Substance-use exerts a large amount of physical stress on the human body. Drugs take precedence over basic necessities during active addiction, so health often falls by the wayside.
Malnourishment, for example, causes the body to function improperly due to a lack of essential nutrients. Some drugs create the illusion of “fullness” so the body doesn’t convey to the brain that it needs sustenance. Some drugs nurture such a strong dependence that users forget to eat or simply aren’t motivated enough to find nutritious food options. Poor diet can cause damage to the digestive system, resulting in indigestion, diarrhea, constipation, etc. It can also compromise the immune system, which greatly increases the risk of developing a number of diseases, from the common cold to cancer. Malnourishment can cause liver damage, skin damage, tooth damage, weight fluctuation and more, so it is important to make healthy food choices as often as possible.
What are Antioxidants?
Antioxidants are molecules that combat oxidative damage to the body. Oxidative damage comes about when cells process oxygen and expel free radicals. These free radicals travel around, altering normal chemical reactions that the body needs to function. Free radicals are also present in cigarette smoke, in sunlight, etc. The process of oxidation is the same one that causes rusting on metal; it’s essentially a method of deterioration. Antioxidants have the ability to gather up these free radicals and prevent the bodily damage that they would have otherwise caused. They slow down and prevent the internal damage caused as a consequence of breathing in oxygen. These molecules should be of particular interest to former or current substance users as a way to counter the negative effects of malnutrition, to enhance the immune system, to support physical recovery, and to help prevent additional damage to the body.
How do Antioxidants Relate to Addiction Recovery?
Nutrition is a crucial component of the holistic recovery process. Two Dreams Outer Banks implements a comprehensive nutrition plan that is designed to provide natural, long-lasting energy and health benefits to all of our clients. Our clinical staff works with each client to create a meal plan that reflects individual preferences and needs. We provide instruction and guidance so that clients can effectively incorporate nutrient-rich foods into their diets. We take antioxidants into consideration when planning our menus for the week, and offer a wide variety of fruits and vegetables to maximize health benefits.
We encourage H.A.L.T. checks throughout the day as a means of keeping in touch with the body. This acronym stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired; the idea being that if one is experiencing these feelings then one is more susceptible to relapse.1 For example, fluctuations in blood sugar levels can cause irritability, depression, etc. which have the potential to lead to irrational actions. Being hungry leaves the body vulnerable to cravings and temptations that could jeopardize recovery. The goal is to be able to recognize inner signals, such as hunger, and respond in a manner that resolves the issue without succumbing to temptation or negativity. Ideally, by engaging in H.A.L.T. checks throughout the day, clients can get in the habit of taking care of needs preemptively and without acting inappropriately.
We use science-based menu planning to serve well-balanced meals to clients each day. The ideal daily intake is portioned into quarters: 6.2 ounces of grain per day, 2.6 cups of green vegetables per day, 2.1 cups of colorful veggies or fruit per day, 3.1 cups of dairy per day, and 4 ounces of protein (6 ounces for males) per day.
Research has consistently shown that eating a diet full of fruits and vegetables can help prevent disease and damage. Studies testing the effects of antioxidants alone, though, have generally shown that increased antioxidant intake is not solely responsible for the health benefits of a balanced diet. Do they work in tandem with other molecules to provide health benefits, such that studies testing antioxidants alone would be flawed? Are antioxidants coincidentally present in foods that are already advantageous because of their vitamin and mineral content? Should people suffering with certain diseases supplement their diet with antioxidants “just in case they’re helpful,” or could the risks of overdosing outweigh the potential benefits? Further study is required to answer these questions and form a definitive recommendation for antioxidant intake.
Common Antioxidants and their Sources:2
Beta-Carotene/Vitamin A: brightly colored fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, green leafy plants, carrots, apricots, cantaloupe, sweet potatoes, squash, peaches, broccoli, etc.
Vitamin C: strawberries, tomatoes, broccoli, green leafy vegetables, green peppers, citrusy fruits (like lemons, limes, oranges), etc.
Vitamin E: whole grains, vegetable oil, liver oil, nuts and seeds, green leafy vegetables, etc.
Selenium: eggs, chicken, garlic, grains, fish and shellfish, red meat, etc.
Flavonoids/polyphenols: red wine, soy, purple grapes, cranberries, pomegranate, assorted teas, etc.
Lycopene: watermelon, tomato, pink grapefruit, mixed berries, etc.
Lutein: kiwi, corn, cantaloupe, mango, butternut squash, dark green vegetables (like spinach, kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts), etc.
Lignan: oatmeal, barley, rye, flax seeds, etc.