Treating Cravings and Addictions with Food and Supplements
Posted Nov 03 2008 1:18pm
You may never have been addicted to drugs, but you might know something about the addiction to food. Or sugar. Or alcohol. Or gambling. Turns out that all these addictions- and the associated cravings- have more in common with one another than you might think. And interestingly enough, the key to managing them might be in your diet.
This week's issue of The Economist, a London based newspaper, reports on interesting ongoing research using dietary approaches to addictions.
Here's how they explain the problem:
"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 behavior such as gambling."
We also know from animal experiments that reward pathways in the brain can be hijacked by sugar. Rats who became addicted to sugar actually showed all the signs of cocaine withdrawal when sugar was removed from their diet.
The key to the whole thing- no big surprise- is in your brain chemistry, that complicated computer system where messages can frequently get corrupted and things can easily go astray. Addictive substances literally "hijack" the pleasure centers of the brain so that it's harder to obtain regular plain old garden-variety pleasure from regular activities. Instead, you need bigger and bigger doses of the substances or behaviors that give you the biggest jolt- sugar, cocaine, drugs, alcohol, gambling and the rest of the usual suspects.
One supplement that's getting a lot of research attention for addictions and that has remained under the radar for now is NAC- N-Acetyl-Cysteine. A study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that giving NAC to cocaine addicts reduced their desire to use the drug so much that the researchers recommended NAC as a potential treatment. An entirely different study found that NAC reduced the desire to gamble in 80% of gambling addicts (as compared to 28% of those given a placebo). And animal studies have shown that NAC reduces relapse with cocaine and heroin.
OK, so probably not many of you are cocaine or heroin addicts. But cravings are cravings, and if NAC works with some addictions (or cravings) it should work with others. I've recommended NAC for years as part of a liver health program since it boosts the body's level of the important antioxidant glutathione (which is not well absorbed in supplement form).
Now it looks like it may have another use!
Other nutritional factors that can support a healthy brain function are tyrosine (a precursor of the neurotransmitter dopamine), 5-HTP (a precursor of serotonin) and GABA (a relaxing neurotransmitter). My friend Dr. Daniel Amen put these together in an elegantly designed formula called NeuroLink, which also contains a nice dose of vitamin B6, needed to convert 5-HTP into the feel good neurotransmitter serotonin.