Too often in simply asking a new patient about their intake of sugar, alcohol, recreational drugs, or caffeine, their very definite response will be, "I'm not addicted. I can quit whenever I want to!"
Nonetheless, they - and you - may be surprised to discover that preferences for high sugar foods, caffeine, marijuana, or alcohol are often addictive cravings that are based on a brain chemistry imbalance.
The strategy to overcoming these addictions (though I seldom use the loaded A-word in practice) is to restore and regulate normal balance. This then gives you a real choice as opposed to an automatic "got to have it" response.
We will look at some common addictions-sugar, caffeine, and alcohol-and how to break free from them.
You may find that once your brain and body are in proper biochemical balance, you no longer desire the substance at all.
The plan includes diet, supplements and some lifestyle recommendations that have the 'side benefits' improved energy, more stable and happier moods, and improved sleep, and other health improvements.
Handling Sugar Cravings
Although we are born with an affinity for sweets, sugar itself is an acquired taste. Children who are fed sweet foods (cakes, pies, cookies, chocolate, candy, sweetened soft drinks) prefer higher levels of sweetness as adults.
Yet most of us are aware of the negative effects of sugar on our health -- overweight, mood swings, risk of diabetes, and damage to various organ systems.
The first step in reducing these acquired cravings is to "decondition" your sweet tooth by gradually cut down the level of sweetness in your food.
You can start by sweetening cereals and desserts with fruit. Since it contains fiber, it's slower to absorb and therefore, less harmful, and also contains many important nutrients.
Avoid sugar in any form, such as fructose or corn syrup, or even honey.
Shift to a healthier diet, as described below, and start these supplements as your basic balancing program: a high potency multivitamin and mineral formula (containing a daily dose of 200-400 mcg of chromium), one to three grams of vitamin C, an antioxidant formula, and 1-3 grams daily of essential fatty acids such as fish oil or flax seed oil.
Besides its sugar content, chocolate also contains the endorphin-like brain chemical, phenethylamine (PEA), as well as magnesium, and some form of fat or oil. A lack of one or more of these ingredients is likely the cause your chocolate craving.
If you cannot figure out which one it is, take the basic daily supplements as well as the following to cover all four : 400 to 500 mg of magnesium, one tablespoon of flax seed or hemp oil twice daily, 200 mcg of chromium daily (found in your multivitamin), and 500 to 1000 mg of glutamine.
Combating Coffee and Caffeine Cravings
It takes an average of four days to break the coffee habit. During this time you may experience headaches and drowsiness - strong reminders of how bad coffee really is for you.
Decaffeinated coffee contains less caffeine but it is only mildly better than the caffeinated type, and may also contain chemicals used in the decaffeinating process. Most coffee also contains the pesticides used in growing and preserving the crop.
Try drinking green tea, then move on to caffeine-free herbal teas. Green tea isn't caffeine-free but it has much less caffeine than regular tea and has other health benefits too.
Eliminating Alcohol Cravings
It is all too easy to overindulge in alcohol because of its role in our social lives. There is a great deal of self-deception that goes on in the name of "social drinking."
What may seem like a harmless habit can actually be a more serious dependency or addiction. Be concerned when friends or a spouse mentions that you drink too much.
If you look forward to dinner because it's preceded by a martini, or if alcoholism runs in your family, taking any drinking seriously.
Above all, remember this is brain imbalance, not a crime or a sign of moral weakness, and it can often be overcome simply with the right nutrients. I have seen this happen again and again in my practice.
The same supplements mentioned in the sugar and chocolate sections will handle alcohol cravings as well. Whenever a craving strikes, you can also empty the powder from a 500 mg capsule of L-glutamine under your tongue, where it is absorbed quickly. It works amazingly well!
Meditation, deep breathing, and other relaxation techniques are very useful in beating all types of addiction. In fact, taking a few deep breaths will often cut short a craving instantly.
Aerobic exercise also helps, so this is a great time to sign up at your local gym, start jogging, or begin a regular exercise regimen.
Finally, acupuncture is an excellent adjunct to any withdrawal and detoxification program.
By feeding your brain, many craving s will just fall away as you supply the needed nutrients to a "starving brain." You may be surprised how such a simple shift in your brain nutrient levels will change your life. Here are some basic guidelines:
? Include lots of whole foods and fresh foods in your diet.
? Eat three servings a day of top-quality protein foods-fish, poultry, lean meat, eggs, soy, or combinations of beans, lentils, and grains.
? Avoid hydrogenated fats and reduce your intake of saturated fats from meat and dairy products, and avoid all junk food. Processed foods will only add to your toxic load.
? Choose low glycemic index complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, vegetables, and most fruits; avoid sugar and refined foods.
? Eat fish three times a week or take fish oil supplements.
? Drink at least a quart of water a day, either pure or in diluted juices, herbal or fruit teas.
? Eat at least five servings a day of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables.
For a more high-power approach, add these supplements to your list:
1. A multivitamin formula such as Metabolic Balance which also contains sugar balancing and detoxifying nutrients,
2. For morning energy, mid morning "coffe-break," and/ or mid afternoon slump: take a combination of stimulating and supportive nutrients such as tyrosine, phenylalanine, Siberian ginseng, and other adaptogens. Available as Dr. Cass' Focus and Energy Formulas.
3. For after-work chill, instead of a drink or toke, try glutamine, taurine, and theanine, plus calming herbs such as passion flower and lemon balm. Not only do they calm you down, but they won't deplete you like the addictive substances do. Double this dose for a bedtime sleep aid. You will find these nutrients in Dr. Cass' CALM Formula.
The information in this article is based on my book Natural Highs: Supplements, Nutrition, and Mind/Body Techniques to Help You Feel Good All the Time as are the specific formulas.
Hyla Cass M.D. is a nationally acclaimed innovator and expert in the field of integrative medicine. She combines the best of leading-edge natural medicine with modern science in her clinical practice, writings, lectures, and nationwide media appearances (The View, CBS News, MSNBC, PBS and others). She also consults to the supplement industry on creating innovative and effective formulas.
A member of the Medical Advisory Board of the Health Sciences Institute and Taste for Life Magazine, she is also Associate Editor of Total Health, former Assistant Clinical Professor at UCLA School of Medicine and the author of several popular books including Natural Highs and 8 Weeks to Vibrant Health. She has a private practice in Pacific Palisades.