Friday, December 7, 2007
“Drug Foods” and Addiction
Amino acid restoration therapy
Addicts frequently resort to sugar foods and other high-carbohydrates snacks as a substitute drug addiction, therapists frequently report. Since diet has a direct effect on neurotransmission in the brain, food of this type may play a role in keeping drug cravings alive.
Dr. Candace Pert, one of the founders of modern neuroscience, believes that the pain of drug withdrawal and the stress of associated cravings could be drastically lessened through attention to nutritional needs. “Recovery programs,” she writes in her book Molecules of Emotion: Why You Feel the Way You Feel, “need to take into account this multi-system reality by emphasizing nutritional support and exercise. Eating fresh, unprocessed foods, preferably organic vegetables, and engaging in mild exercise like walking to increase blood flow through the liver can speed the process up.”
Other alternative researchers speak of the body’s “natural stimulant capacity,” and suggest that proteins and raw vegetables replace drugs and “drug foods” like coffee, chocolate, and sugar.
Since the 1990s, various researchers have been experimenting with amino acid combinations, developing therapeutic “cocktails” composed of precursors for dopamine, serotonin, endorphin, norepinephrine, and other brain chemicals. Kenneth Blum, the co-author of numerous controversial dopamine-alcohol studies at the University of Texas, worked with a neurotransmitter restoration cocktail called SAAVE, composed of phenylalanine, glutamine, tryptophan, pyridoxal-5-phosphate, and various enzymes.
However, tryptophan has been difficult to obtain in the U.S. for years now, ever since the FDA told consumers to stop taking tryptophan after the supplement was linked to an outbreak of a rare blood disorder called eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome (EMS). The Centers for Disease Control eventually reported 24 deaths. A specific bacillus the Japanese had cultivated to use as a “factory” for the production of tryptophan had gone haywire, and, through a process akin to fermentation, produced a pathogen responsible for the outbreak.
If we are what we eat, then it behooves us all to eat a little more carefully—especially since some of the things we eat are either drugs, or else natural substances that exert a similar effect. For example, cigarette smoking puts additional demands on the body’s store of vitamin C. This is another good reason why pregnant women should not smoke, and need to eat foods rich in vitamin C. Otherwise, they may be depriving the fetus of ascorbic acid.
By elevating key neurotransmitter levels through amino acid “loading,” and by inhibiting the enzyme-induced degradation of these amino acids, amino acid restoration therapy may be “a useful adjunct to psychotherapy in achieving sobriety, not only in an inpatient setting but as a crucial element for continued recovery,” Blum believes. Blum eventually sold his patent rights to NeuroGenesis, Inc., which continues to market variations of his product.
Other researchers say that the ratio of the precursor amino acid to other amino acids present in the body is too complicated, and too little understood, to allow amino acid replacement therapy to be effective at present. Tryptophan, for example, must compete with other amino acids for entry into the brain. The serotonin uptake blockers, on the other hand, apparently produce a decrease in blood concentrations of neutral amino acids, which lessens the competition across the blood-brain barrier. Nonetheless, amino acid replacement therapy is being tried experimentally at clinics around the country.