In recent years, the word “detox” has come to mean cleansing the body from everyday “toxins” by sticking to a special diet and even avoiding food altogether. But in the true medical sense, detoxification is a process that the body undergoes naturally when removing harmful substances like drugs and alcohol from your system. And instead of restricting food, the best thing you can do is give the body what it needs to function. Detoxing isn’t just about removing the bad stuff—it’s also about replacing it with the good.
How Addiction Causes Vitamin Deficiencies
Drug and alcohol abuse can cause long-term nutrient deficiencies in four ways:
1. Increasing Appetite
Certain substances can cause food cravings. For example, individuals with an addiction to heroin often crave sweets and sugary foods. Marijuana users, too, often feel hungry while using and try to satisfy the craving with low-nutrient meals.
2. Decreasing Appetite
3. Encouraging Empty Calories
Alcoholics tend to get a huge amount of calories from drinks, but the drinks have little to no nutritional value. And it’s not just alcohol users. People with addictions of all kinds will struggle to put together healthy meals for themselves, opting instead for fast food and junk food.
4. Inhibiting Nutrient Absorption
Even when an addicted individual does eat a healthy meal, chances are their bodies are not able to process the nutrients effectively. For example, alcoholism causes the body to struggle to absorb various forms of vitamin B. Vitamin B1, or thiamine, is especially important—a lack of B1 can cause Korsakoff’s Syndrome, also called “wet brain.” Even tobacco use causes a vitamin C deficiency and makes it hard for the body to use vitamin E, omega-3, zinc, and beta-carotene.
The Necessary Nutrients for Drug Detox
When detoxing, the body will deplete its reserves for several nutrients and need extra nutritional support. Be sure to talk to your doctor before making any changes to your diet or taking any supplements, as they might not be right for your situation. For example, many alcoholics have a vitamin A deficiency, but we’re not putting it on this list as too much vitamin A in an alcoholic’s body can cause fibrosis in the liver (a buildup of scar tissue).
The nutrients and detox vitamins your body likely needs most are:
Vitamins B1, B3, and B5 all help your body convert sugar into energy, and vitamins B6 and B12 help your body produce blood cells. Unfortunately, heavy drinking and drug use inhibit the body’s ability to absorb these nutrients. In general, individuals fighting alcohol addiction can safely take B1 (thiamine). A multivitamin can also provide an adequate dosage of B2 (riboflavin) and B6 (pyridoxine). Vitamin B9 (folic acid) is another important piece of the puzzle that can usually be consumed simply through a normal, healthy diet.
Many people with a vitamin C (ascorbic acid) deficiency feel fatigued or depressed. These are the opposite of what you want while you’re already facing withdrawal symptoms. Some studies have shown that adding Vitamin C to your diet can help alleviate these symptoms.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 has been linked to a host of benefits from heart health to helping with depression. While you can get this from eating fish, many people choose to go with fish oil supplements. When choosing a supplement, look for one that has both EPA and DHA. However, do not consume more than 3 grams of fish oil per day, as too much can cause blood thinning.
Alcohol interferes with the body’s ability to absorb calcium. This poses a problem especially for women, who are at risk for osteoporosis after heavy drinking. Calcium supplements work best when you’re also getting plenty of vitamin D, so lay in the sun for a bit to help your body produce what it needs.
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. When the body breaks down protein you eat, it can use the amino acids to rebuild damaged cells and create neurotransmitters in the brain that help regulate drug cravings.
The body can produce up to 12 amino acids on its own, but the remaining 8 can only come from external sources. Emerging studies are showing that amino acid supplements can be helpful for an individual with substance addictions. However, again, only take supplements with a doctor’s guidance. A buildup of amino acids can cause negative effects such as brain damage. You can generally avoid this risk by forgoing supplements and focusing on supplying amino acids through varied protein-rich foods such as meat, eggs, beans, tofu, and quinoa.
How to Get the Vitamins You Need
1. Start With a Balanced Diet and Multivitamin
It will be hard to eat in the first few days of a drug or alcohol detox, but eat what you can. If you choose to take a multivitamin you may find it easier to begin with a liquid form so your body is able to absorb it easily.
2. Consider Homeopathic Supplements
Milk thistle is often recommended as a liver detox supplement. Some people swear by it, but the jury is still out regarding its effectiveness. “Several small, uncontrolled studies indicate some benefit to the use of milk thistle in patients with different types of liver disease without significant side effects,” Raman Venkataramanan, PhD, FCP, tells WebMD. He’s a professor at the University of Pittsburgh. “However, there is no controlled, properly powered, large-scale, convincing study supporting the benefits of milk thistle in patients with liver disease.” Talk to your doctor to see if this is a good option to explore for your situation.
3. Avoid “Cleanses”
You might hear that a cleanse, such as drinking only juice or eating certain detox foods, is the best way to clear your body of toxins. But the body is capable of cleansing itself, as long as it has the right nutrients. Instead of holding back nutrients, focus on giving your body the building blocks it needs by eating balanced meals.
4. Consider Detoxing in a Medical Setting
Detoxing at home can be difficult, and in some cases, dangerous. In a medical setting, you’ll have access to the medicine and detox vitamins to help alleviate withdrawal symptoms, as well as healthy meals to help your body begin the healing process.
At The Recovery Village, we help patients through a full spectrum of services, from the first day in detox through an outpatient level of care. Learn about our treatment programs and levels of care for online rehab.
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Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.