Part of the reason the Coleman Institute is so successful in helping patients from around the world detox off various substances (alcohol; opioids, including heroin, buprenorphine, and methadone; and benzos, including Ativan®, Xanax®, and Valium® from one of our many locations is because we recognize not only are we treating a condition, we are treating a person.
We love and enjoy working with our patients. Our staff learns something from each one of them. In fact, the protocols that we use to help people detox from long-term opioid use have been tweaked, nuanced, and perfected over the years because we specialize in listening to our patients and responding accordingly. We see them as individuals, and that is why we know that getting off the addictive substance is simply the first step in helping them reclaim their lives and begin to deal with their own unique situations.
And the longer I practice in the medical field, both in Primary Care and with Substance Use Disorders (SUD), the more I believe that we need food to be our medicine, focusing on the bio-individuality of all patients. Studies continue to demonstrate how food affects every aspect of our health, including our mood, and–really-how could it not?
What we eat is exactly what fuels our body to create the neurotransmitters, the hormones, the enzymes, and certain vitamins that affect our ability to enjoy life, handle stressful situations, and maximize energy throughout the day. In fact, we now know that 90% of serotonin—the feel-good chemical-- is produced by the gut.
The physiologic, emotional, and psychological demands on a person during and after an opioid detox are profound. Most patients experience decreased energy after detox, particularly a detox off opioids such as Vicodin®, Percocet®, Roxicet®, Oxycontin®, Dilaudid®, heroin, buprenorphine, methadone, etc. Coupled with decreased energy comes the imperative for learning coping skills which, for some patients, is a brand new skill set.
At the Coleman Institute, we are careful to educate patients who complete an Accelerated Opioid Detox about Post Acute Withdrawal Symptoms (PAWS). These symptoms will differ from patient to patient depending on the drug(s) being detoxed, the length of time a patient has been using opioids, the resilience and attitude of the patient, and other variables.
And while we provide targeted medications to help with these symptoms, it is important to recognize the undeniable role diet plays in our health and healing. In fact, it makes little sense for a patient to invest the significant resources of time, money, and energy required to complete an opioid detox and ignore the obvious intervention of nourishing the body with the correct fuel.
In a blog article earlier this year, Five Ways to Boost Energy After Opioid Withdrawal, I outlined some basic ideas for restoring energy after going through an opioid detox. I included some broad suggestions about self-care, including dietary tips, because sadly, the Standard American Diet (SAD) does little to create an optimal response for healing. One of the biggest culprits in a typical American diet is the over consumption of sugar and simple carbs.
And while I recognize that stopping the addictive substance is clearly priority, why not optimize recovery by further refining the previous dietary suggestions? Following are six tips from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition to help you cut down on sugars and simple carbs. Prepare to be amazed by the energy you will experience by trying this for a month.
- Crowd out simple sugars.
This means trade your table sugar in for more complex sugars, like sweet root veggies. The more complex the sugar, the better. An exception to this rule is fructose found in whole fruit. For many healthy people, fructose eaten in the form of whole fruits, in moderation, is a great source of energy and nutrients. Whole fruit also contains fiber, which means the sugar breaks down more slowly.
- Eat protein and vegetables 15 minutes before eating simple carbohydrates.
This is suggested for two reasons. First, glucose and insulin levels are generally lower when protein is consumed first. Secondly, these foods may fill you up so that you ultimately eat less sugar or carbs. When this isn’t possible or practical, eating protein at the same time as sugar can also help. If nothing else, don’t eat carbs and sugars alone. Crackers with peanut butter are better than crackers by themselves.
- Eat insoluble fiber before meals to stabilize insulin levels.
Vegetables are the best source of insoluble fiber. Pairing your carbohydrates with insoluble fiber can significantly reduce glucose and insulin levels. You can blend some kale into smoothies, pair a sandwich with a side salad, or throw some broccoli into your rice.
- Some supplements may help balance blood sugar.
There are three supplements that can help with blood sugar stabilization. These are:
- And, Chromium
Berberine is a supplement with a long history in Chinese medicine. Berberine is a compound found in many plants. It can help aid in weight loss and blood sugar maintenance.
Resveratrol is an extract that can help the body produce the beneficial short-chain fatty acids that help with blood sugar control. It may also help protect the brain from Alzheimer's.
Chromium is a mineral that helps insulin function optimally. It can be found in supplement form and naturally found in whole grains, brewer’s yeast, broccoli, and black pepper.
(Some supplements may not be good for some conditions or taken in tandem with certain medications, so check with your doctor to be sure.)
- Get a good night’s sleep.
I’ve talked about the importance of sleep before, but didn’t mention that sleep also affects blood sugar. Generally during sleep, blood sugar levels remain stable, despite the lack of eating during this time. When a person is sleep deprived, their insulin response to blood sugar decreases. As a result, blood sugar isn’t cleared from circulation as quickly, and levels are higher than normal. Also, after a poor night of sleep, breakfast will create higher spikes in blood sugar. If you have had a poor night’s sleep, try to resist the urge to grab a donut, and instead opt for a high-protein, low-sugar meal, like eggs, Greek yogurt, or a high-fiber, low-sugar cereal.
Less sleep translates into increased appetite. It can also trigger cravings for foods rich in simple carbohydrates for a quick energy burst. These are quickly converted into blood sugar or glucose. If you’ve ever noticed yourself craving carbs or junk food after a long night, this is why.
The bottom line is to make rest a priority. Seven to eight hours of sleep is ideal, though some individuals may require more.
- Aim for a healthy weight, and adjust your set point.
Excess visceral fat can mess with a person’s blood sugar balance. According to the Set Point Theory, our bodies have a “set point” weight that it generally gravitates toward when finding balance. It seems like some factors may influence a person’s set point in the negative direction. So, the question remains, how can you lower your set point?
Individuals may be able to positively alter their set point by:
- Managing their blood sugar
- Losing weight slowly and steadily
- Abstaining from eating three hours before bedtime
- Revving up their metabolism with spices, like cayenne, cinnamon, turmeric, and cardamom
- And, exercising in intervals, with a focus on building muscle. The idea is to keep cortisol levels low while decreasing visceral fat.
A final thought to keep in mind is that people tend to lose more weight and keep it off when they engage in community. The support, accountability, and sense of belonging that community offers is key. This is consistent with what we believe about recovery groups for various addictions, too.
Remember, at the Coleman Institute, we see you as whole person, not just an addict. Your true ‘treatment’ for the rest of your life is more than stopping an addictive substance; it is learning that every action you take, including how you feed your body, will ultimately lead you closer to, or further from what you value.
We are happy to answer any questions you may have, whether you are contemplating a detox or are putting together your recovery plan. Don’t hesitate to call us at 877-773-3869.
Joan R. Shepherd, FNP