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Should Dietary Supplements Be Part of Your Recovery Regimen?

October 30, 2015

Medical ComplicationsIn the search to find balance and manage difficult emotions and stressors that arise in recovery, many people try a number of different holistic and alternative treatments to see what works for them.
While many can be beneficial with very little risk of harm (e.g., yoga practice, eating more fruits and vegetables, etc.), there are some that may potentially cause a number of risks, which in some cases could increase the risk of relapse.

Dietary supplements are one such holistic option that may cause more problems than they fix. Though it seems like using these over-the-counter supplements would be a good idea, the fact is that there are many potential problems with using them. In fact, a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that about 23,000 trips to the ER each year in the United States are due to problems related to the use of dietary supplements.

There is little in the way of oversight when it comes to the supplement industry, and this is the first study to document just how many severe injuries are caused by use of health supplements, according to The New York Times.

Are you inadvertently putting your health at risk while trying to be healthy?

Potential Issues with Dietary Supplements

  • No proof of claims: If you look at the fine print on any health supplement produced and sold in the United States, there is a statement along the lines that their claims of benefit are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This means that the FDA has not researched the claims and agreed that they were true.
  • Little regulation: The FDA requires that manufacturers of dietary supplements not sell misbranded or adulterated products. That means that if it says that each capsule contains 500 milligrams of cranberry extract then that’s exactly what it should contain – no more, no less, and nothing else. Unfortunately, unless there are reports of abuse or problems, the FDA doesn’t seem to do much investigation into quality assurance, and every so often, there are headlines about one manufacturer or another selling bunk products. For example, in February, the Washington Post published an article about how Walgreens, Target, and GNC were all accused of selling products that were adulterated.
  • No dosing standard: Though the bottle may say to take one, two, or three capsules per day at different times, with or without food, there is no standard as to how much is safe to use, how much will be effective for your specific purposes, or whether or not that supplement will interact negatively with other supplements you are taking.
  • Side effects: Side effects are another aspect of dietary supplement usage that are rarely explored and documented in a clinical fashion; thus, people who take them expecting to experience a specific effect may not have the desired outcome and also may experience a range of unexpected side effects as well, some of which may be dangerous.

Going to Extremes

Drugs and alcohol often have a hefty impact on users’ metabolisms, and their weight may reflect that impact. Once in rehab, and all use of drugs and alcohol has stopped, it’s not unusual to experience a big shift in weight. In most cases, this can result in weight gain, something that can be extremely stressful for many in recovery. As a result, many throw their full focus into trying to get fit and apply the same extreme philosophy and compulsive behaviors that they exhibited during addiction (that is, if a little is good then a lot is great). As a result, they take loads of dietary supplements that they believe will help them detox, lose weight, maintain energy, and stay healthy without necessarily having to eat large amounts of food.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t often end well. Many of the patients documented in the study above were overusing dietary supplements thought to increase weight loss or increase energy but had the effect of causing heart arrhythmia, palpitations, and chest pain. Other patients from the study had medical problems due to the toxic chemicals found in some of the supplements – chemicals that manufacturers are not required by law to list on the bottles.

Protect Yourself and Improve Your Health

Concerned woman comforting another in rehab group at a therapysThough it may be tempting to believe that an over-the-counter pill can help to fix a specific ailment or issue, it’s important to remember that though herbs are natural, they are not harmless. Even if the product is exactly what it says it is and nothing else, taking too much or the wrong combination of herbs can be deadly.

Rather than invest your money in expensive supplements, you can:

  • Eat a wide range of fruits and veggies every day. The nutrients you need are most bio available when they occur naturally in foods you eat. To ensure you are getting a wide range of vitamins and nutrients, eat a lot of different, brightly colored fruits vegetables that are fresh and therefore more nutritive.
  • Get some exercise. If energy and weight loss are issues, one of the best ways to manage both is to get up and move. Regular cardiovascular effort plus weight-bearing exercise will improve your overall mood and health, plus increase your chances of fighting off certain chronic disorders.
  • Get good sleep. Your body functions better when you are well rested. It’s important to not only get enough sleep each night but also to try going to bed and getting up at the same times each day.
  • Practice mindfulness and acceptance. You may gain a few pounds and take a little while to lose them as you adjust to recovery. That’s okay. You may experience some fluctuations in mood and energy as you learn how to cope without turning to drugs and alcohol, and that’s okay. Give yourself time and permission to go through the changes that come with this huge life-altering experience you are undertaking and be persistent in practicing the healthful lifestyle changes that will pay off long-term.
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