Sam Rose, CN MS
Addictions in one form or other affect millions of people in
this country. Scientists are just now beginning to understand why some people
fall so easily into using addictive substances while others can literally take
them or leave them. If you’ve ever had an addiction to a drug, alcohol,
nicotine, caffeine, sugar, or other food, you know how hard it can be to give
The word “addiction” is usually used to describe a
dependency on cigarettes, alcohol or drugs. But the term can also be used to
describe certain forms of behavior. For example... gambling or sexual
activity. People can also be addicted to foods.
Many people who don’t have
a drug or alcohol problem or smoking addiction might not be so quick to accept
the idea that they are hooked on caffeine, sugar, or carbohydrates. According
to the book “Alternative Medicine” by the Burton Goldberg Group, addiction
can be defined as any physical or psychological dependence which negatively
impacts a person’s life. Obsessions for foods are not nearly as powerful
as for drugs, alcohol or other addictive substances. But if we find that any
food begins to govern our behavior (cravings), or if we experience a physical
or an emotional discomfort if we don’t have a food, we’re probably hooked.
The easiest way to tell if you have an addiction to a food is to give it up,
cold turkey for a week. If you’re addicted to it, the cravings for it will
be very strong.
There is a neurotransmitter in the brain called dopamine
that is the common thread in all kinds of addictive behavior. Dopamine, along
with seratonin, is one of the neurotransmitters in the brain that effects our
moods. Seratonin gives us a feeling of satisfaction and a sense that
everything is okay (Prozac is an antidepressant that is a seratonin
stimulator). Dopamine not only makes us feel more alert, but it also is
involved in feelings of pleasure and elation. Some researchers believe that
dopamine is in short supply in the brains of people who are easily addicted.
Addictive substances such as caffeine, alcohol, nicotine and other drugs
increase the level of dopamine in the brain.
There is a theory that basically states that if there is a
dopamine imbalance or deficiency, a person will be more at risk for addictive
behavior. Several addictive substances (heroine, amphetamines, cocaine,
marijuana), all of which promote increased levels of dopamine in the brain, are
used by a relatively small number of people and three others (alcohol,
nicotine, and caffeine) are used by over 100 million people every month.
If there is a balance of neurotransmitters in the brain and
enough seratonin and dopamine are being produced, a person isn’t as likely to
become addicted. So anything that disturbs the balance of neurotransmitters
can cause or perpetuate addictive behavior. Both sugar and caffeine can
interfere with the proper metabolism of tryptophan (a precursor of seratonin)
and can cause depression and nervousness by blocking the manufacture of
neurotransmitters. Sugar and caffeine are two addictive substances that can
aggravate or perpetuate an addiction to other substances. For this reason, many
anti-addiction programs insist that clients give up sugar and caffeine.
We should clarify that we aren’t just talking about coffee.
Black tea, colas, sodas, chocolate, cocoa and analgesics, like Excedrin, and
stimulants, like Vivarine, are all high in caffeine. Excess caffeine can
effect liver function, restrict arterial blood flow, cause high blood pressure,
rob the body of minerals leading to bone loss, exhaust the adrenals, and cause
hormonal imbalances that can lead to breast cancer and uterine fibroids. It
has been implicated in PMS, bladder infections, hypoglycemia and diabetes.
Researchers believe that one cup of coffee a day (about 100
mg of caffeine) probably isn’t a problem for most people.
Here’s how to kick caffeine and stay off of it:
- If you drink more than one caffeinated drink a day - reduce
to one. Researchers have found that one a day will satisfy the caffeine requirement
and prevent withdrawal symptoms like headaches.
- Then reduce caffeine by 50% each week. If it’s coffee,
drink half decaffeinated and half regular - the following week drink 3/4
decaffeinated and 1/4 regular.
- Then switch to ginseng tea, which will support energy
without stressing the adrenal glands.
According to the “National Coffee Association” 130 million
people drank coffee in the last month. This would certainly put coffee at the
top of addictive substances used in this country. But there’s one substance
that tops even caffeine. The average American eats 52 teaspoons of sugar a
day. That’s almost 140 pounds of sugar a year. Is there any doubt in your
mind that sugar is an addictive substance?
Alcohol and sugar are chemically identical. Any substance
that aggravates our body’s blood sugar balance is going to either be addictive
or aggravate other addictions. The excess sugar we Americans eat every day
keeps our adrenals and pancreas in a constant state of shock. These two organs,
along with the liver, are in charge of regulating healthy blood sugar levels.
Excess sugar creates very erratic blood sugar levels and very erratic energy
levels. Our brains are very dependent on blood sugar, using up to half the
blood sugar in our bodies. If our blood sugar is crashing, the brain is going
to feel deprived and we’re going to feel sluggish, spacey, fatigued, depressed
and irritable. Our instinct is going to be to consume more sugar, which is
the absolute worst thing we can do. That craving we have for something sweet
is an addiction to sugar. Like any addictive substance, continuing it only
makes things worse. As sugar destroys our body’s blood sugar balancing mechanisms,
it makes us want more, since we can no longer keep our own sugar levels balanced.
We crave it all the time to relieve the depression and low energy we feel.
Major medical journals have reported sugar’s connection to all of the following:
Increased risk for breast cancer
Double the risk for biliary tract cancer
Deplete B vitamins and chromium
Interferes with the absorption of calcium and magnesium
Causes heart disease
Increases cholesterol and insulin levels
Raises blood pressure
Weakens the immune system
Causes a deficiency of copper
Causes varicose veins
Damages the kidneys
Causes or worsens arthritis
Causes migraine headaches
Increases the acidity of the stomach
Contributes to obesity
What’s the best strategy for someone to kick the sugar
Like any addictive substance, its best to avoid it
completely, including table sugar, fruit juice, maple syrup, honey and all
forms of hidden sugar in foods (most end in “ose” - maltose, dextrose).
Getting enough protein really helps balance blood sugar. Eating protein at two
or even three meals a day will take a bite out of sugar cravings. Protein
sends a message to the liver to release glycogen which keeps blood sugar levels
While protein will quell sugar cravings, eating white flour
products and other refined carbohydrates will make cravings worse. For
instance, after a starchy meal like pasta, people will often crave sugar. When
we eat a refined carbohydrate product, we might as well be eating sugar. There
is no fiber to slow down the progression of carbohydrate into the blood. This
Complex carbohydrates, like whole grains, beans, yams,
lentils and legumes, are the ones that nutritionists point to as being good for
you. If someone is trying to normalize blood sugar levels and balance
neurotransmitters, the maximum percentage of total carbohydrate intake should
be 70% from vegetables and fruits. Balancing hormone levels requires fewer
carbohydrates (40%), and more protein (30%). Healthy fats, like olive oil and
oils in nuts, seeds and avocados help to increase the production of seratonin,
which gives us a feeling of well being and relaxation.
Since food allergies can set up cravings and
aggravate addictive behavior, an elimination or food rotation diet can help.
Elimination diet: Remove all common allergens (wheat,
dairy, fruits, sugar, yeast, mushrooms, eggs, soy, coffee and corn)
Eat a cave man diet (protein and vegetables with a few grains -
quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth)
After a month or so, challenge the body with one of the common
allergens listed above at a time every few days to see if it’s a problem.
Rotation diet: Rotate foods so that no potential allergen
is eaten more than once every 4 days
Because blood sugar levels are so important, a hypoglycemic
diet would be helpful to kick any kind of addiction. The following are some of
the aspects of a hypoglycemic diet:
Small, frequent meals up to six to eight a day, instead of 2 to 3
Small amounts of protein at each meal – can be animal or
vegetable – nuts, seeds, sprouts, peas, beans, soy, tofu, avocado
Protein triggers the release of the hormone glucagon, which
causes the liver to release stores of glycogen which keeps blood sugar from
getting too low
Moderate amounts of complex carbohydrates, plenty of fresh
vegetables and whole grains will help to stabilize swings in blood sugar
A good digestive enzyme taken with regular meals will help
stabilize and control hypoglycemia.
Another very important aspect of kicking an addiction is detoxification,
both of the blood and the liver. Cleansing the blood of drugs is necessary
because the drug alters the brain chemistry and perpetuates the craving for
it. It can take a year to fully detoxify the blood of drugs. Because all
addictive substances, including caffeine, alcohol, nicotine and sugar alter
brain chemistry, they need to be cleansed from the body in order to get out
from under their control. Cleansing drugs and toxins out of the liver is one
of the best ways to reduce withdrawal symptoms and shorten recovery time.
Ultimately, it’s the liver that filters drugs, chemicals and toxins from the
body. The better its working, the faster we get well. The liver also plays a
big part in keeping the brain supplied with blood sugar. A toxic, sluggish
liver impairs mental function.
The following are some suggestions to help detoxify the
Lemon water every morning - helps liver release old bile
Fresh vegetable juice is very cleansing to the liver – have some
3 times a week.
Milk thistle is proven to cleanse and support the liver
Oatstraw, burdock root, echinacea, dandelion root and licorice
root teas and tinctures help cleanse the blood.
It is also very important to support the adrenals.
The following are suggestions for adrenal support:
Take an adrenal glandular
Start the day with easily absorbed protein
Vitamin C with bioflavonoids helps build up weak adrenals
All the B vitamins, especially pantothenic acid support adrenal
Resist the urge to use stimulants (coffee, sugar, guarana, coca
nut), which all deplete the body of minerals, destabilize blood sugar and put
more stress on the adrenals
Avoid sugar which depletes B vitamins needed for proper brain and
central nervous system function. Resulting low blood sugar leads to fatigue,
depression, anxiety and mood swings that are going to make cravings for any
addictive substance much worse.
Herbs that can be helpful to kick a bad food habit or
Skullcap, valerian, and vervain all have sedative or tranquilizing
properties and help with the agitation a person can feel when they go off an
Siberian ginseng is tonifying and balancing to the body
Superfoods, like blue-green algae, spirulina and chlorella can be
very helpful to curb cravings. They are nutrient-dense and loaded with trace
minerals and protein, which most addicted people are deficient in. They also
nourish the brain (help neuropeptide production) and contain chlorophyll, which
is very cleansing.
There are several nutrients that help reduce irritability associated with getting off an addictive substance.
Formula 303 – a homeopathic preparation to reduce anxiety
Gaba and taurine will help relax
Tyrosine is a seratonin precursor
Glutamine helps to provide blood sugar to the brain
B-complex, especially B-6 and niacin supports the central nervous
Magnesium helps to relax
Since most people suffering addictions or cravings are
deficient in important nutrients, a high-potency multi-vitamin/mineral would be
a good idea.
If someone is trying to quit smoking cigarettes there is a
tea they can make for themselves that will help reduce cravings, support their
nervous system and adrenals, and help cleanse their lungs.
Mix one part each: Oatstraw, lobelia, licorice, calamus, and
Also, detoxifying the nicotine out of the body if very
important. Supplements that are helpful here include:
Cysteine, glutamine, vitamin C, evening primrose oil and
To kick an alcohol habit, these supplements are
B-complex with extra B-3
Sam Rose, CN MS is a licensed and certified nutritionist
and owner of Rose Nutrition Center in West Los Angeles. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 310-473-8835.