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The Importance of Nutrition and Diet in Recovery

Posted on September 9, 2009 in Drug Addiction Treatment

A Sacramento nutrition expert is helping teenage drug addicts turn their lives around through diet and nutrition. Carolyn Reuben, executive director of the Community Addiction Recovery Association (CARA), is educating people about the importance of nutrition in recovery.

“There’s such an intimate connection between our behavior and our nourishment, a direct relationship between our diet and how happy and satisfied we are,” said Reuben. “There are 50 years of research proving this works, but there has not been a paradigm in the medical community. My goal is to change the paradigm in the United States because we want to use what works. We want what makes people feel well, happy and calm so they can function well in their daily lives and recover. It’s possible.”

Reuben, a sociologist, acupuncturist, and nutritionist, has helped establish a nutrition component in Sacramento’s Adult Drug Court, where drug offenders take nutrition and cooking classes along with daily vitamins and supplements that are rich in amino acids. This nourishment triggers the body’s natural storehouse of anti-depressants to take over and the brain begins to function normally again, Reuben said.

Reuben talks of four different brain types that are deficient in nutrients, which can lead to mood disorders and/or addiction. Someone who is low in the body’s natural Prozac serotonin, for instance, might experience anxiety, depression, irritability, rage, insomnia, fibromyalgia, panic attacks, or suicidal thoughts, she said. This person may benefit from L-tryptophan or 5-HTP, she said.

“When someone starts drinking or taking drugs and their response is, ‘I don’t feel high, I feel normal,’ that’s the key that says they came into life with a bio-chemical abnormality. They are deficient in something and we can fix that with our diet, sometimes with amino acids, fish oil, vitamin C or B,” said Reuben.

Based on an individual’s drug of choice or chief complaints, Reuben said researchers can pinpoint which amino acids are missing. For instance, a methamphetamine addict was probably predisposed to a deficiency in certain amino acids long before he or she began taking the drug. The methamphetamine filled the gap that nutrients would have filled, immediately making the user feel better.

Those who are low in endorphins might crave comforting or numbing foods or behaviors where certain amino acids might naturally boost the body’s endorphin supply. “Dopamine is the key reward neurotransmitter,” she explained. “You feel comfortable inside when you have enough dopamine. If you don’t have enough, you look for relief, whether in pornography, gambling, compulsive behaviors, alcohol, or drugs. The need for that stimulant means you do not have enough naturally occurring dopamine. If you are sad when there is no reason to be sad, that’s a symptom of a bio-chemical imbalance,” she said.

“Some people can have multiple deficiencies so we might take one amino acid in the morning, a different one in the afternoon and yet a third before bed,” she said. “We are so deficient. Why? Because cows are standing in the muck. They don’t eat from green fields. They eat pre-packaged cow food. We don’t have the omega threes that we used to have so we are a nation deficient in omega three fatty acids,” said Reuben.

Although many lifestyle and environmental factors play a role in drug and alcohol use, Reuben said a college student’s poor diet and subsequent nutritional deficiencies may partially explain why some students increase drug and alcohol consumption in college.

The CARA program suggests that individuals check with their doctors before they begin a regimen of eating three meals a day, each containing at least 20 grams of protein, at least 4 cups of vegetables, 2000 mg of vitamin C, a multivitamin, 1000-3000 IU of Omega-3 fish oil, 500 mg of L-glutamine, and 2-3 mcg with meals of chromium. It also suggests avoiding white sugar and flour, which might deplete the body of vitamin B.

Much of CARA’s work is based on research by CSU Stanislaus Professor Stephen Schoenthaler, PhD, who in 1985 discovered a link between high sugar intake, low vitamin intake, and violence. He found that inmates who were given vitamin/mineral supplements daily had a 37-43% drop in violence. These findings lead researchers to explore the role of nutrition in drug use.

“I am not talking off the top of my head,” said Reuben. “There are over 50 years of double-blind studies to prove what I’m saying. It has just been ignored. But soon this will be like washing your hands. In the 1840s only a few people understood the importance of washing their hands to prevent disease and death. Now every mother knows that children need to wash their hands before they eat. This will become as everyday as washing your hands. More protein, cut back on the sweets. Eat whole grain instead of white flour.”

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