The term “addiction” encompasses almost all imbalanced and self-destructive behavior. Substance abuse can create an illusory sense of well-being, but in the end it severely damages physical, psychological, and spiritual health. In this article we will focus on substance addictions and the various remedies which can be used to allay some of the common problems associated with recovery.
There are underlying metabolic malfunctions common to all substance addictions. Sugar is the foremost “addictive-yet-legal” substance used today. Several other drugs such as amphetamines, psychedelics, cocaine, caffeine, and nicotine temporarily increase the release of sugar into the bloodstream; this creates a “high” through a metabolic process similar to that involving sugar and alcohol. These drugs also duplicate the mood-inducing effect of the body’s endorphins, chemicals which transmit messages to the brain that help to relax the nervous system, or make it “smile.” But perhaps one of the most serious addictions today is the widespread attraction to pharmaceutical drugs. There are some physicians who believe that this trend is the nation’s “number one health problem.”
There are many degrees of addiction. Some people are mildly addicted to one or two cups of coffee or a few teaspoons of sugar. Others consume two to three quarts of caffeine drinks with more significant amounts of sugar. Then, at the other end of the spectrum, are addicts drinking pints of alcohol daily, shooting heroin, and doing large amounts of other “hard” drugs.
It has been shown that individuals with substance addictions may very likely be suffering from an assortment of one or more metabolic disorders such as hypoglycemia, hypoadrenia, hypothyroidism, Vitamin B deficiency, mineral deficiencies, liver malfunction, and depression. Serious maladaptive patterns, such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, hypoglycemia, and candida albicans, have always been common among drug addicts and alcoholics.
Continual nutritional support is instrumental in gaining real and lasting recovery from addiction. It is not uncommon for those who remain drug or alcohol-free to simply substitute their chosen substance with excessive use of another addictive substance, such as sugar, caffeine, or nicotine. This behavior is often indicative of some metabolic disorder that the individual is trying to self-correct.
It is a good idea when beginning a nutritional program to include a clean diet: lean proteins, complex carbohydrates, plenty of vegetables and fruits, low fat, and little or no refined sugars. When selecting nutrients, you may want to begin with a particular nutrient or formula, and use it for one week, noticing whether or not its effect is beneficial. Then, select a second nutrient and note its effect. An overall increase in energy or a heightened sense of well-being indicates that the nutrient is probably helping.
Here are some nutrients that address common problems from which many recovering addicts may suffer:
Nutrients associated with detoxifying and strengthening the liver and digestive tract
- Vitamin C. Vitamin C is considered to be one of the primary nutrients useful in the treatment of addiction. It helps to eliminate toxins from the body as well as lessen withdrawal symptoms. In 1977 and 1982 Libby and Stone reported that large doses of ascorbic acid combined with B vitamins and protein allowed heroin addicts to quit with minimal withdrawal symptoms. A dose of 10 grams daily prevented cravings from returning. The preferred form of C is buffered with calcium and magnesium or ester C.
- Selenium. This important antioxidant plays a role in the body’s utilization of oxygen. Studies have shown that mice live longer without oxygen if they have been previously supplemented with selenium. Alcoholics, as well as patients with candidiasis, chronic fatigue syndrome, and ARC, have all shown low levels of selenium. In addition, heart disease and cancer are higher in people with diminished selenium levels. Selenium also has a role in detoxifying poisonous phenols, formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, hydrocarbons, and chlorine. Many people with allergic reactions to these substances have found relief through the use of selenium. However, selenium can be toxic in large amounts. A safe therapeutic dose is about 100 mcg daily. Green leafy vegetables and several herbs, such as American and Siberian Ginseng, have bio-available forms of selenium.
- Zinc. The mineral zinc plays an important role in carbohydrate metabolism. If one uses excessive amounts of sugar, caffeine, drugs, or alcohol it is more than likely that a zinc deficiency will develop. Low zinc levels can cause liver deterioration and diminished functioning of the reproductive organs, immune system, and skin. Zinc picolinate is probably the most bio-available form, with a safe therapeutic dose between 15 – 20 mg, once or twice daily.
- Chromium. The recovering addict may benefit from chromium, as it helps to regulate the blood sugar pattern. Many times, recovering addicts find that supplementation with chromium not only regulates their carbohydrate metabolism but also their desire for sweets. GTF chromium and chromium picolinate are considered the most bio-available. A dose of 100 mcg, two times daily is a good place to begin.
- Acidophilous. Supplementation with acidophilous provides “friendly” intestinal flora which help to digest food and control pathogenic yeast, bacteria, viruses, and parasites. A standard dosage of two times daily, morning and evening, is usually sufficient.
- S.O.D. To the recovering addict, S.O.D. is important because it helps to speed the elimination of poisons from the body. It is one of the most abundant enzymes in the body, helping the liver to break down poisons and free radicals.
- Calcium. Calcium is one of the most important nutrients for strengthening the nervous system. Caffeine, sugar, alcohol, and other drugs often cause the body to eliminate calcium. Caffeine, for example, has been shown to double the urinary excretion of calcium. Several studies have demonstrated low serum calcium levels in alcoholics. Depressed calcium and magnesium levels are often the root of irritability, muscular spasm, and pain experienced by alcoholics and drug addicts. A recovering addict should consider 1000 mg of elemental calcium per day in divided doses, preferably at the beginning of meals.
- Magnesium. Magnesium and calcium are partners in keeping the nervous system strong and healthy. Most abused substances contribute to diminished magnesium levels in the blood. A recovering addict should consider taking 500-1000 mg of elemental magnesium daily in divided doses, preferably at the beginning of meals.
- DL-Phenylalanine (DLPA). DLPA is composed of two amino acids, D-Phenylalanine and L-Phenylalanine. It is the raw material that the nervous system uses to make PEA (Phenylethylamine) which increases the body’s ability to utilize endorphins. DL- Phenylalanine is most useful for cocaine addicts because it helps to restore norepinephrine levels, a neurotransmitter that is depleted by cocaine use. DLPA is also effective in lessening cravings and reducing depression, pain, and irritability. One double-blind study by Dr. Abram Hoffer compared the effect of D-Phenylalanine with imipramine, a commonly prescribed anti-depressant, in 60 patients. Those given D-Phenylalanine had a higher rate of improvement, without the side effects of the anti-depressant. A recommended dose is 500-750 mg, two times daily.
- B Complex. The B vitamins are usually seriously deficient in people who use excessive amounts of sugar, caffeine, alcohol, or other drugs. It is not even uncommon for these people to have B complex deficiencies prior to establishing their addiction. As a result, it is believed by some that part of the physiological draw to addictive substances has to do with B vitamin deficiencies. A supplement with 25 to 50 mg of the basic B vitamins is usually sufficient, taken one to three times daily.
- Potassium. A low level of potassium is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies found today. Excessive use of salt, caffeine, alcohol, and sugar, as well as an unbalanced diet, all tend to lower your level of potassium. Even commonly used pharmaceutical drugs such as cortisone and prednisone can create low levels of this important electrolyte. Decreased potassium levels are associated with depression, heart disease, and high blood pressure. Perhaps the best source of potassium can be found in fresh fruits such as oranges and bananas, and in vegetables such as leafy greens and potatoes. Numerous herbal extracts, including Nettle and Alfalfa, can provide bio-available forms of potassium.
- Milk Thistle. (Silybum marianum seed). Milk Thistle has displayed remarkable healing properties for the liver. European research has shown that it is effective in treating cirrhosis, chronic hepatitis, and alcohol induced fatty liver. Milk Thistle extract actually has hepato-protective properties; it protects the liver cells from damage by environmental and internal toxins. This herb can be used as a liquid extract, tablet, or capsule in most cases. However, the more serious recovery case should consider the standardized extract.
- Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis root). The American herb Goldenseal is a superior liver and blood detoxifier. A natural antibiotic, it is known to help reverse liver damage and effectively treat a variety of infections. It is not a good idea to take this herb by itself in large amounts for an extended period of time.
- Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale root). Dandelion is known throughout Europe as an excellent liver detoxifier and mild diuretic. It increases the flow of bile and encourages both the transformation and transportation of nutrients. It has been used historically to treat liver disorders, arthritis and gout.
- Bupleurum (Radix Bupleurum). The Chinese herb Bupleurum has been used for 2,000 years to rehabilitate the liver. Traditionally, Bupleurum-based formulas are used for extended periods of time in cases of chronic hepatitis and other liver disorders. These classic formulas include Minor Bupleurum; Bupleurum and Paeony; and, Bupleurum and “Dragon Bone”.
- Scullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora herb). Scullcap is a broad spectrum nervine tonic. This herb has been used successfully in cases of depression, anxiety, insomnia, and headaches. Scullcap is considered one of the preferred herbs to help ease withdrawal symptoms during recovery. During the first 72 hours of withdrawal, it may be taken every couple of hours. Scullcap contains large amounts of flavonoids which act as natural anti-inflammatory agents.
- Valerian (Valeriana officinale root). Valerian is another strong nervine. Extracts of Valerian have been used for centuries in Europe to resolve cases of insomnia, nervous disorders, anxiety, and depression. It is known to be beneficial for individuals who have a history of cocaine and/or alcohol use and also suffer from nervous disorders.
- Passion Flower (Passiflora incarnata blossom). Passion Flower is another great nervine. Milder than Valerian, it is excellent for relieving tension and for insomnia. Rich in flavonoids, Passion Flower is probably most effective when combined with Valerian and other nervines.
- Chamomile (Matricaria recutita blossom). Chamomile is known as a mild relaxant as well as a stomachic used for improving digestion. It contains the two compounds azulene and guaiazulene, which have been shown to stimulate growth of liver tissue in rats. Chamomile may also be helpful when prepared as a homeopathic remedy.
- Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba leaf). Ginkgo is an outstanding herb which has been shown to improve cellular glucose uptake, scavenge free radicals, encourage peripheral circulation, improve short term memory, and enhance energy. For the recovering addict who feels that his memory and circulation have been compromised, Ginkgo is a good place to begin.
Adaptogenic herbs and herbs associated with strengthening immune function
- Siberian Ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus root). Siberian Ginseng is known for its ability to combat lack of appetite, correct insomnia, and improve memory. It increases mental alertness, allays nervous disorders, and enhances energy. As an “adaptogen”, it also helps the body adapt to the metabolic stress of recovery from substance abuse.
- American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius root). American Ginseng is a superior tonic herb, known to strengthen metabolism and the entire endocrine system. Like Eleuthero Ginseng, it also has adaptogenic properties, and may be quite useful for the recovering addict. American Ginseng combines well with Siberian Ginseng.
- Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceous root). Astragalus strengthens digestion and promotes overall immune function. It is most commonly used for restoring energy and balance to a weakened immune system. Astragalus is also useful for those who have a history of recurring colds and flus, bronchitis, and chronic fatigue syndrome.
As you can see there are many nutrients and herbs which can assist the recovering addict. It is important to consider carefully which ones are appropriate for any given individual. The correct remedies will make the period of detoxification more gentle, and increase the likelihood of successful recovery.
Janet Zand, OMD, L. Ac. , is a respected naturopathic physician who lives and practices in the Los Angeles area. She has developed a unique and effective method of combining herbal medicine with nutrition, homeopathy and acupuncture. Her credentials include a Doctor of Naturopathy, Doctor of Oriental Medicine, and Certified Acupuncturist. Dr. Zand has over fifteen years of clinical experience treating with natural medicine, as well as formulating her own line of herbal supplements. This year her book, Smart Medicine for a Healthy Child, will be available in health food stores.