5 Dietary Tips to Avoid Addictive Food
The Connection between Diet and Addictions!
Many people know about food addictions. They site these addictions as leading to conditions such as anorexia and bulimia, and certainly to obesity.
But are you aware that there is growing evidence to conclude that what a person eats is directly connected to psychological disorders, and especially the obsessive disorders that give rise to all sorts of addictions?
It is only fairly recently that scientists have turned their attention to the way food affects the brain.
In part, this was owing to the fact that we had very few methods of studying the brain. Most conclusions were actually drawn from observation of the behavioral effects that severe brain injuries had upon people. For example, a famous report produced by Harvard researchers documented the complete personality change in a man whose brain had been penetrated by a metal rod. Not many people are going to have such an experience or such a complete personality change...and we are fortunate that we are no longer limited to observation reports of those who have been brain injured. In recent decades, neuroscience (the study of the brain and nervous system) has become much more sophisticated because functional MRI and PET scanners allow scientists to watch the brain at work—in real time.
We have learned much about how food—as well as commonly prescribed medications—can result in devastating addictions.
The Neurotransmitters Linked to Addictions
There are three main brain mechanisms and neurotransmitters that play a critical role in addictions: glutamate, dopamine, and serotonin.
Glutamate regulates all the other neurotransmitters, controlling the amounts and timing of their release into the brain and body. Glutamate is the most abundant neurotransmitter inside the brain—and it makes up 90 percent of the neurotransmitters in the cortex (the outer covering of the brain) as well.
Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that elevates mood and generates motivation. A lack of dopamine causes a person to feel depressed or “blue.”
Serotonin functions in a way similar to dopamine. Low amounts of serotonin can cause a person to feel deeply depressed and even suicidal. Low levels of serotonin have also been linked to anxiety, violent and aggressive behavior, and drug addiction. The SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) medications, such as Prozac, work by increasing serotonin levels. Unfortunately, this medication can also drive a person to suicide and in some cases, acts of homicide.
A Short Course in How the Brain Works.
Interactions between various parts of the brain create our sense of well-being. The “limbic system,” or the emotional part of the brain, includes special areas of the brain that regulate the emotions we call love, hate, fear, jealously, empathy, anxiety, compassion, excitement, and wonder.
The areas of the brain that control addiction are also known as: the nucleus accumbens, orbitofrontal cortex, prefrontal cortex, ventral tegmental area, and locus coeruleus. Each of these areas plays a major role in cravings and addictive behavior. Each of these areas also has high levels of the three neurotransmitters glutamate, dopamine, and serotonin.
Addictive drugs—such as nicotine, morphine, methamphetamine and cocaine—activate these areas of the brain and raise the concentration of dopamine and glutamate to very high levels. Cocaine specifically causes a dramatic elevation in dopamine and glutamate levels. If the glutamate receptors are blocked, cocaine addiction and it’s accompany cravings are blocked. One of the key ways psychiatrists help people withdraw from addictive drugs is to block the neurotransmitters they trigger.
“But,” you may be asking, “if dopamine and serotonin create good feelings—elevated mood and greater motivation—how can stimulation of these areas be bad?” Because when it comes to these neurotransmitters, a little stimulation goes a long way!
Cocaine and methamphetamine (“crystal meth”) cause a massive increase in glutamate and dopamine, which not only causes drug cravings but also causes a slow degeneration of the brain itself.
Alcohol binges also cause glutamate receptors to be overactive, which can lead to serious memory loss and dementia.
When animals are given glutamate by injection into the limbic or prefrontal brain—even in very small quantities—cravings and addiction dramatically increase.
What we must do:
Bad Dietary Practices that Over stimulate the Brain
|What should we feed the brain and body? The basic five are these:|
|What must we keep out of the brain and body? These are the basic five to avoid:|
You may not like that I included alcohol as the fifth substance to avoid.
The hard facts are these: first, alcohol is associated with 40 percent of all homicides, accidents, and suicides in the United States—not to mention rape, abusive behaviors, and other criminal acts that can cause either physical or psychological injury.
Alcohol, even in what may seem to be small or moderate amounts, can induce hypoglycemia—a drastic fall in blood sugar. Blood sugar fluctuations can not only lead to diabetes, but also to spells of severe weakness.
You may be arguing, “But I only drink a little. I’m not an alcoholic.”
Nobody knows how much alcohol is required to turn a person into an alcoholic—in other words, an alcohol addict. Not long ago I heard about a woman who was given several beers when she was just sixteen. Sadly, she was given these beers by her softball coach as a “reward” for her great play during a state championship game. She instantly became an alcoholic and is suffering from that “reward” 45 years later. She has had a lifetime of depression and other psychological problems associated with her alcoholism.
Alcohol is not the only substance, of course, that can create dietary hypoglycemia or reactive hypoglycemia. Meals laden with sugars and simple carbohydrates can flood the body with insulin and cause a severe drop in blood sugar.
Alcohol and Vitamin Deficiencies Most alcoholics have deficiencies of vitamin C, the B vitamins, and magnesium. All of these deficiencies increase over activity in areas of the brain that are known to control addiction and cravings.
Several clinical studies have shown that between 90 and 100 percent of alcoholics who suffer from reactive hypoglycemia also have multiple vitamin and mineral deficiencies. It is interesting that correcting vitamin and mineral deficiencies greatly reduces the craving for alcohol. In making additional dietary adjustments that cure hypoglycemia, about 70 percent of alcoholics are also cured of their alcoholism!
Reactive Hypoglycemia This condition affects, to some degree, an estimated 50 percent of Americans. It is marked by a sudden and significant drop in blood sugar within minutes to hours of eating or drinking high-glycemic foods.
Processed sugar, many amino acids, potatoes, white breads, and alcohol can all trigger hypoglycemia. Some people react so severely that they lapse into a coma. Others have been known to suffer a seizure, stroke, or heart arrhythmia. Milder symptoms of hypoglycemia can include anxiety, shakiness, confusion, trembling, muscle spasms, sweating, and hallucinations. The condition often begins during childhood, but is frequently overlooked by pediatricians.
The Hidden Dangers of Prescription Drugs If I were to add a sixth item to avoid, it would be this: prescription drugs. I understand that some people may need chemical compounds produced by pharmaceutical companies. I also know that many people are taking prescription drugs that have a dark side to them.
Many antibiotics, SSRI and other psychiatric medications, and antifungal medications contain fluoride within their molecular makeup. Fluoride is one of the most dangerous toxins known to man! In addition, many prescription drugs severely deplete vitamin and minerals, including magnesium and CoQ10 that are vital to brain function. If these deficiencies are great enough, they can dramatically increase excitotoxity, which pushes glutamate over the limits of being helpful and puts glutamate into the category of being detrimental.
Vaccines, too, can worsen the effects of neurotoxins, such as mercury and pesticides.
Of all the medications that might be linked to addictions, perhaps the most insidious is Ritalin. Tens of thousands of children have been prescribed the drug Ritalin (methylphenidate) for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and attention deficit disorder (ADD). These prescriptions are often given at the insistence of school nurses and government agencies. Compelling studies have shown that methylphenidate significantly increases cravings for other drugs, and also creates compulsive behavior. The drug stimulates the orbit frontal lobe of the brain, the area critical to addictions and cravings. We should not be surprised when a high percentage of children who have taken Ritalin for a prolonged period become addicted to drugs later in life, and have greater difficulty in becoming drug-free than addicts who did not take Ritalin.
The Links Between Diet and General Health
I am always amazed at people who do not seem to see any link between what they eat and their health. They seem to think that all disease is the result of a virus or bacterium, or perhaps an injury or genetics. The truth is that almost all disease is impacted by what a person eat and drinks.
If you feed your cells those things that increase inflammation, damage DNA, or impair the function of a cell, you shouldn’t be surprised that you get sick!
Not only is this common sense, but it is backed up by a great deal of hard science and clinical research.
Diet effects behavior in a number of ways:
- Foods we eat can trigger allergies or intolerances.
- Foods can contain dyes that have toxic effects
- Vitamin and mineral deficiencies can impact brain function.
A growing number of studies have shown that nutritional deficiencies during pregnancy can cause children to have not only physical, but psychiatric, problems later in life.
Putting the Focus On Glutamate
Since glutamate is so important to brain function and the regulation of other brain systems, we are wise to focus on glutamate in a special way when it comes to addictions. Relatively new studies have confirmed that elevations of glutamate in the brain dramatically increase both cravings and addictive behavior. Likewise, drugs or substances that block glutamate receptors can significantly reduce addictions and cravings.
The brain has a special barrier to prevent the easy absorption of glutamate from food. This barrier is called the blood-brain barrier (BBB). The barrier has its limits. If we eat foods loaded with glutamate, some of it will seep into the brain. Indeed, some areas of the brain don’t have a blood-brain barrier.
A normal diet of whole foods, with plenty of the “right” foods, never produces enough glutamate to raise levels of this brain neurotransmitter to dangerous levels.
Processed foods, on the other hand, contain large amounts of concentrated glutamate additives. Their only purpose is to enhance taste. They have no other function...and they can do a great deal of damage. Some glutamate-laced foods can increase blood glutamate levels 20 to 50 times higher than normal. At these levels, the blood-brain barrier can’t hold back the floodtide.
Food additives are present in many forms, with many names, including:
|MSG||Natural flavorings||Autolyzed yeast|
|Enzymes||Soy protein concentrate||Soy isolate|
In addition to these additives there’s great danger in the sweetener aspartame, which not only has the excitotoxin amino acid aspartate but also toxic methanol. Studies have shown that combining aspartame and MSG greatly magnifies brain toxicity.
Foods that Increase Glutamate Levels. Although their effects are less severe, there are foods that are naturally high in glutamate. Too much of these foods can increase addictions and make them harder to overcome.
Here are several general foods to monitor:
• Diets high in meat increase blood and brain glutamate levels, as well as aspartate levels.
• Sugary foods, and foods that readily convert into sugar, can also raise glutamate levels to a harmful level
Does eating a good diet really help? Absolutely, in fact, one study involving 5,000 prisoners on probation saw significant improvement in both their health, their mood, AND their social behavior after they were given a healthful diet. Far fewer of them committed future crimes than those who returned to a junk-food diet after prison.
Other studies have shown that eating a diet free of excitotoxin and pro-inflammatory foods lifts depression and increases energy.
Nutrients for a Healthy Brain
The first line of defense for a healthy brain is to give the brain sufficient antioxidants (Health Master’s GHI Cleanse), taken in combination since antioxidants support one another. Be sure to take high-potency high-quality vitamins C (Health Master’s Excellent C) and E (Health Master’s Super Potent E), the carotenoids (Health Master’s GHI Cleanse), the B vitamins (Health Master’s B Complex and Corticare B5 B6), magnesium (Health Master’s Magnesium Glycinate), iodine (Health Master’s Ultimate Multiple Vitamin), and flavonoids (Health Master’s GHI Cleanse). All of these protect the brain. Some, such as pyrodoxal-5 phosphate, can lower blood and brain glutamate levels.
Many of the flavonoids—which include curcumin, quercetin, and resveratrol—protect the brain and reduce excitotoxity. Flavonoids should always be taken with a meal—it is especially important that resveratrol be taken with food. (Health Master’s GHI Cleanse and Resveratrol Plus)
The omega-3 oils (Health Master’s Norwegian Omega 3), especially the DHA component in them—improve dopamine levels in the brain, reduce excitotoxity, and help the brain heal. These oils also reduce brain inflammation and lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Finally, consider taking pycnogenol, a derivative of the French marine pine also called “pine-bark extract.” This substance has been found to protect neurons against glutamate-induced excitotoxity, which is caused mainly by the increased glutathione levels in the brain cells. When used with ginkgo biloba (Health Master’s Memory Support) and vitamin E (Health Master’s Super Potent E), the results were even better.
In addition, a person should try to remove as much stress as possible from their daily lives. Stress increases the production of free radicals in the brain, which leads to inflammation, which in turn, increases the risk of depression and anxiety.
Regular exercise is critical to optimal brain function, since exercise increases the levels of natural opiates in the brain (such as endorphins) and increases the level of protective chemicals called neurotrophins. Exercise also increases antioxidant enzymes throughout the body and brain.
Amino Acids (Health Master’s Fit Food Protein) and Neurotransmitters The brain uses amino acids from proteins in the diet to make the neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin, and glutamate. When properly balanced, these chemical keep a person happy, well adjusted, and under control.
Amino acids, of course, are best consumed by eating a balance of proteins. Specific amino acid supplementation may be beneficial, but pursue this with great caution. Tyrosine is a precursor building block for the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine. It should always be taken on an empty stomach, at least one hour before a meal to improve absorption.
The precursor for serotonin is tryptophan. This substance has been outlawed in the United States. A supplement called 5-HTP (Health Master’s 5-HTP) is available, and it can help raise levels of serotonin in the brain. The supplement should never be taken with SSRI medications, and it is important to keep levels of the drug low. A regular test of blood levels or urine levels is important. On a positive note, one study showed that giving tryptophan to cocaine addicts, who have very low serotonin levels in their brains, helped reduce withdrawal symptoms.
The “Will” Factor Finally, it is important to note that a person who becomes addicted to any substance or behavior must truly want to be free of the addition for a “cure” to take root.
Willpower is something that can and must be learned, developed, and exercised regularly. It includes learning to avoid the harmful substances, activities, and environments that tempt us. It includes learning coping and overcoming strategies for temptation. It includes making good substitute choices—in other words choosing what GOOD substances, activities, and environments.
Willpower is a trait that we need to instill in our children!
People can change, but they must want to change.
All of these high quality supplements can also be purchased by calling my office at 1-800-726-1834.
I remain sincerely,
Dr. Ted Broer
*This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Neither the information, nor any formula(s) mentioned are intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.