for addicts to regain those natural feel-good moments from every-day life, the amino acids will help get them there by healing their brains. Once the brain is healed, long-term recovery is possible. This is because the drug is no longer the only thing that produces serotonin and dopamine.
The right foods can really make a difference in the life of an addict. Learn more about nutrition and addiction recovery through Gracious Care Recovery Solutions.