Supplements for Addiction Recovery
As you engage in a drug- and alcohol-free lifestyle, vitamins and other natural supplements can help you detoxify, start the healing process of important vital organs (especially a very abused liver), rebuild your cardiovascular system and augment your overall health.
Admittedly, all of the vitamins and minerals you’d find in a quality general purpose multivitamin are valuable in that respect. If you do nothing else supplementally, taking a daily multi — such as Stop Aging Now’s Multi Nutrient Basic 2-a-Day — is a solid nutritional insurance policy that involves minimal hassle.
If you want to do a little more, however, here are five nutrients available in supplemental form that can aid your efforts.
The Healing Helper: Vitamin C
It’s been touted as a cold fighter, and although its effectiveness as a cure for the common cold has never been proven, plenty of other researched benefits have.
Vitamin C, found in many fresh fruits and vegetables, may help patch up a struggling immune system and protect against cardiovascular disease and cancer, according to a research review published in Seminars in Preventive and Alternative Medicine in 2007, which examined clinical-trial data spanning several decades. Indeed, this extensively studied vitamin has been linked to the healing of tissues and damaged cells, neutralization of free radicals, improvement of cardiovascular health and prevention of eye diseases such as macular degeneration.
The U.S. Institute of Medicine’s recommended daily intake (RDI) has been set at 90 milligrams for men and 75 milligrams for women, with an upper intake limit of 2,000 milligrams maximum for both sexes. The daily intake is far from an accepted final answer. Linus Pauling, a Nobel Prizewinning chemist who was an avid proponent of C supplementation, recommended mega doses of up to 10 grams. Although other scientists for the most part have not stepped out nearly that far, many do see value in extending beyond the institute’s RDI.
“The levels set by the Institute of Medicine are enough to prevent scurvy or some sort of major deficiency but are not necessarily what will promote optimal health,” says Kevin Passero, naturopathic physician and contributing writer to Live in the Now.
“Most people in recovery are likely to be pretty deficient in vitamin C, depending on what behaviors they’ve engaged in. For instance, every cigarette depletes you about 100 milligrams of C. So it’s good to replenish it. For a healthy person, 500 milligrams daily is plenty, while someone trying to restore their health and support their immune system can take up to 2,000
milligrams per day.”
The Bone Health Booster: Vitamin D
Biologically, vitamin D — known as the sunshine vitamin because skin exposure to the sun prompts synthesis of the vitamin in human — helps the body absorb and metabolize the key minerals calcium and phosphorous, which support bone strength, metabolism, nerve impulses and important chemical reactions. Mighty D also boosts the immune system and may help protect against hypertension and
A current debate in the medical community surrounds vitamin D, not regarding its healthy effects but rather whether people are getting
enough. It’s a hard vitamin to take in through the diet, naturally in only a few foods, such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, egg yolks and mushrooms, and is often artificially added to foods such as milk. As people steer clear of the sun to avoid harmful UV rays, the body’s natural production of D decreases and deficiencies may occur.
Currently, the minimum RDI for D is 600 IU per day. Although Passero admits that’s a bit low, he believes the best route is getting tested and assessed, with your optimal dosage determined by your blood levels.
One final note on D: When you see a supplemental reference to vitamin D, it’s actually referring to two biologically inactive precursors — D2 and D3 — which are transformed into an active form of the vitamin by the liver and kidneys. However, of those two, recent research published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism revealed that D3 (cholecalciferol) is in fact 87 percent more potent
when it comes to raising blood levels of the vitamin when compared with D2. In other words, when you shop, look specifically for vitamin D3 and not just a generic vitamin D supplement.
The Liver Detoxifier: Milk Thistle
It’s no secret that addiction, especially alcoholism, is hell on the liver. Alcohol and other toxins overwhelm and damage it and over time cause it to function less effectively as it struggles to rid your body of waste. If left unchecked, cirrhosis can be the final, potentially deadly, outcome.
On your road to recovery, then, it stands to reason you should try to nurture your liver back to health through a clean, sound diet that helps it repair itself. One supplemental nutrient that may aid the cause is milk thistle.
“Milk thistle, or milk thistle in combination with other herbs like turmeric or dandelion root, helps to protect and restore health to the liver,” Passero says. “If you taste those herbs, they would taste bitter. Bitter flavors on the tongue stimulate gall bladder contraction, which helps drain bile acids, open up the bile ducts in the liver and allow toxins to flow out.”
You don’t actually have to taste the herbs to have that response, Passero adds, so go ahead and take them in capsule form. Because there is no definitive RDI guidance on milk thistle daily dosage, follow label directions of the product.
The Inflammation Reducer: Fish Oil
Derived from oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and tuna, fish oil is so valuable for health because of its omega-3 fatty acids, specifically eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and decosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Omega-3’s have been linked to a range of benefits for the heart and mind and for their inflammation reduction capabilities. According to the American Heart Association, research has shown that omega-3 fatty acids can reduce abnormal heartbeat risk and triglyceride levels and can even slightly lower blood pressure.
“Fish oil has a lot of implications with anxiety, bipolar disorder and depression,” Passero says. “It’s really important for supporting cell membrane health, the brain, the neurological system and the immune system.”
No RDI has been set for omega-3 intake, but a general guideline is 3,000 to 6,000 milligrams daily. (Note that people taking blood thinners need to consult their doctor before using fish oil in such high doses.) Look for a product that contains both EPA and DHA at a ratio of about 3 to 2.
The Next Level: Amino Acid Therapies
In the field of recovery nutrition, Passero is a firm believer in the power of amino acids, which are, in basic terms, the building blocks of protein. “Looking at amino acid therapy and how it affects brain chemistry, you can tailor supplement regimens based on how certain drugs take a toll on different aspects of the body.”
or instance, those who were addicted to stimulants such as methamphetamines or cocaine will likely suffer from depleted levels of neurotransmitters such as catecholamine, epinephrine and norepinephrine. “They are going to need things that support the production of those neurotransmitters, such as tyrosine and SAMe (S-adenosyl-L-methionine),” Passero says. “Other amino acids, such as 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), are precursors to serotonin. 5-HTP can be a wonderful tool to bring serotonin levels up in people that might be suffering depression or anxiety issues.”
On the other hand, a recovering alcoholic could benefit from a different approach. “I see a lot of similarities between people addicted to sugar and those addicted to alcohol,” he says. “Glutamine is one of the most supportive nutrients you can use to help stem sugar cravings.”
Other aminos Passero recommends are taurine, an amino that’s abundant in the heart, muscles and nervous system, and l-theanine, an extract from green tea. “L-theanine blocks a stimulatory neurotransmitter in the brain called glutamate that leads to hyperexcitement and a lot of anxiety,” he says. “There’s also a lot of very good research on inositol and its ability to prevent panic attacks.”
For those interested in aminos, Passero recommends finding a naturopathic physician that can help narrow down the best options for your particular needs. “I have a lot of patients come to me post-recovery who refuse to touch pharmaceuticals because they put so much effort and energy into getting clean and independent of pharmaceuticals of any sort. Instead, they are looking for these natural strategies, and they can oftentimes be very effective.”
This article originally appeared in the May/June 2011 edition of Renew magazine.
Michael Berg is certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Association as a personal trainer. He has contributed to Men’s Fitness, Muscle & Fitness and Better Nutrition and is a regular contributor to Renew.