From the Economist, an interesting piece on a dietary approach to treating addiction:
PEOPLE are programmed for addiction. Their brains are designed so that actions vital for propagating their genes—such as eating and having sex—are highly rewarding. Those reward pathways can, however, be subverted by external chemicals (in other words, drugs) and by certain sorts of behaviour such as gambling.
In recent years, neuroscientists have begun to understand how these reward pathways work and, in particular, the role played by message-carrying molecules called neurotransmitters. These molecules, notably serotonin, dopamine and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), hop between nerve cells, carrying signals as they go. Some drugs mimic their actions. Others enhance them. Either way, the body tends, as a result, to give up making them. At that point the person needs the drug as a substitute for the missing transmitter. In other words, he is an addict.
Unfortunately, this improved understanding of the biochemistry of addiction has yet to be translated into improvements in treatment. The latest figures from Britain’s National Treatment Agency suggest that only 11% of those who start treatment complete it and are drug-free after 12 weeks. A new approach that acknowledges the underlying biochemistry might improve this situation. And on October 11th and 12th delegates to a conference in London, organised by Food for the Brain, an educational foundation, heard accounts of such an approach. Its tools are not drugs but dietary changes. The theory is that providing food rich in the precursors of lost neurotransmitters will boost the levels of those chemicals, and thus reduce craving. At the moment, only preliminary trials have been carried out. But they look promising and if larger trials confirm them, a useful, new front in the war on addiction might open up.
Basically, when we’re in withdrawal from heroin/nicotine/gambling/crack we get low on glutamine, a precursor of GABA. It’s GABA’s job to keep us relaxed. So when we don’t get our fix we get anxious and don’t sleep. But we can restore your glutamine levels by eating an amino acid called N-acetylcysteine (NAC) that’s found in nuts and seeds. Then you can start messing with other neurotransmitters, like serotonin (start by eating stuff high in tryptophans, e.g. meat, brown rice, nuts, fish, milk). And it’s good to eat DHA (found in omega-3 oils, i.e. salmon oil, flaxseed oil and so on).
So, you want to crave less–sweets, booze, crushing*? Eat fish and nuts with brown rice. A lot. Eat salads with flaxseed oil and seeds. Take fish oil supplements (but take them with food or you’ll be tasting those little buggers all day). Drink milk (urk, hate milk; love cream, though, wonder if that works…). I bet you’ll feel better. I know I feel a lot calmer when I eat this kind of food. Anyway, just thought I’d share.
* The more I think about Karina‘s recent posts on crushes, the more I think crushing (sometimes) might be a form of addiction, a relatively harmless/cost free way to light up the pleasure circuits.
10 thoughts on “eat your addiction away”
Thanks for this. Poor diet and stress do make life pretty miserable. There’s < HREF="http://www.seedmagazine.com/news/2006/02/the_reinvention_of_the_self.php" REL="nofollow">this article<> on how stress, proteins, neurotransmitters, etc. affect our brain’s ability for neurogenesis. There’s < HREF="http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/crime/article3265948.ece" REL="nofollow">this one<> on the correlation between diet and crime. There’s another article I can’t find which links both stress and a fatty-acid deficient diet to poverty, crime and addiction.>>I’ve been thinking about addiction since your library post, even before I went off on the crushing track. I realized just how addicted I am to book-buying when I considered for a moment that I could try to use the library more. A voice cried, “But then you’ll buy other things, like alcohol and… stuff.” Which is true. >>Everyone in my family is an alcoholic, some more than others. The reason I didn’t take up smoking (my dad smoked 3 packs a day before he quit, my brother is probably getting close to a pack a day now) or drinking (I’ve been drunk only twice in my life, but my parents and siblings go that route at least once a month) is that I bribe myself with the promise of books, albums, concerts. Every beer I don’t drink is a book, so when I go to the pub I never drink more than two—I’ve got my mind set on some new book. Every bottle of red wine I don’t buy is a book I can give to a friend—I’m also addicted to giving. Every collection of drinks I don’t trade in for books or albums is a concert. >>Most addicts who recover successfully from a bad drug or whatever, usually do so through transference. It makes perfect sense that we’d be transferring our hardwired addiction to eating and sex onto other activities. I know transference is a big component of my daily life. It’s how I “police my boundaries”, as Kelley says. I just throw myself a bone in another direction when I come too close to one of the nasty lines. I’ll keep a closer eye on my diet and see if it adds an extra layer of security to the boundary-watching that ensures I stay on the healthy/balanced track.
I’m definitely a pleasure circuit junkie. Now I police my boundaries very carefully. As we say in our house, I love drinking so much I will do it sensibly because I never want to have to give it up. Eating well does make a difference.>>Thanks for those links, especially the one to Seed. I’ve maintained for years that stress makes/keeps people stupid. We moved to our current house because environmental stress at our old place was killing me. My writing was going to hell. My health was going down the drain. Now we live on the edge of a ravine in a peaceful cul-de-sac and my writing brain is flowering.>>Anyone here remember that poster, Speed Kills? Stress is a much more efficient assassin.
As I have aged I find that I am eating less and less of those things that are good for my body. I am a vegetarian and a very good cook but by the time I get home,feed my “zoo crew”,make a few phone calls, check my-email, shower, and have my clothes ready for the next work day, my motivation to cook an actual meal, well, most nights it does not happen. I also prefer meals of substance and that usually equates to time intensive prep and clean up.>>Partly, eating alone is the problem. I love to cook for others and I recently said if I had the $$ would have someone just cook my evening meal and have it ready when I get home that I would be a happy camper.>>I love fruits and vegetables but fresh of any quality is hard to find. I prefer organic. Sooo… I may settle for some crackers, a cola,a bowl of Special K, a cheese(no animal rennet) sandwich or a breakfast taco the next morning.>>I do have an addictive personality and although I have had more that a few drinks in my day, I decided to stay the heck away when I saw it was becoming a problem. I’ve never done illegal drugs and growing up in the 60s there was no lack of opportuity. A friend once described me as the “straightest gay peson she knew.”>>Stress is my nombre. I can’t seem to kick it to the street. Social relaxation is hard for me to do. I try to go out once a month with the Ladies on the Loose (a HRC group). But I often talk myself out of it.>>LOL I do find Nicola’s readings very relaxing if I focus on the modulation and cadence of the words and not on the content. I look forward to the readings. >>Given all this said I did make enchiladas for my dinner tonight with the “help” of Rocket Dog waiting for the last nub of cheese.
Linda, I’m also a lazy cook and vegetarian. My trick is to always eat a handful of almonds in the morning, while I check email and drink tea. Then I snack on crackers or some other hard bread and spread flax-seed oil all over it. I keep apples and mandarin oranges around, which are easy/fast to peel. If you eat dairy, cottage cheese is a good choice. You can make it salty or sweet by adding fruits or veggies to it. I’m sure you can think of more ways to get away with laziness and still eat healthy. And stay away from so-called-healthy cereals. They are the worst: their sugar and salt content is enough to make your cells freak out. I know I indulge in sugar and stuff, but I try not to do it too much in the morning. If you need cereal, stick to plain oatmeal. And make sure you have your share of morning nuts no matter what.
Nicola, <>Seed<> is one of the magazines I look forward to receiving in the mail. It usually comes with pretty pictures, too, not just scientific articles. >>I’m glad you were able to make the right choices and carry out the necessary changes in order to ensure your writing and yourself stay alive and well. >>Stress and poor nutrition definitely make/keep people stupid. That’s what I say when I hear someone go, “Poor people are poor because they want to.” Really, most of the time they don’t have a way out. It’s one of the nasty vicious circles. What I find truly puzzling is that most companies would want to push their workers towards exhaustion and nervous breakdowns and 15-minute lunch breaks, increasing the stupidity curve. >>Krishnamurti was always saying that humanity needs more leisure time. It is vital for the mind. It is an indispensable component of awareness. We can’t come to the right path unless we’ve allowed ourselves leisure and calm. Which is why he also said we can’t expect the poor to come up with solutions to their own problems, we can’t expect the poor to govern themselves properly: they are too busy trying to survive. He’s been criticized for saying that most of humanity lives petty existences and can only perpetrate that through petty choices. I think he’s just pointing out the facts. >>And then Jesus was misquoted as saying that only the poor will inherit the Kingdom. Thank goodness Jesus Christ Super Star came to right that wrong and sing, “There will be poor always pathetically struggling -Look at the good things you’ve got! Think! While you still have me. Move! While you still see me.” It’s really up to the privileged and leisurely to think right and act right, which is why we should live up to that responsibility and take good care of ourselves so we can take good care of others.>>One of the first things I’d do if I was dictator of Mexico would be to cut down all the free-money handouts, the subsidies Mexico City thrives on, fire all the politicians, etc. With those huge resources, I’d make sure every child got fed breakfast, snack 1, lunch and received a take-home snack 2 plus dinner at school each day. As it is right now, some indigenous communities get money from government grants/subsidies and they spend it on booze or batteries for their portable sound systems. They don’t invest in a better diet or education. I wouldn’t be very popular, as you can see. I’d need an army to enforce my “No free money but lots of food and education for the kids” policy. Most adults, from my privileged point of view, are a lost cause. As a dictator, I wouldn’t be working to save or be hailed by this generation, but to ensure able minds for the next generation and the one after and so on. But they would all remember me as the nasty lady who got her head chopped off because she was selfish, greedy, insensitive and clueless enough to stop handing out money to the needy. >>My mom came from a very poor family. They lived in a dirt home with a dirt floor and no washroom. My grandmother had to clean other people’s homes so she could feed them. Rosario—my grandmother—never learned to read or write or do math. She died when my mom was still very young and they all had to go live in an orphanage for a few years. But while Rosario was alive, she had enough wisdom to make sure her daughters and son never went hungry or skipped school. My mom says that having had a proper nutrition as children made all the difference. Now, every one of her siblings has graduated from university. Not all of them have money or a leisurely life, but they have homes with tiled floors and indoor washrooms and also make sure they feed and educate their children right.
karina, yep, eating well as a child makes a big difference. I’ve eaten freshly cooked, seasonal food my whole life. And Seed, oooh, I need to subscribe to that at some point…>>linda, I was a vegetarian for years (the only animal products I ate were the daily splash of milk in my tea and the occasional egg). I spent hours a day preparing food to make sure I maintained a good nutritional balance. Nowadays, we tend to cook huge pot meals every now and again and freeze them in small portions so that only tired (or ill–like this week) days we can just pull a tub from the freezer and zap it and, presto, good healthy food. But as Karina says, eating something healthy for breakfast is the best thing you can do for yourself. I second the nuts. (My favourites are walnuts and almonds.)
Well, speak of the proverbial devil. I got all my labs back today and I am bit of a nutritional trainwreck…sigh…Mea Culpa. At least I now know “why” I feel so fatigued and so “done” at the end of my work day. >>I have been a vegetarian for over 25 years and never had a problem with nutrition,but, then again, I was cooking for myself and my daughters.>>My Internist laid out a plan of action which I fully intend to follow. I appreciate your and Karina’s suggestions as well…
linda, I’m delighted you have a plan. I hope it works out. I don’t know what your internist said but the two most important rules (for me, anyway) are 1) eat protein for breakfast and 2) do not eat white rice/bread/pasta. Good luck.
I used to cook and eat a healthy diet. Then lost interest in food when I got sick. Fortunately, my darlin’ Janet is in to good nutrition and has become an adventurous cook. Summer is filled with lots of fresh vegetables and fruit. We too cook ou pots o’ stuff and freze meal size packs. Interesting take, Nicoloa, on what foods to eat more of. And, yes, I’ve experienced the fish oil staying with me all day. Doesn’t matter if I take it on a full stomach. However, now that I am gallblatter free, it doesn’t bother me as much. >>One of the biggest “crimes” I see in America is children not having enough food and/or nutritional foods. In the Detroit area kids get a breakfast when they get to school. Where I work we do a lot of work getting people food. Unfortunately this is usually the boxed and canned variety. And most of our clients can’t afford fresh foods. We’ve been talking about starting an urban garden, trading work in the garden for the results of the labor. >>duff
The urban garden would be cool.>>In the last year, some school systems (very few, sadly) have switched to real food–organic, locally grown, well-prepared, etc. It’s doable, if the powers that be pay attention, and if no one is trying to make a profit.
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