The Nutritional Tie to Mental Health and Addiction
By: Dr. Keith Kantor
The number one objective of a nutrition plan during the rehabilitation phase of addiction recovery and mental illness recovery is to avoid stimulating the opiate receptors. Opiate receptor is defined as cell membrane receptors that can bind with morphine and other opiates; concentrations of such receptors are especially high in regions of the brain having pain-related functions. When these receptors are stimulated the brain often craves addictive substances such as drugs, alcohol and even certain foods. If the opiate receptors are not stimulated or suppressed, this will increase the success of addiction rehabilitation and mental health.
These foods should specifically be avoided because they have been shown to stimulate opiate receptors:
- Simple sugars, in the form of white bleached flours in crackers, breads, cookies, pastries, cookies, and high fructose corn syrup found in candy, certain flavored drinks, yogurts, sodas, etc. Instead go for high fiber carbohydrate options like fruit, vegetables, steel cut oats, sprouted grain breads, quinoa, flax seed, etc.
- Artificial sweeteners, in the form of saccharin, sucralose, and aspartame. These are often found in diet foods that are labeled low calorie or sugar free like drinks, juices, sodas, bars, yogurts, and snacks.
- Gluten, which is a protein composite of wheat, typically found on most mainstream breads, cereals, snacks, and even seasoning packets. Instead aim to have foods that are naturally gluten free like potatoes, wild rice, quinoa, etc.
- Milk protein, mainly from milk, yogurt, and cheese should also be avoided. Caffeine, can also stimulate the opiate receptors, it is best for all patients to avoid consumption of caffeine, and switch to caffeine free herbal teas.
The second objective is to keep inflammation down through both nutrition strategies and the consumption of high quality stable alkaline water (Aqua OH-!). The typical American diet is packed with sugar and processed foods, which throws off your body’s ability to optimize your pH. Although your body naturally has its own mechanisms to buffer your pH, many of us are likely living in a state of low-grade acidosis from consuming excessive caffeine and eating too many low-quality processed, depleted foods. Eating a diet rich in low nutrient processed foods puts the body in a state of mild, moderate or even severe inflammation. Inflammation can affect our body’s ability to regulate insulin levels resulting in increased cravings for sugary foods. Optimizing our pH through a balanced and whole food nutrition and hydration plan will reduce inflammation and help avoid cravings, hormonal imbalances and chances for relapses. Inflammation has been shown to adversely affect both substance abuse and most mental illnesses.
Foods that should be consumed daily because they are the most alkaline and will reduce inflammation include:
Lemons, watermelon, limes, mango, papaya, asparagus, onion, parsley, spinach, broccoli, olive oil, herbal teas, sweet potato, apples, berries, to name a few.
When developing a nutrition plan for a substance abuse program or mental illness program it is important to take a holistic approach to daily nourishment. These nutrition strategies will ensure long-term health and have a small impact on reducing the occurrence of a relapse.
- Develop a meal and snack schedule and adhere to the routine daily. This will reduce cravings while keeping the body in a state of balance. A daily checklist is a great way to develop habits and a feeling of accomplishment.
- Aim to eat 9-11 servings of fruits and vegetables daily. Preferably a ratio of one fruit to three vegetables. This keeps fiber intake at optimal levels, and provides vitamins and minerals in their most raw form. Think of consuming a helmet full of vegetables and fruits daily.
- Drink at least half of your body weight in ounces of stable alkaline water (Aqua OH-!) daily. This will promote optimal organ function, electrolyte balance, and reduce cravings.
- Include a high quality source of protein, a heart healthy fat and fibrous carbohydrate at each meal. This is the most absorbable form of amino acids that have been shown to be critical in addiction and recovery.
- Vitamin and mineral supplements will also be helpful during recovery. A high quality multi-vitamin and mineral supplement, B-complex, vitamin D, omega 3 fish oil, and a probiotic are all recommended to take daily with meals for optimal absorption. More specific supplements and herbs can be recommended individually based on assessment and laboratory values.
- Get regular exercise, at least 30 minutes most days of the week. Moderate exercise naturally keeps hormones in balance.
- Aim to get at least 7-8 hours of quality sleep per night.
- Eliminate caffeine and stop smoking.
- Amino Acid Therapy. Another important area in the use of nutrition in recovery and relapse prevention is the addition of appropriate amino acids that serve as the building blocks for powerful chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters.
- Specific menus are used for specific mental illnesses in addition to the above. For example if you have anxiety disorder you want the menu to contain foods that help produce serotonin and help stop production of cortisol. For sex addiction in men you want to make sure the menus do not contain anything that has testosterone in it or helps produce testosterone, also you want the menu to contain estrogen and soy to help offset the testosterone.
- All the rest of the above will work for substance abuse and help with most mental illnesses.