Mount Sinai Wellness Center

How exercise and eating well can help fight addiction

The Link Between Healthy Eating and Successful Recovery

When reading through the nutrients on this list, you might notice that many of the same foods are found in multiple areas. These commonalities are great news because it means that recovering addicts can make small changes to their diets and still experience a wide range of benefits.

When the body is recovering from drug or alcohol abuse, it becomes extra important to incorporate proper nutrition and a balanced diet. During the detoxification process, many of the nutrients being consumed are used for that purpose. Being especially mindful about one’s nutritional intake during this time will help ensure that the body has what it needs to fulfill other functions.

Foods that are beneficial for fighting addiction:

  • Foods high in tyrosine:

Tyrosine is an amino acid that can be found in high-protein foods like cheese, soybeans, lamb, pork, fish, chicken, nuts, eggs, dairy, beans, and whole grains. Tyrosine increases levels of the neurotransmitters dopamine, adrenaline, and norepinephrine. Typically, when one is in recovery, dopamine levels are diminished because the body was previously dependent on usage of a drug in order to create it. When dopamine levels are healthy, the body experiences benefits that can aid in the recovery process. These benefits include elevated mood, blood flow, healthy digestion, heart and kidney function, improved memory and focus, and more.

  • Foods high in L-Glutamine:

L-glutamine is another amino acid that occurs naturally in the body and can be found in protein-rich foods. Foods that are particularly high in L-glutamine include meat, seafood, milk, nuts, eggs, cabbage, and beans. Heavy consumption of certain drugs like alcohol inhibit the way the body synthesizes L-Glutamine and prevents the absorption of it. This makes it extra helpful to consume during recovery and when fighting addiction. It can also help to alleviate depression and promote healthy stress responses.

  • Foods high in antioxidants:

Free radicals are formed after oxygen in the body splits into single atoms with unpaired electrons. Electrons like to work in pairs and they cause damage to cells, protein, and DNA as they make their way through the body looking for their pair. Antioxidants help to rid the body of free radicals and help mitigate the damage that they do. This study published in the International Journal of High Risk Behaviors and Addiction concluded that oxidative stress increases in opium-addicted people, which occurs alongside harmful effects on the antioxidant enzymes. It also found that addicts tend to have an antioxidant deficiency. For these reasons, consuming antioxidants is important and beneficial when fighting addiction. Foods high in antioxidants include grapes, blueberries, red berries, nuts, dark green veggies, sweet potatoes, and orange vegetables.

  • Foods that encourage synthesis of GABA:

GABA is another naturally occurring amino acid that works as a neurotransmitter in the brain. GABA blocks or inhibits certain brain signals and, in this way, it decreases activity in the nervous system. Low GABA levels are linked to anxiety and mood disorders, two issues that are often seen in individuals struggling with addiction. In addition, certain drugs like benzodiazepines interfere with GABA receptors in the brain, making synthesis of GABA even less functional. These reasons make it important to consume foods that help with the synthesis of GABA when undergoing addiction recovery. Examples of such foods include fruits, vegetables, green and black tea, fermented foods like yogurt and tempeh, tomatoes, spinach, shrimp, broccoli, potatoes, and cocoa.

  • Foods high in tryptophan:

Similar to other nutrients on this list, tryptophan is an amino acid that aids in the production of serotonin. However, what is different about tryptophan is that it does not occur naturally in the body, so it must be obtained through food. Tryptophan works to help the body produce serotonin, so it has positive effects on energy levels, mood, sleep, and helps with brain function. When going through withdrawal symptoms or adapting to a sober lifestyle, loss of serotonin can contribute to depression in the recovering user, which can even inhibit recovery. That’s why foods that are high in tryptophan, like lamb, beef, pork, game, chicken, turkey, and fish are important to consume during recovery. Individuals who do not eat meat can find the amino acid in seeds, nuts, cheese, brown rice, and milk.

The Link Between Exercise and Successful Recovery

Studies have shown that individuals who exercise regularly are less likely to use and abuse illicit drugs. There are several behavioral and neurobiological effects from, has which causes its protective effects. On a practical level, when someone is going through recovery and even beyond that point, they may experience feelings of stress, reduced energy, poor sleep, and unstable moods.

Exercise is known to result in the following benefits that can be helpful during recovery and while living a sober lifestyle:

  • Stress reduction:

Exercise is known to positively impact one’s overall health and sense of well-being. One way that it does this is by helping the brain produce endorphins, which are chemicals that help the body cope with pain and stress. Exercise can prevent stress from accumulating, help manage existing stress, and protect the body from its harmful effects. Because exercise is a form of meditation, those who work out often report feeling an elevated sense of wellbeing afterwards.

  • Improved sleeping patterns:

Exercise triggers an increase in body temperature, and when that temperature drops afterwards, it can promote falling asleep. Because exercise also decreases arousal, anxiety, and depressive symptoms, it can help alleviate insomnia. People who sleep better also tend to handle the day’s tasks with more clarity, which decreases the need to turn to unhealthy habits.

  • Increased energy and improved mood:

Regular exercise can increase energy levels even among those who suffer from chronic medical conditions that are often associated with fatigue. This is because it reduces the immune system chemicals that can make depression worse, and as previously mentioned, it releases endorphins that lift the mood naturally. Exercise also promotes neural growth, reduced inflammation, and activity patterns that promote feelings of calm and well-being. All of these benefits are helpful when on the path to recovery and healing.

  • Protection from diseases:

Addiction is a disease in and of itself, but it is also strongly linked to other diseases, such as lung or heart disease, stroke, cancer, and mental health conditions. According to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, exercise helps prevent those diseases as well as depression, diabetes, and osteoporosis. For this reason, exercise is a great way to offset some of the damages that were done to the body due to drug abuse and set up the body for a healthy future.

  • Alleviates urges to use drugs:

Perhaps most importantly of all, exercise alleviates urges to do drugs and can help users stay strong on their path to recovery. Research has shown that exercise can alter the brain’s mesolimbic dopamine pathway, which is linked to rewarding and reinforcing properties of drugs like cocaine. This alteration can help prevent the temptation to use. Multiple other studies have correlated a decrease in usage with an increase in exercise due to these alterations and likely due to the benefits above.

Contact Mount Sinai Wellness Center to Learn More

Overcoming addiction is a massive accomplishment and can be quite a battle. However, those struggling with addiction have resources at their fingertips. Not only is support available from caring individuals like the addiction specialists at Mount Sinai Wellness Center, but they also have healthy habits available to them, like exercise and eating properly. These habits can make a big difference in preventing relapse and getting the recovering addict on the path to a sober, healthy lifestyle.

You can contact Mount Sinai Wellness Center at (800) 353-4673 or reach us online to learn more about how our team can help recovering addicts in the detox process and provide tools that aid in a lifetime of healthy living.