Why living well is the best way to honor those we have lost.
Each day when I wake up and turn on the news, I’m reminded of the horrendous death toll caused by the pandemic. It’s a tragedy on a scale hard to imagine. I’ve lost friends, colleagues and loved ones just like most other Americans. As the pandemic is far from over, I continue to pray for those who have been taken by the virus and hope the vaccine will mitigate future death and misery.
As dark as the COVID cloud may be, the irony is that the pandemic has also had a silver lining. You may wonder how that could be possible!? At the outset of the pandemic, I resolved myself to use my time “sheltering in place” and in isolation as productively as possible. I watched as many relentlessly posted depressing and often obnoxious messages on social media and/or complained about having nothing to do. This behavior only reinforced the fear-mongering of the main stream media and accomplished nothing.
In contrast, I decided to focus on gratitude, spending more time with family and helping others. If any of the 500,000 Americans taken so far could come back for even one day, I’m confident they would be grateful and focus on family, loved ones and enjoying themselves. Not embracing anger, fear and obnoxious judgmental behavior on social media.
Here’s the silver lining in my life resulting from the dark cloud of COVID
Having had the opportunity to work virtually, I spent much more time with my family. Rather than rushed visits, I was able to spend many days at a time and enjoyed more meaningful conversations and activities. Most importantly, my Mom is 91 years-old. Each hour I get to spend with her is a gift. I’ve embraced this gift made possible by the pandemic.
Pre-COVID, my nephew Benjamin was always too busy with high school during the week and as a referee at soccer games on weekends to really spend time with me. We usually connected with each other briefly at family dinners or celebrations. At the outset of the pandemic, he expressed an interest in hiking, one of my passions. Since last April, we’ve hiked in New York, Connecticut, Massachusettes and Vermont. This past week, to celebrate his 18th birthday, I took Ben to the Grand Canyon. We enjoyed a five-day hike and camping along the Grand View trail at the bottom of the Canyon. It was an epic adventure he’ll remember all his life! During the hike, we spent hours discussing his interests, passions and goals for the future. You cannot put a price tag on that type of bonding!
To help others in New York City struggling with their mental health due to the pandemic, I along with a small group of others, most notably Ben Green and Esther Yang, formed Sober Active NYC. We offered free workouts in Central Park. We then merged with Scott Strode and The Phoenix, the largest sober active group in the nation, to form The Phoenix NYC. Now, New Yorkers can enjoy all kinds of free programming, but more importantly, be part of a community of supportive people who truly care about others. Go to www.the phoenix.com or @thephoenixnyc on Facebook to participate.
Financially, I set goals to pay down my mortgage. Since travel wasn’t possible and so many businesses were closed, it seemed like an opportunity to focus on work and get my finances in order. I was able to pay down my mortgage and just refinanced. Although it was often hard to focus on work given the tragedy unfolding all around me, I recognized that succumbing to fear and endlessly watching the news or surfing on social media would get me nowhere. Now, as we hopefully emerge from the pandemic, I am in a much better financial place. This will enable me to dedicate more time to my passion projects like Spiritual Adrenaline, The Phoenix NYC and service to others.
Being anxious, depressed and living in fear would not have made the last year and one-month better for me or anyone else. In fact, it would have made it worse. Just like all of you, I struggled to maintain focus, avoid acting out with food or other substances as coping mechanisms and was challenged to remain positive and optimistic that things would be better in the future. It was a struggle each and every day but I stuck to it! I took it one day at a time and utilized coping tools I developed over the last ten years.
Many of the tools I utilized to not only survive, but to thrive, during the pandemic are included in my book Spiritual Adrenaline: A Lifestyle Plan to Strengthen & Nurture Your Recovery. It’s available on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble. For lots of free ideas on how you can thrive, visit www.spiritualadrenaline.com. Every morning when I wake up, I focus on gratitude for being alive. I cherish each day as a gift! I endeavor to do the best I can to improve my life and help others. I truly believe that living well is the best way to honor the memory of those we have lost!
I’d love to tell you David Clark and I were good friends, but we weren’t. Like many others, I stood in awe of David from the sidelines. I watched his videos and read his Facebook posts. I first met David in 2012 when my wife Sheena was running an Ultra Marathon to benefit victims of the Aurora Colorado shooting. David not only ran the race but won it. Afterwards, he took the time to speak with Sheena and the rest of the Addict2Athlete team. David shared his story with us. The members of our team shared their stories of addiction and recovery as well. From that point on, it became clear that we were all cut from the same cloth. When David was attempting to break the world record for the longest treadmill run, we made Addict2Athlete t-shirts with his photo on them.
The shirt had a silhouette of David running with a Superman cape flowing behind him. He indeed was an example of holistic recovery and unwavering dedication. As years went on, David and I had many conversations about Veganism and Buddhism. David was a wealth of knowledge but was always careful to say: “That’s just my opinion.” Regardless, his words touched my soul. I would frequently transition between being a vegan and following a paleo diet. Every time I called him for plant-based diet pointers he would say: “Well, well, the prodigal son returns.” Of course with a laugh and he never stopped helping.
I am a four-time Ironman, but after my fourth Ironman, I started to struggle with anxiety. I dropped out of several races including a half and full ironman. After a year of rest, I signed up for my fifth Ironman to honor a few friends who had passed on. Finishing the race meant the world to me. The night before, I was stuck with terrible anxiety and spent most of the night crying and scared. I was going to drop out. But just then, I was scrolling through Facebook and saw a post from David. I was filled with envy of his fearlessness. I reached out to him in the middle of the night asking him about anxiety. He responded in typical calming David fashion, and told me: “I do have anxiety. I enjoy all of it. I try not to win internal arguments; be in the moment you’ll be fine.” I took his advice and finished the race.
David has spoken at several Addict2Athlete events, and when I tried to help him sell books his goal was always to get books to the people who needed them rather than those who could afford them. A hand-full of us started the active recovery movement. Like the others, I have a vast amount of people who look to me for guidance, or at least experience strength and hope. I am incredibly grateful to have had David to lean on. In retrospect, I now see that it seems like David was holding all of us up. In one of the last conversations I had with David we discussed Buddhism, leadership, and recovery. The last message David sent to me regarding recovery and leadership was: “The path is authentic communication with self through meditation and action.” David, although I didn’t get to see you often, I already miss you. Your teachings will live on through everyone you touched. You truly were Superman!
Rob Archuleta Co-Founder of Addict2Athlete
Rob’s words tell the story about the type of person David Clark was. I’m sure if you asked other endurance athletes and folks in recovery, you would hear a similar story of a time where David took a moment out of his life to be there to help lift others. He always expressed the desire to do more, to help more, to carry the message of hope to even more people.
Now we have a chance to do more for him in his memory. Please give what you can to support Davids’ family in this heartbreaking time. If David was the one here asking to help support another person in the recovery/endurance/athlete community, I’m sure he would be running 150 miles across the Mojave Desert trying to raise $20,000.00. He would do anything to help support the family of someone he barely knew because he felt in his heart it was the right thing to do. Please, give what you can to help his family through this difficult time.
The sober active movement certainly has lost one of our heroes. I will miss your smile, laughter and big hugs. But most of all, your beautiful spirit and eternal optimism. Rest peacefully David Clark. We will feel your energy in the moments of the marathon of life and recovery, where we all need to find the courage and strength to endure. “We Are Superman!”
Life has certainly gotten more complicated for all of us over the last few weeks as the full impact of the Corona Virus becomes clear. For those in addiction recovery, short or long-term, the impact has resonated in ways that rock the spiritual foundation for many addicts and alcoholics. Well-accepted pillars of addiction recovery, including reducing isolation, getting to twelve step meetings and engaging in fellowship with others, are no longer recommended for a simple reason: they are no longer safe. For most of our country and the world, getting out and actively engaging in twelve step meetings or fellowship would likely result in violating shelter-in-place orders. The sudden need to not only accept what you cannot change but embrace it right now at risk of death, presents an unprecedented challenge.
Liquor Stores and Marijuana Dispensaries are Essential Businesses
At the same time, while most businesses are closed, in New York State and many others, liquor stores remain open as they have been designated as “essential”. Patrons can call in orders to bars and have their favorite cocktails delivered. In Colorado and other states where marijuana is legal, non-medicinal marijuana dispensaries also remain open and have been declared “essential.” According to the market research firm Nielsen for the week ending March 22, 2020, hard liquor sales were up 75%, wine sales up 66% and beer up 42%. Online liquor sales were also up 243%. Sales are up at marijuana dispensaries and in the pornography industry. In a country where so many cope with crisis by numbing themselves with addictive substances or behaviors, those seeking to maintain their sobriety seem even more isolated and alone. A.A., N.A. and other major recovery communities have moved meetings and other types of support online. There are twelve step meetings offered via zoom and other platforms almost 24/7. However, online meetings and other traditional recovery modalities do not necessarily support the physical health. That’s where using this time of shelter-in-place to develop a self-care lifestyle can benefit you in the short and long-term.
Self-Care, Your Sobriety and the Pandemic
Studies show that those who integrate a self-care lifestyle, including exercise and nutrition, into their recovery, have much higher rates of success. Exercise can prompt the brain to regenerate dopamine receptors, reduce cravings for alcohol and drug, prompt the body to produce “feel good” hormones like endorphins[i]. The reason, exercise stimulatea the dopaminergic reward pathway and contribute to a reduction in levels of stress, anxiety and depression, all of which are prevalent in people who identify as being in recovery[ii]. In fact, some researchers have identified a correlation between exercise-related activity and the ability to cope with stress and anxiety in order to stay sober[iii]. The positive outcomes increase exponentially for those who also integrate healthy eating[iv]. It turns out your Mother was right all along: “you are what you eat” and “move a muscle, change a thought”. Advice for those in recovery regarding exercise routines and healthy nutrition, specific to the addiction recovery, is not so easy to come by. Here are some recommendations, all evidence-based, that folks in recovery can try during the shelter-in-place. Time at home over the next couple of weeks or months can be used for one of two purposes. To reinforce negative behaviors that will drag you back to addiction or develop positive new habits that affirm the desire to maintain your sobriety, even in these most challenging circumstances.
Although shelter-in-place and social distancing have changed how and when you can exercise, some good old-fashioned ways have resurfaced. Walking, probably the most under-appreciated form of workout, is becoming very popular. Put on your mask and gloves and walk around the block, to the store or go to a park. You can even invite someone to join you: I call that “green fellowship.” Even five minutes a day or regular waking has been shown to improve self-esteem and mood! Studies show outdoor workouts increase the benefits you receive compared to indoor workouts[v]. Almost every day I take a walk or a bike ride through a park or along a river or lake. Just like I never feel worse after attending a twelve step meeting, I’ve always feel better when I get home from my morning workout! If you can develop the habit of walking in the morning, it will help put you in a positive mind-set all day long. Take advantage of green spaces, fresh air and lack of crowds during the shelter-in-place and you might just get “addicted” to this positive habit[vi].
Bill W., one of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, created a list of the “go to’ foods for alcoholics which undercut their sobriety. He referred to these foods as “The sister foods” to alcohol. They are French fries, potatoes, white rice, pasta, soda and refined sugar. The reason you want to avoid these foods is they are all calorie rich, but nutrient deficient, just like alcohol. They prompt your body to overproduce dopamine and other feel good hormones in an unsustainable way. This creates fluctuations in blood sugar and mood, just like alcohol and other substances did in active addiction. Here’s my recommendations for healthier alternatives: instead of french fries, sweet potato fries; instead of potatoes, yams or sweet potatoes, instead of white rice, whole grain or brown rice; instead of a starchy pasta, try a vegetable-based pasta, instead of refined sugar, honey; instead of soda with refined sugar, tonic or seltzer with fresh fruit to add flavor These are simple dietary changes that can lead to profound changes in your body, mind and spirit during shelter-at-home and beyond.
In our society, which requires almost everyone to multi-task and juggle many responsibilities simultaneously, shelter-at-home is a chance to breathe. If you can frame this opportunity to be home with family or just yourself as a positive one, you can appreciate the opportunity to reflect on your life and sobriety. In the context of nutrition, exercise and your recovery, the chance to reflect and journal is an opportunity that may not come again once things return to “normal.” It’s an opportunity to make conscious contact with your body, by integrating the Twelve Steps into what you eat and how much you exercise. Journaling will be even more impactful if you have applied the specific nutrition and exercise recommendations referenced earlier in this article.
Conduct a Fourth or Tenth Step inventory on how what you eat and the amount you exercise impact your health and sobriety. Here are some suggested questions: How does what I eat make me feel? Do I tend to eat emotionally and why? Do I tend to eat late at night, if so, why? Do I eat many of the sister foods to alcohol? If so, how can I modify what I am eating? Do I eat to numb emotions or avoid dealing with them? Do I eat at my problems? If so, how can I better handle these emotions or problems?
Now apply the Tenth Step to exercise or the lack of exercise in your life. Does my lack of movement impact how I feel? How has my lack of exercise impacted my health? How has lack of exercise impacted my sobriety? How can I better integrate exercise into my daily life? If you have gone out for walks as I recommended, try these questions: How do I feel after I go for a walk, better or worse? What did I enjoy most about going to the park today? What type of exercise can I commit to when I go back to work? Where can I work in exercise in my daily routine (use stairs rather than elevator)?
Don’t make the mistake so many Americans are making by choosing to numb yourself with alcohol, drugs, food, sex or other addictive behaviors during the next couple of weeks or months. Use shelter-at-home and social distancing as valuable “me” time to reflect on your relationship with food, exercise and your spiritual life. Keep an open mind and try these simple recommendations that can transform not only your sobriety but allow you to make conscious contact with your body, improve your physical health help foster a more positive outlook on life. For lots of ideas that can benefit you during these difficult days, visit www.spiritualadrenaline.com.
About the author:
Tom Shanahan is a civil rights attorney who lives in New York. He is also a personal trainer and certified in sports nutrition. He is the Author of Spiritual Adrenaline: Strengthen & Nourish Your Recovery, published by Central Recovery Press. Spiritual Adrenaline teaches people in recovery how to integrate exercise and nutrition into their twelve step practice.
[i] C.L. Robertson, et al., “Effect of Exercise Training on Striatal Dopamine D2/D3 Receptors in Methamphetamine Users during Behavioral Treatment,” Neuropsychopharamacology 41 (2016): 1629-36.
[ii] A.H. Taylor, et al., “Acute effect of exercise on alcohol urges and attentional bias towards alcohol related images in high alcohol consumers,” Mental Health and Physical Activity, 6, no. 3 (2013), 220-26.
[iii] S. Strode, et al., “impact of aerobic exercise training on cognitive functions and effect, associated to the COMT polymorphism in young adults,” Nuerobiology of Learning and Memory 94, no. 3, (2010): 364-72, cited by K. Blum, S. Teitelbaum, M. Oscar, Molecular Neurobiology of Addiction Recovery: The 12 Steps Program and Fellowship (New York Springer Publications, 2013): 26.
[iv] J.L. Medina, et al., “Exercise-related activities are associated with positive outcome in contingency management treatments for substance abuse disorders,” Addictive Behaviors 33 (2008): 1072-75.
[v] J.O. Barron and J. Pretty, “What is the Best Dose ofNature and Green Exercise for Improving Mental Health? A Multi-Study Analysis,” Environmental Science and Technology, 44 (2010);: 3947-55.
[vi] J. Thompson Coon, “Does Participating in Physical Activity in Outdoor Natural Environments Have a Greater Effect on Physical and Mental Wellbeing than Physical Activity Indoors? A Systematic Review,” Environmental Science and Technology, 45 (2011): 1761-72.
A gentleman I used to know described the holidays as “hurricane season” for people in recovery. First it’s Thanksgiving, then Christmas or Hanukkah, then New Year’s Eve. Society often defines these celebrations by eating and drinking to excess, rather than true nature of the holiday, gratitude, and giving thanks for all of our blessings. All the reveling can be really challenging for someone new to recovery or even those with substantial time. When you add family to the mix, it can be overwhelming, exhausting, and put many at the risk of relapse. It’s important to stay close to the program during the holidays and find time for meetings, your sponsor, and positive relationships. It’s even more important to remain in a state of gratitude, which is after all what the holidays are all about.
What we eat during the stress of the holidays can have a major impact on our attitude, mood, and energy levels. Food is comprised of substances, some of which enhance our recovery while others undercut it. Foods high in sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, or other cheap fillers and caffeine and fats (the bad kind); can make you feel awful and put your sobriety at risk. It is important for alcoholics, addicts and anyone who is looking to break free of dependence on any substance to understand that alcohol metabolizes in the body as glucose, and is very similar, on a chemical level, to carbs and sugar from candy, ice cream, and other high-carb foods. Drugs similarly have a negative impact on the body and both alcoholics and addicts tend to use caffeine and/or sugar for energy depleted by the cycle of abuse. This is a major concern as it can lead to cravings and increased risk of relapse.
That’s the problem, but what’s the solution. I am not telling you that you cannot eat sweets for the holiday; I am telling you that it’s important to be smart about what you and I eat. If you’re interested in learning ways to get the same sweetness and great taste but with far less refined sugar, check out my book Spiritual Adrenaline: A Lifestyle Plan to Strengthen & Nourish Your Recovery, http://www.spiritualadrenaline.com.
I teamed up with Melanie Albert, an Intuitive Cooking Expert, founder of Experience Nutrition and the Author of the new book A New View of Healthy Eating, to come up with healthy holiday treats that aren’t just delicious, but are also good for you. Melanie is amazing. She came up with five holiday treats made of all natural ingredients, high in healthy fats and low on the glycemic index so they will help you avoid sugar highs and then a crash. More importantly, they are delicious.
You can watch Melanie make the treats by clicking on the videos below.
Aromatic Apple Crisp with Freshly Ground Spices
For full recipe instructions check out Melanie’s website:
These treats are delicious and will enhance, rather than undercut, your recovery by providing you with energy through healthy fats rather than sugar or caffeine. They taste delicious and won’t spike your blood sugar. The best part is you can eat more of the healthy stuff than the fattening unhealthy stuff and it tastes just as good. For more helpful information on how your diet can impact your sobriety, visit our recovery nutrition section.
Nutritional Psychiatry, Nutraceuticals, Gut Microitomesand Staying Sober.G
Nutritional Psychiatry is an emerging science led by a small number of neuroscientists and researchers from all around the world. Just this past week, the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research (“ISNPR”) convened in London. The ISNPR was formed in 2013 and held its first conference in Washington D.C. in 2017. It was founded by Dr. Felice Jacka, of Deakin University in Australia. Dr. Jacka also founded the FoodMood Center at Deakin. FoodMood is among the leading research institutions in the world studying the relationship between nutrient’s in food, the role of these nutrients to our overall physical and mental health and how nutrients can be utilized as a component of mental health treatment. Dr. Jacka describes the field of nutritional psychiatry as in its “infancy”. Many of the presenters noted that knowledge of nutrition itself generally still in its infancy.
Given many of these terms may be new to you, I’ll define them, so we are all on the same page.
Nutritional Psychiatry: A growing scientific discipline that focuses on the use of food and supplements as a component of traditional psychiatric treatment for mental health disorder. NP is not intended to replace individual or group therapy or use of prescribed pharmaceutics but rather as a component of an overall treatment plan.
Nutraceuticals: Nutraceuticals are a broad umbrella term that is used to describe any product derived from food sources, with extra health benefits in addition to the basic nutritional value found in foods. They can be considered non-specific biological therapies used to promote general well-being, control symptoms and prevent disease.
Gut Microbiota: The gut microbiota is comprised of all the bacteria residing in the gastric system including the large intestine. In the past decade the gut microbiota has been explored for potential effects on metabolism, immune, and neuroendocrine responses. The gut microbiota plays an important role in nutrient and mineral absorption, synthesis of enzymes, vitamins and amino acids, and production of short-chain fatty acids. The fermentation byproducts are important for gut health and provide energy, protect against pathogens and disease and strengthen the immune system.
Physicians Are Often Not Trained in Nutrition
If you feel like you know very little about nutrition, you’re not alone. Even doctors admit a lack of reliable data and knowledge about the role of diet in the health of their patients. A 2017 survey of MD’s in the United States found that 75% of MD’s surveyed felt their training, in regard to nutrition, to be inadequate. An even smaller percentage believe they understand the complex structure of the gut microbiota, fungi and other living organisms contained in your digestive system and how these organisms and brain function (I refer to these organisms collectively as gut microbiota in this article). Lastly, 85% of the doctors who responded to the survey felt additional nutrition training should be provided as part of a medical school curriculum.
Spiritual Adrenaline: A Self-Care Lifestyle
The underlying foundation of the Spiritual Adrenaline lifestyle is self-care, in the context of what you eat and your exercise regimen, can play an important role in achieving happiness in sobriety, while dramatically lowering relapse rates. My book, Spiritual Adrenaline: A Lifestyle Plan to Strengthen & Nourish Your Recovery, contains extensive chapter notes to support my recommendations. This is important because there’s so much misinformation on social media and a tendency for well-meaning, but misguided advocates, to parrot back things they hear or read online, rather than conduct their own independent due diligence. Writing Spiritual Adrenaline took five years because of the time it took to locate reliable, peer-reviewed studies, that addressed the science underlying nutrition and exercise, in the specific context of substance abuse treatment.
That’s what made attending the ISNPR 2019 conference so interesting! Having so many of the leading researchers in the world in one place, at one time, was remarkable. I felt like the proverbial kid in the candy store, trying to attend as many of the sessions as possible. I have lots of “homework” to do in the weeks and months to come. I’ll be reading many of the more than forty studies released at the conference! Many were presented at the conference for the first time publicly and are yet to be published. I’ll also use the data for my Spiritual Adrenaline 2020 Update which will come out in January 2020! I want to make sure Spiritual Adrenaline is an up-to-date resource you can count on for reliable information. I’ve omitted study citations in this article but will include them in the January 2020 Spiritual Adrenaline 2020 Update. To learn more about the science behind the benefits of integrating exercise and nutrition into your recovery, visit our YouTube Channel, Facebook page, Instagram feed or website at www.spiritualadrenaline.com.
Because your health is so important to me, here are some key scientific updates that I want to share with you now!!!
Diet, Addiction & Disease
Medical knowledge regarding the role substances play in disease common in individuals with a history of substance abuse is changing. For example, it was long thought that the ethanol in alcohol was the direct cause of damage to the liver, resulting in disease of liver, including alcoholic fatty liver. Research has now confirmed that rather than the alcohol (ethanol) causing the damage, it’s how the alcohol impacts gut microbiota, that is the actual cause of liver damage. In other words, the conditions caused by excessive alcohol intake in relation to gut microbiota is what ultimately causes damage to the liver, not the ethanol itself. Given this ground-breaking change in our understanding of how liver damage is actually caused, it’s possible that new treatments, including modification of diet to impact gut microbiota, can be developed.
Fermented Fiber & Addiction Recovery
In Spiritual Adrenaline, the import of fiber is explained at length, i.e., stabilization of blood glucose as well as colon health. SeeSpiritual Adrenaline, Chapter 3, pages 21-36. Recent research confirms fiber contained in fermented foods enables your body to create a wider range of healthy metabolites, which enhances the biodiversity of your gut microbiota. Although science has recognized the import of fermented foods and fiber for years, the research is among the first to fermented foods to diversification of gut microbiota.
Substance Abuse Treatment & Diet
To date, there is no clinical trial research that confirms the relationship between modification of gut microbiota and more favorable substance abuse treatment outcomes in humans. 1990 was the last time nutritional guidelines for treatment of substance abuse disorder were updated. The consensus among researchers is that as a discipline, we are not “there yet” with the science to the extent of promulgating dietary guidelines. Given the dearth of updated recommendations, presenters at the ISPNR conference focused on two separate areas of nutrition: during early treatment and in long-term recovery. Presenters also recognized that the line distinguishing “early” and “long-term” recovery will be different for each individual and a subjective, rather than objective, standard. Also, that recommendations in whatever guidelines are ultimately adopted should distinguish between short and long-term recovery.
Drug Use and Microbiota
Studies have already confirmed that cocaine, meth, Opioids and alcohol all have major impact on the composition of gut microbiota. Moreover, Opioids dramatically impact the function of the gastric system by substantially delaying the digestive process. For example, some Opioid addicts will not have a bowel movement for up to two weeks. Combine this with the well-established fact that when Opioid addicts eat, they favor sugary foods and drinks. The gut microbiota of Opioid addicts in active addiction and how this can impact their brain function, cravings and other associated behaviors, needs further study. A second major issue ripe for research is the impact of commonly prescribed medications in early and long-term recovery, on gut microbiota. In Spiritual Adrenaline, I looked at how medications often prescribed in addiction recovery can impact nutrient retention. SeeSpiritual Adrenaline, Chapter 7, page 76. Science is now broadening that understanding to include how medications can impact gut microbiota and they in turn other biological function including brain function. This area will continue to develop in the years to come.
Gut Health, Hormones and Cravings
When a person enters treatment, the cessation of the usage of their drug of choice can impact the production of hormones and other substances in the body relating to behavior. An example is the hormone Ghrelin which can have a direct impact on impulsivity, anxiety and depression. Alcohol cessation is known to increase Ghrelin production. This is thought to play a major role in cravings and anxiety experience by people in early recovery. In the long-term, managing gut microbiota may empower treatment providers to better help those seeking treatment to have more direct control over Ghrelin levels. For example, science has proven that unprocessed foods suppress Ghrelin levels. The challenge will be to come up with dietary guidelines that promote the creation of positive gut microbiota while creating a diet acceptable to the palate of someone in early recovery.
Studies Nearing Publication
Publication of two studies of great interest to this community are expected in the near future. One is a study of the impact, if any, of a ketogenic diet on cravings in the first six months of recovery. A second study followed people in recovery who ate a plant-based diet for a period of one year to determine if their diet had any measurable impact on relapse rates.
Impact of Diet on Depression
Given the prevalence of anxiety and depression in the addiction recovery community, I prioritized attending presentations relating to research studies on these topics. What I learned was fascinating. Ten years of extensive studies have shown a strong link of increased risk of depression in adults who consume a highly processed diet. In fact, a yet unpublished study confirmed a 30% reduced risk of depression in people who eat a healthier diet, irrespective of bodyweight. The study also found that diet quality has a direct correlation with increased rates of depression as people age. Those who consumed a Mediterranean or Japanese diet, had substantially lower rates of depression, than those who consumed highly processed foods common in a western diet.
Impact of Gut microbiota on Depression
Researchers fed laboratory rats a highly processed “western type” diet along with sugary water, to mimic soda consumption. The rats were fed this diet for a period of six weeks. Over those six weeks, the rats manifested behaviors consistent with depression, i.e., lack of activity and reduced socialization (rats are very social animals). Researchers then removed gut microbiota from these rats and injected the microbiota into a second group. The second group were not fed the highly processed and sugary diet and had not manifested depressive symptoms at the time of injection. After being injected with gut microbiota taken from the depressed rats, this group also developed depressive behaviors. The study confirmed the direct correlation between diet, gut microbiota and brain function. The study’s conclusion is consistent with findings of other studies that gut microbiota are able to penetrate the blood/brain barrier and impact brain function.
Impact of Diet on the Brain
Researchers sought to understand the Impact on the hypothalamus, the part of the brain responsible for a number of critical functions, including prompting production of hormones, of foods common in a western pro-inflammatory diet, over a short period of time. In the study, one group of rats were placed on this diet for a period of eight weeks while another control group were fed a healthier diet (consistent with Mediterranean diet). The heavy sugar intake resulted in hippocampal inflammation in the brain, in only five days. Eight weeks on western pro-inflammatory diet resulted in the rats developing hypertension.
Impact of Omega-3 Fatty Acids on Depression
Research confirms that an increase in daily intake of Omega-3 fatty acids relieves symptoms of major depressive disorder (“MDD”). Researchers measured markers of inflammation, including C Reactive Protein (“CRP”), in overweight individuals who were also diagnosed with MDD. One group of study participants was given 4 grams of Omega-3 each day while following a Mediterranean diet. The other followed a similar diet but did not receive supplemental Omega-3. Dosages of 1 to 2 grams of Omega-3 per day were recommended as a supplement for this group. However, those participants who received 4 grams a day, had the greatest reduction in CRP markers. The correlation between a reduction in CRP changes and group that received 4 grams a day. Researchers also noted substantial potential for use of Omega-3 as a preventative treatment for those with a higher risk of MDD.
Impact of Omega-3 for PTSD and Anxiety
Researches in Japan sought to ascertain the impact, if any, of Omega-3 intake on people diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”) and/or anxiety. The study was comprised of residents of Japan who were diagnosed with PTSD and/or anxiety immediately after a major earthquake. Researchers integrated daily Omega-3 supplementation into the treatment plan for one group while a second group were given a placebo over a period of several weeks. The results of study found Omega-3 supplementation, even up to 4 grams per day, had no impact in relation to reducing symptoms of those suffering from PTSD. However, the study confirmed that for those diagnosed with anxiety, symptoms were relieved in those taking between 2 to 4 grams of Omega-3 daily. Therefore, the study recommended Omega-3 fatty acids in the range of 2-4 grams to alleviate anxiety. Current treatment protocols recommend up to 2 grams.
A final study of interest to the addiction recovery community involved non-nutrition interventions to address anxiety. The researchers made the following statement at the ISPRN Conference: “Regulation of lifestyle is step zero. Not step one, it’s step zero. Lifestyle medicine for people with anxiety and depressive disorder includes…drug and alcohol cessation, diet and nutrition optimization, physical activity regulation and smoking cessation.”
Conclusions & Dietary Recommendations
Each of us is unique, as is our past health history, current health and long-term goals. The uniqueness of each person is referred to as biodiversity. In the context of gut microbiota, our biodiversity is magnified. Each of us has trillions, not billions but trillions, of organisms comprising our gut. No two human beings have identical gut microbiota. The science is mind-boggling. Although there is no one-size-fits-all approach, certain overall dietary recommendations are in fact supported by science.
Here are my recommendations to: enhance your overall health; thrive in your recovery; and, diminish your chances of relapse. All of these recommendations are consistent with the recommendations in Spiritual Adrenaline: A Lifestyle Plan to Strengthen and Nourish Your Recovery. I cite to the relevant pages of Spiritual Adrenaline so you can utilize my book as a resource to learn more on these topics as well as integrate exercise and spirituality.
Here are my recommendations:
*Recommended dietary fiber intake per person/per day is 30 grams. If you’re not currently eating a high fiber diet, increase your intake slowly over time. For example, 2 grams a week to build up your palate and the tolerance of your body to fiber. For many, this will be a major dietary change. SeeSpiritual Adrenaline, Chapter 9, pages 112-120.
*Not all dietary fibers are the same. Get the full range but at least half of your daily dietary fiber intake from fermented fiber. Fermented fiber permits your body to create a wider range of healthy metabolites, which enhanced the biodiversity of your gut microbiota. Increase intake of fermented foods which have been established to enhance diversity of gut microbiota. Sources of fermented foods include kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut, Kombucha (non-alcoholic), Miso, Tempeh.
* Increase intake of Inulin, a type of fiber comprised of chains of fructose which has long been known to be beneficial for colon health, has been shown to assist in enriching gut microbiota, reducing inflammation and improvements in mental health. Think of Inulin as a fertilizer for healthy gut microbiota. Inulin can be found in asparagus, garlic, artichoke, onions and beans. SeeSpiritual Adrenaline, Chapter 9, pages 112-120.;
*Omega-3, Omega-6 are critical to the health of your body and brain. As confirmed by study after study at the ISPNR 209 Conference, not only do these fats enhance your overall health, but they help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression and can even be used for prevention of these conditions. Recent studies suggest the dosage to maximize benefits is 4 grams of Omega-3 and Omega 6 vitamins daily. Good sources include olive oil, nuts, eggs, red meat, cold water fish, flax oils. For food choices and information on Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats, seeSpiritual Adrenaline, Chapter 3, pages 34-35, Chapter 9, pages 117-119.
*Increase intake of Polyphenols: Polyphenols can be found in dark chocolate, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, pomegranates, black beans, white beans, hazelnuts, almonds, walnuts, pecans, red onions, artichokes, spinach, chicory, soy, black tea and green tea. See Spiritual Adrenaline, Chapter 9, pages 112-120.*
*Follow traditional dietary patterns, such as the Mediterranean, Norwegian and Japanese diet.
*Increase fruits, vegetables, legumes, wholegrain cereals, nuts and seeds. See Spiritual Adrenaline, Chapter 9, pages. 112-120.
*Limit the intake of ultra-processed foods. Remember, eating whole foods, will suppress Ghrelin levels.
If you or anyone you love will benefit from this information, make sure to purchase a copy of Spiritual Adrenaline: A Lifestyle Plan to Strengthen & Nourish Your Recovery, on Amazon or at Barnes & Noble. For more information, visit www.spiritualadrenaline.com. Make sure to look for my Spiritual Adrenaline 2020 Update in January 2020 as well. This guide and all the other free resources provided by Spiritual Adrenaline are funded through sales of my book. I don’t take money from any corporate entities. This keep the information I provide honest and unbiased. By purchasing Spiritual Adrenaline, you enable me to continue to serve as a valuable resource to the addiction recovery community.
My approach to the Spiritual Adrenaline lifestyle help you get started slowly, and build on your success through incremental change. I offer a seven-day detox, thirty-day plan that you can modify based upon your health history, present circumstance and long-term goals. After my seven-day detox and thirty-day program, I teach you how to build your own long-term plan by integrating the basic components of Spiritual Adrenaline, exercise, nutrition and spiritual tools, into your daily life. Not only will I teach you how to integrate these tools, I’ll teach you to maximize the benefits by timing the tools you use throughout the day. Your goal will be for you to learn basic tools that can then become your new norm or modified “comfort zone”, where you are sober, happier and healthier.