Nutrition and Recovery

Recovery Through Sound Nutrition

Impacting the Recovery Healing Process

The three-headed dragon is often used in the field of addiction and recovery as a metaphor for illness of body (physical), mind, and spirit. 12-step programs help those in recovery to regain a spiritual foundation upon which to build their recovery. Counseling helps to identify the problems that led to addiction and to resolve them. The third head of the dragon, the body, especially nutrition, is less featured in recovery. This article will focus on the powerful role diet and nutrition play in regulating mood, behavior and emotions and its impact on the recovery healing process.

recovery through good nutritionSubstance abuse is correlated with biochemical mood problems. For example, one may drink or take drugs to relax, forget, calm down, get energy, be soothed, or just to feel better. Unstable emotions like depression may be the brain’s way of letting us know we are not eating nutritionally dense foods. This connection between nutritional deficiency, mood, and substance abuse is often missed. Not only does drug and alcohol abuse wreck the body by depleting it of precious nutrients but the brain is depleted as well. 

The Key to Recovery

Good Food = Good Mood, Bad Food = Bad Mood

How does this work? How does the food we eat affect our mood? How can the depression and anxiety one feels be related to what was eaten or not eaten that day? The answers to these questions lie in our brains where natural chemicals, called neurotransmitters, are found.

Neurotransmitters govern our emotions, memory, moods, behavior, sleep, and learning ability. They are created and fed by the food we eat. The health of the neurotransmitters is dependent upon the amino acids found in protein (meat, fish, eggs, poultry). Vitamins and minerals fuel the metabolic processes that convert these amino acids into neurotransmitters. Alcohol and drug abuse plus poor eating habits cause dramatic deficiencies of these precious vitamins and minerals leading to among other things, neurotransmitter deficiency and resulting depression, anxiety, and other mood problems. These deficiencies need to be replaced in order to have effective recovery.

One of the four neurotransmitters, serotonin is associated with positive mood experiences, emotional stability, self-confidence, emotional flexibility, and a sense of humor, sleep, sex drive, appetite and pain threshold. Tryptophan, the amino acid that stimulates the production of serotonin is naturally found in large amounts in turkey and milk.

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that our body cannot make so we must get it through our food (try substituting turkey for beef in your next pot of chili. Or, how about a turkey burger?) or through supplementation. Serotonin levels also influence melatonin production, which is responsible for how well we sleep. Increasing serotonin can end insomnia. 5HTP, a source of tryptophan can be found readily and inexpensively in your local health food store.

There are 3 other important neurotransmitters that effect energy and mood. They are the catecholamines (adrenalin, dopamine, norepinephrine), GABA, and endorphins. These neurotransmitters when they are in abundance help us to have energy, motivation, helps us to cope with anxiety and feelings of being overwhelmed, and our need for comfort and well being. It is important to combine a nutritional (physical) approach to recovery along with the standard psychological and spiritual approaches.

A combination of all three approaches creates an effective recovery program, which can reduce relapse rates.  

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