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KICKING ADDICTIONS

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 it up.

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
  • Raises triglycerides
  • 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
  • Causes gallstones
  • Contributes to obesity
  • What’s the best strategy for someone to kick the sugar habit?    

    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 big ones

  • 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 liver:

  • 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 function
  • 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 addiction include:

  • Skullcap, valerian, and vervain all have sedative or tranquilizing properties and help with the agitation a person can feel when they go off an addictive substance
  • 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 system
  • 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 sassafras.
  • 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 super greens
  • To kick an alcohol habit, these supplements are helpful:

  • Glutamine<
  • Cysteine
  • B-complex with extra B-3
  • Vitamin C
  • Magnesium
  •  

    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 sam@rosenutrition.com or 310-473-8835.

     
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