Condition - Addiction - Breaking the habit?
It’s that time of year again, when many of us decide to tackle our vices and embark on a healthier lifestyle. But often by the end of January we have lost our momentum and have slipped back to our old habits. Giving up cigarettes, alcohol, caffeine or sugar can be difficult. So how can you help yourself to succeed?
When giving up stimulants, it is often the resulting cravings that foil us. Substances such as nicotine and alcohol create dependency. This is partly due to their ability to raise levels of neurotransmitters in the brain, such as serotonin and dopamine, responsible for making us feel good. When you quit, your supply of these neurotransmitters is effectively cut off and it takes a while for your body to adjust and produce them itself. This results in cravings and a strong temptation to give up or resort to another stimulant. We’ve all heard of people who give up smoking only to become a chocaholic instead.
But help is at hand! Some foods and nutrients can help while your body adjusts and will hopefully keep your resolve intact. 5HTP and tyrosine are amino acids needed for serotonin and dopamine production and they may help maintain normal levels of neurotransmitters when you quit (do not take 5HTP if you are taking antidepressants or St John’s Wort). Chicken, turkey and bananas are good sources of tyrosine. B vitamin-rich foods, like green vegetables, nuts and seeds, together with zinc found in meat and nuts, are also crucial for maintaining the delicate balance of brain chemistry. In addition, glutamine can be beneficial as it crosses the blood/brain barrier and generates increased energy levels, while reducing cravings.
Balancing your blood sugar levels is also vital, as poor blood sugar control can easily give rise to sugar cravings and irritability, that threaten to undermine your good intentions. Avoid sugary, refined foods and focus your diet on fresh fruit, vegetables and wholegrains, combined with good quality protein such as poultry, eggs, pulses, fish, lean red meat, nuts and seeds. Chromium may also be useful in maintaining stable blood sugar levels and could also help with sugar cravings. Nutrients that help support adrenal function, for example vitamin C and the B vitamins, together with plant extracts such as Rhodiola and Ashwagandha, are also valuable.
While eating healthily to support your brain chemistry, do not forget to help your liver, whose job it is to detoxify the body, especially after the festive season! Again, plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables and stepping up your water intake to help flush toxins from the body are key. Detoxification also requires adequate levels of vitamin C, n-acetyl cysteine, magnesium, B vitamins and methionine. You may also find that Milk Thistle is useful for supporting optimum liver function and successful detoxification.
One of the most important things when trying to break a bad habit is to take it slowly. Begin by reducing your intake of your target vices over several weeks, before cutting them out completely. Give yourself time to adjust and follow a few of the tips above and you could be well on your way to realising a new healthier you!