Drug abuse is a disease that damages the brain. Together with poor nutrition, stress, inflammation, excess oxidation; drug abuse destroys nerve cells and disrupts neural circuitry. This cumulative damage can affect behavior, mood, memory, impulse control, cognitive functioning, and decision making. Fortunately, the brain is forgiving and nerve cells can regenerate and rewiring takes place through a process known as neuroplasticity. This process is initiated and maintained by techniques taught by skilled psychotherapists. Though psychotherapy stimulates growth and repair, healing will be compromised and slowed without the addition of critical nutrients and sound dietary practices.
- provide energy with complex carbohydrates
- supply essential fats with omega 3 fatty acids
- normalize neurotransmitters
- supplement with enzymatic cofactors
- hydrate appropriately
- limit your intake of fruits and vegetables
- allow inflammation to get out of control
- consume too much saturated fat
- have unbalanced blood sugar
- consume more than 1 – 2 cups of coffee per day
Provide energy in the form of complex carbohydrates. The brain is a pure glycolyzer, which means that if prefers glucose (sugar) for energy. Though the brain makes up only 2% of the body, it utilizes 25% of the total energy. In order to heal, one needs energy and the brain needs at least 120 grams of carbohydrates per day. Since it only stores limited glucose as glycogen in the liver, it is necessary to supply a continuous amount throughout the day and insure that there is still energy in the liver during sleep when the brain does the majority of its healing.
Do supply sufficient omega 3 fatty acids (from fish oils, nuts, flaxseed) each day for nerve cell repair and maintenance. These essential fatty acids are critical to nerve cell receptors because they make the membrane more flexible to capture the chemical messengers known as neurotransmitters. Fats make up 60% of the brain’s dry weight and the majority of this fat is an omega 3 called docosohexanoic acid (DHA). Fats also speed up the transfer of electrical information by severing as insulation (myelin sheath) for the brain’s wiring system.
Do normalize and replace neurotransmitters which control behaviors by stabilizing moods by reducing stress, anxiety, depression, and fatigue, through adequate high quality protein. All neurotransmitters are formed from monoamines which are the building blocks of proteins. For example, the amino acid tryptophan is converted into serotonin which allows you to be calm and centered. High quality proteins provide essential amino acids in the right combinations and quantity. Good sources are lean meat, fish, dairy as well as soy, nuts and beans.
Supplement with enzymatic cofactors, which are vitamins and minerals. These essential nutrients are critical in the manufacture and function of the communication chemicals we call neurotransmitters. Vitamin B6, B3, and minerals copper and iron are critical in the formation of adrenalin and dopamine. When the body has a complete array of the nutrients it needs it is best for growth, maintenance and repair. A complete vitamin and mineral supplement will fit the bill.
Hydrate appropriately, preferentially with water. You do need to replace daily fluid losses with at least 2 quarts or 8 cups per day. An additional 4 cups is provided by the food you eat, as food is mostly water. A drop of fluid as little as 2% (1 ½ pints) can negatively affect brain performance. Also, it is important to note that too much water (more than 4 quarts) can lead to water toxicity and mineral loss.
Don’t limit your intake of fruits and vegetables below 9 servings per day. The healing brain is highly susceptible to oxidative damage due to the oxidation (aerobic burning of) glucose for energy, the oxidation (rancidity) of unsaturated fatty acids, and the oxidation (rusting) of iron contained in the increased blood flow. A variety of highly pigmented fruits and vegetables are capable of scavenging and neutralizing damaging free radicals (reactive oxidized molecules), as well as restoring those that are used up in the body.
Don’t allow inflammation to get out of control. The body’s repair system is inflammation, but it can get out of control. When it becomes chronic it can be damaging and actually cause more injury and a host of diseases. Fruits and vegetables contain a multitude of plant chemicals (phytonutrients) that act as anti-inflammatory substances that balance out the out of control inflammation. Omega 3 fatty acids also help to keep inflammation in check by producing anti-inflammatory agents.
Don’t consume too much saturated fat, vegetable oils (omega 6 fatty acids), and cholesterol or Trans fatty acids. These fats can lead to vascular disease and limit the transport of nutrients and oxygen to the brain. Their insertion into membranes makes the receptors unresponsive to neurotransmitters and the nerves themselves stiff. Omega 3s makes the membranes fluid and the nerves flexible for maximum communication and functioning.
Don’t find yourself in a state of either too high or too low blood sugar. Too little or too much sugar flowing through the brain can cause fuzzy thinking, mood swings, irritability and fatigue. To keep the blood sugar in the proper zone, one should consume a mixed diet that combines complex carbohydrates, protein and a small amount of fat distributed throughout the day in 5 – 6 feedings. It is valuable to track your fiber intake daily and shoot for an average of 25 – 35 grams per day.
Don’t consume more than 1 – 2 cups of coffee (caffeine) per day each morning and none after 12:00 noon. Caffeine is a psychoactive drug that alters behaviors. It is a gateway drug in that it keeps cravings primed and alters the dopaminergic reward response. Traditionally, caffeine creates sleep disturbances and thereby hampers the number one condition most beneficial to brain healing which is quality sleep.
To achieve optimal neural functioning and a positive mental state, the brain must correct dysfunctional wiring and replace depleted gray matter. This means paying attention to what you eat and designing a comprehensive food plan. On the one hand you must correct deficiencies and restore balance. At the same time it is necessary to prevent further breakdown. The formula for a healthy brain is drug abstinence, psychotherapy, spirituality, proper sleep, mindfulness, exercise and above all, good nutrition.