Nutraceuticals and Addiction Treatment

2 min read · 5 sections

Nutraceuticals are nutritional products that some claim may help prevent disease or assist people in living a healthier lifestyle. Examples include omega-3 fatty acids, ginseng, folic acid, and lutein.

healthy supplements on wooden teaspoons

While these substances may be beneficial, they may not all be strictly regulated nor prescribed under medical supervision. Nutraceuticals are often taken as over-the-counter supplements and, while their use is viewed by many as relatively safe, some may be associated with certain side effects.

Some nutraceuticals may be incorporated into the nutritional offerings of individual addiction treatment centers, with the intent of augmenting recovery from any malnutrition or poor dietary habits from substance abuse.

What Are Nutraceuticals?

Nutraceuticals are foods or food-derived products taken for medical or health benefits. They are purported to help prevent or treat diseases and promote overall health.1,2
There are many forms of nutraceuticals available on the market today. Some of the most well-known are:1

  • Ginseng.
  • Echinacea.
  • Green tea.
  • Fish oils.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Glucosamine.
  • Lutein.
  • Folic acid.

Nutraceuticals aim to:1

  • Improve health.
  • Delay aging.
  • Prevent chronic disease.
  • Increase life expectancy.
  • Support body structure or function.

Most of the nutraceuticals being consumed globally are done so without a medical prescription, as they are supplements rather than pharmaceuticals.3

The industry has experienced setbacks in the past due to poor supplement quality and reports of adverse health effects. In recent years, efforts have been increased, however, to improve regulation and quality standards of nutraceuticals. Companies have put more resources into identifying and standardizing ingredients, encouraging good agricultural practices, conducting product reviews, and providing quality verification to consumers.3

What Are the Side Effects?

Since nutraceuticals are available without a prescription and their use largely unsupervised, consumers need to be cautious about taking them. Some have known side effects and could lead to adverse events, including allergic reactions, insomnia, blood thinning, and cardiac arrhythmias.4

Certain nutraceuticals may also interact with other supplements or medications.4 Talk to your doctor or healthcare provider about any supplements you are taking so they can determine whether the nutraceuticals could interact negatively with other medications.

When taken in small doses or natural dietary amounts, many nutraceuticals are considered safe to consume. Risks arise, however, when nutraceuticals are taken at higher doses, which may lead to toxicity.4

How Effective Are They?

While more research is needed on the safety and effectiveness of certain nutraceuticals, recent studies have shown that some may have positive health benefits for individuals suffering from diabetes, arthrosclerosis, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and other neurological disorders. Several nutraceutical agents have antioxidant properties and are considered a healthy way to potentially prevent certain conditions.1 For example:

  • Studies have shown that quercetin, an antioxidant plant flavonoid, may provide diabetic patients some protection from blood vessel damage due to oxidative stress.
  • Likewise, nutraceuticals such as curcumin, turmerin, lutein, lycopene, and beta carotene may protect against oxidative stress that may be implicated in the development of neurocognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.
  • An adequate variety of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, dietary fiber, and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, combined with physical exercise, may help prevent and manage certain types of cardiovascular disease.
  • An increase in consumption of certain flavonoids, which can be found in vegetables, citrus fruits, and red wine, can also help prevent and treat cardiovascular disease and are associated with lower rates of death from coronary artery disease and heart attack.
  • Ginger has been demonstrated to have significant antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects on the body. In particular, consuming ginger can help to offset toxic side effects from taking traditional medications and may help treat hypertension and palpitations.
  • Buckwheat may lower blood cholesterol and high blood pressure. Dietary fiber may also lower cholesterol and help prevent and treat cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
  • Multiple nutraceutical plant substances such as daidzein, biochanin, isoflavones, and genistein help inhibit the growth of cancer cells in the body, particularly prostate cancer. Consuming fruits and vegetables, such as tomatoes, grapefruit, guava, and watermelon that contain the phytochemical pigment lycopene may assist in protecting the body against certain types of prostate, skin, testicular, and adrenal cancers. Beta-carotene is a powerful antioxidant that could aid in cancer prevention as well as prevention of other diseases. Other nutraceuticals can also protect or prevent against cancer, including soybeans (breast, uterine, lung, colorectal, prostate), pectin (prostate), glucosinolates (colorectal, lung), sulforaphane (breast, prostate), saponins, and tannins.1

Nutraceuticals and Addiction Treatment

utraceuticals and Addiction Treatment
Addiction can have profoundly negative effects on physical health, leading to issues such as chronic malnutrition, changes in appetite, dehydration, poor absorption of vitamins and minerals, and inadequate consumption of carbohydrates and nutrient-dense foods. Nutritional deficiencies can leave the body in poor physical condition and may lead to serious diseases such as Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, or “wet brain.”5

Nutraceuticals alone are not enough to treat addiction. But when used as part of an integrated treatment program, they may be helpful. A dietary plan, nutritious foods, and nutraceuticals can help restore health and physical and mental balance as a person detoxes, recovers, and begins a new lifestyle.5

The goal of many treatment programs is to establish consistent eating, exercise, and sleep schedules. This process helps to get people on a routine in a structured environment, which they can continue when they leave rehab. Programs may serve caffeine-free, gluten free, low sugar, low dairy, high fiber foods combined with an optimal macronutrient balance of healthy fats, high-quality proteins, and non-refined carbohydrates.5

Some proponents of nutrition as medicine will advocate the use of vitamins, minerals, and other nutritional supplements to benefit overall health and provide added support during detox, withdrawal management, and longer-term substance treatment. Some of these complementary/nutrition medicinal approaches might include:

  • Amino acids to support mood and energy levels.
  • Calcium and magnesium to reduce muscle tension, tremors, and cramps.
  • Thiamine (vitamin B1) in the event of alcohol-related neurologic dysfunction.
  • Milk thistle to support normal liver detoxification ability.
  • Chlorophyll-rich superfoods such as the algae chlorella and the cyanobacterial extract spirulina in a detox diet. 6

Nutraceuticals aim to assist recovery programs rather than replace them. By promoting overall wellness, nutraceuticals can help individuals in treatment to stay focused on their daily goals.


[1]. Nasri, H., Baradaran, A., Shirzad, H., and Rafieian-Kopaei, M. (2014). New Concepts in Nutraceuticals as Alternative for Pharmaceuticals. International Journal of Preventive Medicine, 5(12), 1487-1499.

[2]. Dudeja, P., and Gupta, R.K. (2017). Nutraceuticals. In Food Safety in the 21st Century: A Public Health Perspective. Academic Press.

[3]. Lachance, P.A., and Das, Y.T. (2007). Nutraceuticals. In Reference Module in Chemistry, Molecular Sciences and Chemical Engineering. Rutgers University.

[4]. ScienceDirect. Nutraceutical.

[5]. Waters, C. (2015). Nutrition’s Supporting Role in Addiction Recovery. Natural Practitioner Magazine.

[6]. Drake, M. (2014). Natural Treatments for Alcoholism & Addiction. Nutraceuticals World.

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