Health and Wellness

5 Powerful Benefits of a Gluten-Free Diet for People Recovering from Addiction

benefits of a gluten free diet
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If you’re reading this, chances are you or a loved one is interested in or is already recovering from addiction. The last thing on your mind may be gluten, but here are 5 powerful benefits of a gluten-free diet that can help a person move beyond addiction, fatigue, mood swings, physical and emotional pain for a sustainable, enjoyable, and long-lived recovery:

1. Gluten is bad for gut health and, gut health = mental health.

A healthy gut is responsible for producing an estimated 95% of our serotonin, which is responsible for producing good moods, emotional stability, and resistance to cravings for sugar, carbs, and alcohol, and an estimated 60% of our GABA, which is responsible for our ability to relax, stay calm, manage stress and to build resistance against cravings for alcohol and sedative drugs such as cannabis, Xanax and Valium. A healthy gut is also responsible for our ability to digest and absorb the nutrients our brain needs to maintain balanced moods, focus, and the ability to make good decisions.

A healthy gut is home to 80% of our immune system and is our first line of defense against pathogens, parasites, and toxins, which is another one of the benefits of a gluten-free diet for everyone.

Poor gut health can be an underlying cause of depression, anxiety, addiction, cravings, ADD/ADHD, joint pain, skin issues such as eczema and acne, allergies, autism spectrum disorders, asthma, autoimmune diseases, and more.

The most common health issue in the GI is called leaky gut. Leaky gut happens when the fragile lining of the intestinal wall becomes weakened and permeable. Gluten can cause the lining of the intestinal wall to become leaky by stimulating the release of a chemical called zonulin. This allows toxins to enter the bloodstream which causes inflammation.

Gluten is the hardest protein for the human body to digest. Gluten is a large protein that lodges itself into the tight gap junctions in the lining of the gut wall and cause these microscopic gaps (that are meant to be small enough only to let fully digested food molecules pass through, while keeping unwanted toxins and undigested food out of the blood stream) to expand which causes the gut to become leaky.

Causes of leaky gut

  • Alcohol use
  • Excessive stress or trauma
  • Poor diet
  • Birth control pills
  • Frequent antibiotics
  • Excessive grain consumption
  • Gluten consumption
  • NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin,ibuprofen, acetaminophen)
  • Antacids
  • Born Cesarean
  • Born naturally to a mother with low beneficial bacteria
  • Genetics

Symptoms of a leaky gut

  • Mental health challenges including depression and anxiety
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Malnutrition
  • Cravings for food, alcohol and drugs
  • Faulty liver function
  • Eczema, acne and other skin disorders
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Joint and collagen problems
  • Multiple chemical sensitivities
  • Autoimmune conditions
  • Failure to thrive
  • Asthma
  • Arthritis
  • Food allergies and intolerances
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Migraines
  • Headaches

So, even if you come back negative on your wheat and gluten sensitivity and/or a celiac test, in order to heal your gut and improve your mood, energy, focus, and get your cravings under control, it can be very helpful to remove gluten from your diet for at least 30 days (most recovering people will find the most benefit if they do so permanently) to allow the damaged lining of your gut to heal and stay healed.

2. Gluten acts like an opiate in the brain and can lead to food addiction, cravings and even relapse

As a result of incomplete digestion, gluten can change into a substance called glutenomorphin, which behaves like an opiate in the brain. This can trigger a craving and withdrawal cycle that can lead to food addiction. When we have foods like bread that we ‘love’ and can’t give up, it’s a sign the glutenomorphins have taken a hold on us. And, even though the effects of glutenomorphin are more mild compared to opiates like heroin, it can keep us on the hamster wheel just enough to lead us back to our drug of choice if we are sensitive or something stressful arises in our lives. Some people are so sensitive that they are unable to stay clean or sober until gluten is eliminated from the diet altogether. In this way, gluten is actually a neurotoxin.

In addition, due to the craving cycle mentioned above, some people who become addicted to alcohol are actually allergic to the grains that alcohol is made out of. Clinical experience has shown that this sub-set of people that are addicted to alcohol and allergic to gluten (think beer) aren’t typically able to remain sober until they remove all gluten-containing grains from their diet.

3. Eating a whole foods, gluten-free diet helps balance blood sugar.

Balancing blood sugar with a diet rich in protein, healthy fats, and complex carbs like vegetables is key for eliminating cravings, regulating our mood, healing adrenal fatigue, generating energy, and preventing relapse. White processed flours and gluten-laden junk foods break down as sugar in the bloodstream, disrupting our blood sugar balance, which leads to bad moods, anxiety, inability to focus, and cravings for food, alcohol, and drugs. Blood sugar swings are the number one true cause of relapse. Going gluten-free can help eliminate many of the simple carbs from the diet that disrupt blood sugar balance.

4. Gluten causes inflammation which can cause depression and pain

When the immune system is under attack from physical injury, infections, or toxins (like those entering the bloodstream through a leaky gut), the immune system generates an inflammatory response. Inflammation is a normal physiological process that is now understood to play a major role in many chronic medical illnesses, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, and obesity.

The effects of inflammation can cause a diverse array of physical and psychological symptoms. When this happens it is referred to as sickness behavior.  

Recently, scientists have been able to demonstrate how the symptoms of sickness behavior mirror those of depression. Researchers and health professionals are now beginning to understand the connection between inflammation and depression.

  1. One study found that patients with major depressive disorder had significantly higher levels of the pro-inflammatory cytokine TNF-alpha than their non-depressed counterparts. In addition, patients with depression had low levels of anti-inflammatory cytokines.
  2. Researchers have also found that eight weeks of Zoloft treatment was able to decrease some pro-inflammatory cytokines seen in depressed patients. On Zoloft, the depressed patients also saw an increase in anti-inflammatory cytokines.
  3. A study involving depressed patients classified as non-responders supplemented the patients’ standard anti-depressant treatment with the addition of aspirin, an anti-inflammatory. More than 50% of these patients responded to this combination treatment. At the end of the study, more than 80% of the group responsive to the anti-inflammatory went into remission.

So, another benefit of a gluten-free diet is that it lessens the inflammation that can lead to depression.

5. Going gluten free can help heal and prevent other health conditions

Addiction and mental health challenges are chronic health conditions. Chronic health conditions arise from a combination of genetics and environmental influences. Rarely is there just one chronic health condition present. Everything is connected and everything we do matters. All disease begins in the gut, so allowing your gut to heal can help with your overall health conditions and prevent new ones from arising. When we feel good, we don’t need to change the way we feel, and this is our #1 defense against relapse!

To really see if you can experience the benefits of a gluten-free diet, you’ll need to try it for at least 30 days to see real results. If you would like some help with going gluten-free, you can download my free 30 Healing Recipes for Recovery eBook here :

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Hi, I'm Jen.
Your friend + New Guide to a Healthier, Happier Recovery.

 My passion is teaching people how to use nutrition, lifestyle and alternative medicines to support their recovery from addiction, mood swings, fatigue, chronic pain, medication dependency, and more so that they can feel good in their own skin and experience true freedom, even when it seems impossible.

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