Healthy eating, supplements, helped addicts kick drugs

May 26, 2010

By Nik Bonovich

An innovative program that helps drug addicts retake control of their lives with healthy eating, stress reduction and natural supplements has been cut from the Sacramento Drug Court’s recovery program because of budget shortfalls.

But the court’s executive director, Berk Adrian, says the Community Addiction Recovery Association program was valuable and effective, and he is working hard to bring it back.

“It was both educational and tangible,” he said. “We are trying to change brain chemistry through changing their diet, stress reduction, sleeping habits and chiefly sobriety.”

A 12-month study performed by the Institute of Social Research at California State University, Sacramento tracked recidivism rates of drug court participants. The study found that 13 percent of drug court graduates were rearrested and convicted within 12 months of completing the treatment program. In comparison, 34 percent of clients who did not complete the program were rearrested and convicted within 12 months of leaving the program.

Clients in the drug court went through a four-phase program. The first phase consisted of the CARA nutrition program that lasted four to six weeks. Monday through Friday, clients were offered a frozen fruit-whey protein smoothie, completed a food-mood journal, and took classes on nutrition, supplements and cooking.

“When they tell you to eat right you start feeling good,” said Carlos Falero, 49. “Your body starts feeling good and you realize feeling (bad) isn’t the norm. I don’t have to feel tired for the rest of my life.”

The first phase is crucial. Some clients come to their first day in drug court high, homeless and depressed. Before these non-violent offenders can clean up their act, they need to be able to be attentive, think clearly, and focus.

“We were helping them to transition, to feel better, have less symptoms and less stress,” said Carolyn Rueben, CARA’s Executive Director. “They weren’t ready to talk to counselors. We needed them to feel comfortable to talk about deeper issues later.”

Eating healthy and taking nutritional supplements helped the clients get up in the morning and keep them motivated enough to attend drug court on a daily basis.

“The way you feel has a lot to do with your attitude. It is a big challenge to get sober,” said Fernando Romo, 40. “The healthy eating and supplements elevated me in the first 30 days to feel motivated.”

Vitamins that were given to clients included a multi-vitamin, B-complex vitamin, vitamin C. Clients were also given a fish oil.

In order to help a patient with any mood or motivation problems, clients took specific amino acids, the building blocks or protein. The amino acids used were tryptophan, 5-HTP, tyrosine, GABA, D-phenylalanine and DL-phenylalanine. Each amino acid works on a different brain chemical that can help a person feel better, similar to anti-depressants.

Tryptophan is a well-known amino acid because it is found in turkey. After eating a large meal with turkey many people complain that they are tired. This is because of the tryptophan provides an increase in serotonin and melatonin. Serotonin helps eliminate depression and anxiety, while melatonin helps us sleep. Tryptophan can be quite costly, so 5-HTP is a good substitute. 5-HTP is what tryptophan is naturally converted to before it becomes serotonin.

Tyrosine helps restore energy, motivation and focus and therefore it is best taken in the morning. GABA helps reduce stress and adrenaline overloads. Lastly, D-phenylalanine and DL-phenylalanine help increase endorphins for people that are too sensitive for life’s pains.

“When I was on detox it was hard to get out of bed and be and be on time,” Romo said. “I would take the vitamins and supplements and I started to have less dependency on the drugs.”

It is trial and error to decipher the exact amino acid and the dosage that is necessary for a patient, similar to how doctors prescribe anti-depressants. Patients go through an interview process to determine what their mood disorders are, what substances they are addicted to and how those substances affect them.

For example Brian Limerick, 34, used crystal meth as his drug of choice. But unlike most people, he said, “When I used the crystal meth it seemed to calm me down.” This would help nutritionists decide what amino acid was best suited for Limerick in his recovery.

If a person is craving heroin or marijuana to stop emotional or physical pain then you know you need to give them phenylalanine,” said Rueben. “If the person is using methamphetamines, which is a person craving stimulation, they need tyrosine.”

Clients are also taught about healthy eating and how food can affect your moods similar to illegal drugs. They were taught to watch how much processed foods they ate and what their sugar and flour intake was.

“I stopped eating fast good and sometime later I ate popcorn at a movie and I felt that heroin headache come back. It felt like I was coming down again,” said a client who wished to remain anonymous for employment reasons.

Sugar and flour are refined substances and not only are they the culprit for weight gain, but they can also be addictive substances that affect your mood. Nutritionists advocate eating healthy, natural, unprocessed foods, just the way Mother Nature made them. “When people eat sugar it increases their craving for sugar so they eat more food with sugar and eat less nutritious foods’” said Rueben.

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