The Crucial Interplay between Addiction and Nutrition

nutrition addiction dr sunder step 12 magazine

by Dr. Keerthy Sunder and Jeffrey Bohnen BSc

When defining addiction, it is imperative to understand that this disease involves devastating biochemical disruptions, as opposed to being merely psychological in nature. Given that nutrition also plays a vital role in biochemical functions, the line between addiction and nutrition often blurs for those in recovery.

“Okay, but drugs seem much more powerful than food. How can what I eat have a significant impact on my recovery? Shouldn’t I focus on just staying sober and worry about my diet later?”

A study conducted at the University of Texas compared alcoholics in a typical AA treatment program (28 days in treatment) with alcoholics undergoing the same program with an added nutritional component, which consisted of dietary changes, vitamin and mineral supplementation, and nutrition education. Six months after discharge, 81% of the subjects who received nutritional training were sober, in comparison to 38% of the control group.

“Wow… so proper nutrition more than doubled recovery rates. How can something as simple as eating right have such dramatic effects?”

Rather than overload you with a bunch of dense explanations, we’re going to be covering this topic in a series of five articles. Our goal is to keep each segment short and simple, giving you the tools you need to transform your body and mind in as little time as possible. After providing you with a concise overview of key facts pertaining to the interplay between addiction and nutrition, we’ll explain the science behind four life-changing supplements: Vitamin D, Fish Oil, Turmeric, and Ashwagandha.

“Sounds interesting… I’m ready for the crash course.”

Great! Let’s start by addressing three common misconceptions regarding addiction and nutrition.

Myth #1: Addiction may cause poor nutrition, but the opposite–that poor nutrition may cause addiction–is not true.

The causal arrow between addiction and poor nutrition actually points both ways. Addiction promotes poor nutrition by reducing the body’s capacity to absorb and process nutrients. In turn, this can create a vicious cycle as poor nutrition can ignite cravings and reduce willpower. Research showed that vitamin-deficient rats were more likely to choose alcohol over water. However, these rats returned to preferring water upon receiving vitamin supplementation.

Myth #2: “Mind over matter” is all that matters. As long as your head is in the right place, there’s no need to worry about what you eat.

It’s important to remember that our mind is a product of the brain (biological matter), which is a product of what we eat. Moreover, our brain’s messengers, known as neurotransmitters, are derived from our diet. Make sure to give your brain the support it needs by including lean sources of protein (such as organic chicken breast or wild-caught fish) and healthy sources of essential fatty acids (such as high-quality fish oil or cold-pressed olive oil) in your diet. These nutrients are vital for the synthesis of our brain’s mood regulators.

Myth #3: Addiction and nutrition are separate issues and should be treated as such.

Our experiences in treating addiction and preventing relapse have taught us that addiction and nutrition are rarely, if ever, isolated issues. Addiction often coincides with nutritional issues, including hypoglycemia, adrenal fatigue, and leaky gut syndrome. Remember, however, that the causal arrow points both ways! Research has shown that treating the nutritional issues related to addiction dramatically improves the likelihood of recovery.

“So what can I do today to get started?”

All of this information may seem overwhelming. Let’s start with one simple shift. This month, focus on keeping your blood sugar at a steady level. This means that you should eat plenty of vegetables, organic meat or eggs, raw nuts, and healthy fats (such as cold-pressed olive oil or non-hydrogenated coconut oil), while avoiding simple carbohydrates (such as white bread, sweets, and processed foods). Your new food pyramid should look something like this:

Although this may be challenging at first, take note of how you feel as the month progresses. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to us on www.mindandbodytreatment.com. In the next issue, we’ll dive into a series of four life-changing supplements!

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