The foods and beverages we consume every day offer an assortment of vitamins and minerals which helps our body function normally. Although we don’t need large amounts of these vitamins or minerals, the small amounts we get from food plays a big role.
Vitamins and minerals are micronutrients, meaning they are vital nutrients needed in lesser amounts. There are many duties that these micronutrients assist in, including normal cell functioning, growth and development, metabolism, disease prevention and energy conversion to name a few. The abuse of alcohol, drugs, or behavioral addictions such as food and sex addiction can have a substantial effect on overall nutrition. Some areas that are impacted include appetite, energy levels, motivation to eat, poor food choices and normal digestion and absorption of food. Due to the interference of drugs, alcohol and poor eating habits, many vitamins and minerals are not sufficiently consumed or absorbed, which can compromise the countless activities these micronutrients contribute to. As a result, those in active addiction may have vitamin or mineral deficiencies, which can have some detrimental effects in overall health. There are a few vitamins and minerals that those with an addiction are more likely to have low levels, due the effects of appetite, the quality of food eaten and the substance of choice.
Vitamin and Mineral Deficits in Addiction
There are eight B vitamins, ranging from B1 to B12, all of which are water soluble. They are transported throughout the body but have no storage sites. As these vitamins aren’t stored, they are needed on a daily basis for normal functioning. While each B vitamin has different roles, they contribute to energy production, synthesis of neurotransmitters, normal functioning of the nervous system and other critical tasks. Food sources of various B vitamins include whole grains, legumes, meats, vegetables and milk products.
Alcohol abuse has an impact on the way that B complex vitamins are absorbed and used within the body. Alcohol destroys B vitamins, and as a result chronic alcohol use can limit the amount of B vitamins that are available and contribute to a B vitamin deficiency. Also, those in an active addiction may not be eating well, consuming foods that are processed and refined and lacking vitamins and minerals, or not eating enough due to poor appetite. With these two factors limiting the amount of various B complex vitamins within the body, there are numerous health consequences that can arise in this population. Due to the role of various B complex vitamins in the nervous system, cognition and energy conversion, some of the symptoms include headaches, nausea, fatigue or weakness, palpitations, numbness, tingling, tremors or /shakes. Some of the B complex vitamins that those in active addition are at risk of developing a deficiency includes thiamin or B1, B6, folic acid (also known as B9) and B12.
Calcium, Magnesium and Zinc
Calcium and magnesium are two minerals that go hand in hand, and can be directly impacted by drug or alcohol addiction. Calcium and magnesium play a large role in the building and breakdown of bone mass and in muscle contraction and relaxation. Magnesium is one mineral that is used in the metabolism of alcohol, and this accelerates the loss of magnesium. Chronic alcohol abuse increases the excretion of calcium and magnesium, causing depleted amounts in the body. In addition, poor eating habits such as consuming foods low in essential vitamins and minerals can contribute to a deficiency in these minerals. These lower than normal values can manifest as symptoms commonly seen in withdrawal such as tremors, muscle cramps and changes in heart rhythm (Gabbay, 2005). Due to these impacts on various body systems such as the skeletal system and cardiovascular system, it is important that these minerals are replenished to ensure normal functioning. Food sources of calcium include dairy products, dark green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes. Magnesium can be found in dark green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds, whole grains and seaweed.
Zinc is another mineral needed in trace amounts, with important roles in maintaining the immune system, carbohydrate and protein metabolism, and preserving vision. Like magnesium, it is used heavily when metabolizing alcohol. During chronic alcohol abuse, zinc is depleted quickly and without any dietary replenishment a deficiency can arise. Low levels of zinc can affect vision, wound healing, appetite and manifest as depression. Food sources of zinc include whole grain products, eggs, meat, and legumes.
Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin with many roles, which includes promoting calcium absorption, bone growth and development, neuromuscular function and boosts the immune system. Vitamin D is the only vitamin that our body can produce when exposed to sunlight. However, living in the northern hemisphere where less UVB photons reach the earth during the winter months, means that Canadians hardly produce Vitamin D during this time, increasing the risk of developing a vitamin D deficiency (Statistics Canada, 2013). According to Statistics Canada, 32% of Canadians do not meet the recommendations for Vitamin D. Insufficient amounts of vitamin D is a concern for all Canadians, including those in active addiction, and an area that needs to be improved for better health. There are dietary sources of Vitamin D which are found naturally in fish, egg yolks and milk as well as foods that are fortified with Vitamin D, such as juice, yogurt and soy beverages. Incorporating these foods into our diet helps to meet Health Canada’s recommendations of 600 – 800 IU/day, to prevent infections and for optimal health.
Variety is Key
In addiction recovery, sobriety from the addictive substance in itself helps to reverse some of the damage sustained, as the toxic effects from drugs or alcohol are no longer present to compromise ones’ health. Also, consuming a meal plan of three meals and three snacks a day with a variety of foods, helps to ensure that different nutrients are consumed and available to meet the nutrient requirements and restore normal functioning of various body systems. Canada’s Food Guide for Healthy Eating is a great tool that helps all Canadians understand how much of each nutrient we need, and which foods assist in meeting these requirements. Healthy eating is such a vital component of addiction recovery, and often times overlooked. Be mindful of the importance of how of food choices affect addiction recovery, as it undoubtedly fosters a happy and healthy sobriety.
‘Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food’ ~ Hippocrates.
For more information on Canada’s Food Guide, go to:
Gabbay, S. (2005). Kicking Addiction . [Weblog]. Retrieved September 15, 2015, from http://www.alive.com/health/kicking-addiction.
Janz, T., Pearson, C. (2013). Statistics Canada. Retrieved 12 October, 2015, from http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-624-x/2013001/article/11727-eng.htm.