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Tips on Nutrition for Long-Term Sobriety

Last Updated on October 23, 2023 by Diane Ridaeus

Alternative to Meds Editorial Team
Written by Diane Ridaeus
Medically Reviewed by Dr Samuel Lee MD

For about 20 years now, Alternative to Meds Center has been a leader in providing science-based solutions to drug addiction, mental health symptoms, and strategies that utilize principles of nutrition for long-term sobriety and improved mental health.

Nutrition is an often neglected part of the recovery process. However, it can mean the difference between success and continued suffering.

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Tips to Bridge The Gap Between Physical and Mental Health

We hope the following information may provide some guidance on how to use nutrition for long-term sobriety. Nutrition combined with other “power tools” are awesome allies as you make your recovery journey.

Physical and mental health could be considered 2 sides of a coin, and treating one without addressing the other may leave disappointing gaps and deficits in recovery, and in overall health. Please feel free to share this and other information on our site with your caregivers, especially if you are considering strategies to implement for a new approach to your recovery planning that includes a focus on nutritional tools.1,2

Addiction — A Disease? or a Symptom?

Addiction is a complex subject. Multiple factors can play a role in treatment. Nutrition is ONE such factor, certainly not the only one. In recent times, the bulk of funding, research, and addiction treatment programs are nearly entirely focused on the premise that addiction is a disease. nutrition for long-term sobrietyYet, addiction rates still continue to rise unabated and long-term sobriety still seems out of reach for many. Some will describe addiction not only as a brain disease, or a disease of choice, but a demon that one must exorcise from one’s body, mind, and soul.7

While there may be some logic and even truth to the above descriptions, other approaches to addiction treatment may prove fertile ground as a solid foundation for recovery. Here we will discuss addiction characterized more simply as a symptom, rather than viewing it as an incurable disease.

If addiction is viewed as a symptom, then one would begin to look for the root cause(s) for it. There may be many, including trauma, stress, chronic pain, but one of the most neglected yet important areas to look at is disordered nutrition. Disordered nutrition is found in virtually all cases of addiction. For long-term sobriety goals, it is a key tool to learn more about.

Gut Health and Long-Term Sobriety

A point which will provide general agreement, is that drugs and alcohol affect neurotransmitters. Drugmakers have opted to tackle this aspect by providing drugs which are designed to manipulate neurotransmitters in ways that the drug of choice cannot compete with, or that simply dull the senses, hoping that this will satisfactorily replace one dependence with another.

good gut health crucial for sobrietyHowever, the neurotransmitters you may need for long-term sobriety actually depend on a healthy and functioning gut. Nutrition is the fuel for a well-ordered functioning gut. The gut is a factory responsible for production and distribution of the bulk of hormones and natural chemicals which affect not only the brain but the entire body. It seems logical that engineering and supporting a healthy functioning gut is a practical approach. Engineering a healthy gut is treating the problem of disordered neurotransmitters AT SOURCE, rather than simply adding artificial measures to disguise or trick the body. These artificial measures may provide temporary relief, but in the end they always wear out and can in themselves continue to worsen overall health.

Any factory will collapse if mismanaged. If supplies needed for production are withheld, if machinery gets clogged with waste and debris, if the workers are disabled, the factory will not function. It is the same in the gut. We are drowning in fake food, chemically enhanced for flavor, and often laden with sugar that bad bacteria thrive on. A gut which has been so abused, can develop leaks allowing pathogens and other nasty things to invade the blood stream. A compromised gut is just not poised or able to support healthy transmitter production and distribution. And, the result can contribute to a person’s vulnerability, low mood, chronic pain, and inability to rebound after stress or trauma. So the gut is a pivotal place to begin turning around to support long-term sobriety and overall health, both physical and mental. Neurotoxin removal and colon hydrotherapy can greatly assist the gut and other organs in the body return to normal function.

Leaky Gut and Mental Health Symptoms

You may have heard the term “leaky gut” — a condition of excess intestinal permeability which can lead to many physical health issues. A leaky or too-permeable gut lining allows toxins, pathogens, parasites, and other invaders to pass directly into the blood system instead of being contained and safely eliminated through normal excretion channels. A compromised gut lining can lead to not only digestive problems, but chronic pain, fatigue, allergies, and frequent bouts of physical illnesses, often that linger longer than normally expected.

leaky gut & mental health symptomsHowever, leaky gut can also result in mental health symptoms that addictive prescription drugs are commonly used to treat, such as depression, anxiety and other types of disordered mood, insomnia, and brain fog. Consider how a compromised gut may be impacting your own mental health and long-term sobriety goals, and the incredible benefits that changing diet strategies may bring.

Things that contribute to inflammation and leaky gut include a diet rich in refined carbs and sugar, gluten, food additives, refined oils, and junk food. These foods may interrupt or even sabotage your goals for long-term sobriety, as they will tend to produce the very symptoms that using prescription or other drugs hoped to eliminate.

Things that help heal inflammation and leaky gut include a diet rich in Omega-3 oils, fish, clean unprocessed food, and plant-based foods such as vegetables, citrus fruits, and legumes. The Mediterranean diet offers a good direction to take if a change in diet is desired for long-term sobriety and true recovery. Supplements such as zinc, aloe vera, slippery elm, and MSM have all clinically demonstrated their ability to tighten the gut lining, and heal and reverse damage to the gut lining.3,4

Probiotics for Gut Health and Long-Term Sobriety and Health

Gut health is another key strategy in using nutrition for long-term sobriety and health goals. Another way to boost gut health is providing the raw materials it needs to maintain a proper balance of good bacteria vs bad bacteria. Since the gut is an amazing factory for natural neurochemicals, it makes good sense to keep that factory vibrant and alive by adding probiotics to the diet as found in yogurt, sauerkraut, fermented foods and supplements. This is especially important after a period where the balance of gut bacteria may have been compromised, as can occur after antibiotic use, or after other drug or alcohol consumption.5,6

Vitamins and Minerals in Treating Addiction, Withdrawal, Cravings, Depression, and Anxiety

supplements enhance nutrition for long-term sobrietyNutrients form a huge arsenal of tools that can be effectively used in long-term sobriety and recovery. Deficiencies in specific nutrients can be determined through lab testing. Where deficiencies are found, they can be easily remedied, with sometimes astoundingly positive results. Several notable examples follow.

NAD+ is a form of niacin. Clinical research has shown that intravenous NAD+ administration greatly assists abstinence. NAD+ greatly reduces or eliminates withdrawal effects, and supports cellular regeneration and repair after consumption of addictive substances.8

Niacin in supplemental form has also been clinically proven to greatly reduce and eliminate other symptoms such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar, and other psychiatric conditions, especially apparent when a severe deficiency in the patient was corrected.9

Amino acids given during the process of opiate cessation greatly reduced withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings. These included tryptophan and tyrosine, and others. Amino acids are essential for the production of many natural hormones such as dopamine and serotonin. Deficiencies in amino acids are associated with mental health symptoms as well as physical maladies, including addiction.

Correcting many other examples of drug- or alcohol-related malnutrition, including dehydration, have been found extremely helpful in applying principles of nutrition for long-term sobriety and full recovery, according to scientific and medical research.11.12

Improving Absorption of Nutrients

After drug or alcohol use, the body is typically suffering from malnutrition and nutrient imbalances. Sometimes the colon has been compromised over time, which will need to be corrected. Designing a diet comprised of proteins and a wide variety of fruits and vegetables can be enhanced with supplements as needed. Eliminating sugars, refined carbs, and chemical additives that can be neurotoxic are also steps to take in designing a functional diet. These are good places to start making improvements that will support long-term sobriety and well-being.13

supplemental nutrients for long-term sobrietyHowever, modifying the diet and supplementing with vitamins and minerals may prove less than effective if the cells and organs of the body are not able to absorb these nutrients efficiently. A good first step is to use lab testing to find out if deficiencies exist, and then design a diet plan that may include supplementation to correct any found. As the bulk of nutrients are absorbed through the walls of the intestines, ensuring that intestinal walls are in good shape is another way to assure bioavailability is well-functioning. Psyllium husk or other cleansing methods such as colon hydrotherapy can help clear debris, and improve overall functioning.

The science behind nutrient bioavailability is in many cases not completely understood. Research has determined some factors that can boost or inhibit absorption of specific nutrients, especially in relation to how foods and nutrients interact when combined.

For example, vitamin A is highly absorbable if sourced from papaya and mango, and in tandem with fats or oils. The structure of some green leafy vegetables such as kale, can block some vitamin A from being released, and the nutrient will be partially lost through normal excretory channels. In similar fashion, Vitamin C absorption is improved in the presence of vitamin E which preserves its bioavailability in the body. However, absorption of vitamin C may be inhibited by fibrous foods. Folate or vitamin B9 is essential for forming and supporting red blood cells, and is found in beans, liver, and many fruits and vegetables. But fiber in these sources may reduce its absorption.10

While such factors are interesting to learn about, these highly complex micronutrient interactions are not necessary to figure out for planning long-term sobriety strategies and goals. A practical approach is lab testing. Testing will reveal what deficiencies need to be targeted and corrected. Designing a modified diet can help reverse deficits, and testing will help you monitor the results. And, supporting a well-functioning colon as described above will provide the mechanical efficiency that is an essential part of a healthy body. These actions alone can go a long way in setting you on a path using nutrition your long-term sobriety goals, in tandem with a wide treatment platform for recovery.

Alternative to Meds Center and Orthomolecular-Based Treatment: Using Nutrition for Long-term Sobriety and Mental Health 

Alternative to Meds Center has been treating addiction and drug dependence for nearly 2 decades with an over 87% success rate. Our treatment protocols are based on giving our clients the best opportunity to use proven strategies, including nutrition for long-term sobriety and improved mental health, naturally.

Our orthomolecular treatment approach is to provide our clients with an amazing set of practical, effective tools for long-term sobriety success. Counseling, and lifestyle changes including regular exercise are also recommended. You can find out about the treatment protocols used in the program on our services overview pages.

If you or a loved one is struggling with reaching your long-term sobriety goals, we invite you to find out more about what our program may offer that may be the missing pieces in your journey to true natural mental health and wellness, without relying on prescription drugs.


Sources:

1. Firth J, Gangwisch JE, Borisini A, Wootton RE, Mayer EA. Food and mood: how do diet and nutrition affect mental wellbeing? BMJ. 2020 Jun 29;369:m2382. doi: 10.1136/bmj.m2382. Erratum in: BMJ. 2020 Nov 9;371:m4269. PMID: 32601102; PMCID: PMC7322666.[cited 2023 Oct 23]

2. Gorby HE, Brownawell AM, Falk MC. Do specific dietary constituents and supplements affect mental energy? Review of the evidence. Nutr Rev. 2010 Dec;68(12):697-718. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2010.00340.x. PMID: 21091914. [cited 2023 Oct 23]

3. Bolte LA, Vich Vila A, Imhann F, et al Long-term dietary patterns are associated with pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory features of the gut microbiome, Gut 2021;70:1287-1298. [cited 2023 Oct 23]

4. Sturniolo GC, Di Leo V, Ferronato A, D’Odorico A, D’Incà R. Zinc supplementation tightens “leaky gut” in Crohn’s disease. Inflamm Bowel Dis. 2001 May;7(2):94-8. doi: 10.1097/00054725-200105000-00003. PMID: 11383597. [cited 2023 Oct 23]

5. Francino MP. Antibiotics and the Human Gut Microbiome: Dysbioses and Accumulation of Resistances. Front Microbiol. 2016 Jan 12;6:1543. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2015.01543. PMID: 26793178; PMCID: PMC4709861. [cited 2023 Oct 23]

6. Kim SK, Guevarra RB, Kim YT, Kwon J, Kim H, Cho JH, Kim HB, Lee JH. Role of Probiotics in Human Gut Microbiome-Associated Diseases. J Microbiol Biotechnol. 2019 Sep 28;29(9):1335-1340. doi: 10.4014/jmb.1906.06064. PMID: 31434172. [cited 2023 Oct 23]

7. Branch MN. Drug addiction. Is it a disease or is it based on choice? A review of Gene Heyman’s Addiction: A disorder of choice. J Exp Anal Behav. 2011 Mar;95(2):263–7. doi: 10.1901/jeab.2011.95-263. PMCID: PMC3047254. [cited 2023 Oct 23]

8. Braidy N, Villalva MD, van Eeden S. Sobriety and Satiety: Is NAD+ the Answer? Antioxidants (Basel). 2020 May 14;9(5):425. doi: 10.3390/antiox9050425. PMID: 32423100; PMCID: PMC7278809. [cited 2023 Oct 23]

9. Gasperi V, Sibilano M, Savini I, Catani MV. Niacin in the Central Nervous System: An Update of Biological Aspects and Clinical Applications. Int J Mol Sci. 2019 Feb 23;20(4):974. doi: 10.3390/ijms20040974. PMID: 30813414; PMCID: PMC6412771. [cited 2023 Oct 23]

10. Melse-Boonstra A. Bioavailability of Micronutrients From Nutrient-Dense Whole Foods: Zooming in on Dairy, Vegetables, and Fruits. Front Nutr. 2020 Jul 24;7:101. doi: 10.3389/fnut.2020.00101. PMID: 32793622; PMCID: PMC7393990. [cited 2023 Oct 23]

11. Mahboub N, Rizk R, Karavetian M, de Vries N. Nutritional status and eating habits of people who use drugs and/or are undergoing treatment for recovery: a narrative review. Nutr Rev. 2021 May 12;79(6):627-635. doi: 10.1093/nutrit/nuaa095. PMID: 32974658; PMCID: PMC8114851. [cited 2023 Oct 23]

12. Blum K, Febo M, Badgaiyan RD, Braverman ER, Dushaj K, Li M, Demetrovics Z. Neuronutrient Amino-Acid Therapy Protects Against Reward Deficiency Syndrome: Dopaminergic Key to Homeostasis and Neuroplasticity. Curr Pharm Des. 2016;22(38):5837-5854. doi: 10.2174/1381612822666160719111346. PMID: 27510492. [cited 2023 Oct 23]

13. Mahboub N, Honein-AbouHaidar G, Rizk R, de Vries N. People who use drugs in rehabilitation, from chaos to discipline: Advantages and pitfalls: A qualitative study. PLoS One. 2021 Feb 5;16(2):e0245346. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0245346. PMID: 33544758; PMCID: PMC7864414. [cited 2023 Oct 23]


Originally Published October 20, 2023 by Diane Ridaeus


This content has been reviewed and approved by a licensed physician.

Dr. Samuel Lee

Dr. Samuel Lee is a board-certified psychiatrist, specializing in a spiritually-based mental health discipline and integrative approaches. He graduated with an MD at Loma Linda University School of Medicine and did a residency in psychiatry at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle. He has also been an inpatient adult psychiatrist at Kaweah Delta Mental Health Hospital and the primary attending geriatric psychiatrist at the Auerbach Inpatient Psychiatric Jewish Home Hospital. In addition, he served as the general adult outpatient psychiatrist at Kaiser Permanente.  He is board-certified in psychiatry and neurology and has a B.A. Magna Cum Laude in Religion from Pacific Union College. His specialty is in natural healing techniques that promote the body’s innate ability to heal itself.

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Medical Disclaimer:
Nothing on this Website is intended to be taken as medical advice. The information provided on the website is intended to encourage, not replace, direct patient-health professional relationships. Always consult with your doctor before altering your medications. Adding nutritional supplements may alter the effect of medication. Any medication changes should be done only after proper evaluation and under medical supervision.

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