General Wellness

Exercise in Addiction Recovery

Exercise in Addiction Recovery

Exercise in Addiction Recovery

The Importance of Exercise In Addiction Recovery

For people struggling with alcoholism or drug addiction, the thought of life without a drink or drugs can seem almost impossible. The unfortunate reality is that the majority of individuals seeking help for their addiction problem will not find success for any sustained period of time. While the recovery rate for alcohol and chemical use disorders may be low, there is something that can be done to greatly increase the chances of kicking the habit once and for all. The good news is that the answer will not only help you to stay addiction-free over the long term, but it is inexpensive or free! So what is it?

Exercise

Have no fear; we are not talking about becoming an ultra-endurance athlete, a pumped up gym rat, or an Olympian. Just the simple inclusion of some physical activity can have a radical impact on your quality of life and chances of sobriety.

How Does It Work?

During active addiction, the drugs and alcohol that a person consumes have a large impact on a complex set of structures in the brain called the limbic system. This part of the brain is largely responsible for creating a person’s feelings and motivations. In short, this system plays a major role in how a person sees the world and subsequently behaves in it.

While substance abuse does warp and alter this brain system, exercise can actually have the opposite effect. A regular exercise routine helps to grow new cells in this area and put the brain in homeostasis. We know that drugs and alcohol impact chemicals in the body including serotonin and dopamine. For someone new in addiction recovery that is trying to rebalance these neurotransmitters, physical activity can help to speed up the process.

Post-Acute Withdrawal Symptoms (PAWS)

Prolonged substance abuse creates dependence, and with that comes a period of withdrawal when a person stops using. Some of the physical characteristics include shaking, extremes in body temperature, nausea, and vomiting. In addition to these physical ailments, there are other difficulties that can last from 5-10 days or as long as a year and a half. These are referred to as post-acute withdrawal symptoms or PAWS, and may include insomnia, depression, anxiety, irritability, trouble thinking clearly, and difficulty with coordination. Not only are these feeling uncomfortable, they are particularly dangerous for the recovering addict, as they can be contributing factors for relapse.

The great news is that you can be proactive in your recovery, and by adding exercise to your daily routine, you can have a serious impact on these symptoms. Physical activity, whether it be lifting weights or going for a jog can be used as a safety valve to help vent feelings of agitation and stress. By participating in activities like these, it gives a person time to separate from whatever situation is causing the agitation. This time spent physically moving can be a period to think instead of acting impulsively and potentially dangerously.

New Habits

Most people that are entering recovery did not arrive on a particularly positive note or a winning streak. In most cases, individuals that are newly sober reached this part of their life through a string of harmful consequences and hard times. This can have a negative impact on self-esteem and belief in one’s self.

The good news is that this particular area is one in which exercise can have a direct impact. By setting and reaching small goals with physical activity, a person may start to lay the foundation for winning behavior. Small successes with exercise can help to build confidence and lead to commitment and motivation in other areas of life. As self-efficacy increases, a person can continue to produce positive results as they gain confidence and handle situations as they arise.

When starting down the road to recovery, it is common that people find themselves with an abundance of extra time on their hands. During a person’s drinking or drug using career, the majority of the day was spent thinking about using, actively using, or recovering from using. In sobriety, there are suddenly a large number of hours each day that are unaccounted for. This down time, if not filled with something positive or healthful, can be potentially dangerous for the recovering addict. This extra time is perfect for an individual to start an exercise program. The less time a person spends on the couch thinking about the past, the better.

Where To Start

We know that exercise and being physically active can have a major impact on a person’s chances of staying sober, but where do you begin? The best way to implement a new workout routine is to be honest about where you are starting and have realistic goals. This may be as simple as a ten minute walk around the neighborhood a few times a week or going to play basketball for 20 minutes in the park. Try a few different activities and find one that you enjoy. The more fun that you are having being active, the more likely you are to stick with it.

Initially, being consistent is the most important thing when becoming more active. Stick with your program and give your body time to adjust. Keep your eyes on your goals and be as tenacious about healing yourself as you were about harming yourself. You will be amazed at just how different and wonderful your new life can be.

Of course there is a tendency for many addicts to take it too far. Be wary of exercise addiction. For more information, click HERE

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The Second Brain?

Second BrainThe Second Brain?

David Wiss MS RDN has been obsessed with the microorganisms for the past year. Is it possible they could be the second brain? He has had so many burning questions as a registered dietitian nutritionist working with addictions and eating disorders. These include:

  • Why are so many of us drawn to foods that can compromise our quality of life?
  • Why do some of us reject foods that can heal us?
  • Why are educational efforts alone often not sufficient to produce sustainable behavior change?
  • Why is it so challenging to develop a new relationship to food? 

 

Is it lack of willpower? Food addiction? Restrained eating and dieting? In search for answers to the questions, Mr. Wiss has had to investigate the new insights into the gut microbiota and behavioral health.

New Insights

Gut microbiota can have a significant impact on disease development, brain health, attenuation, memory, and learning (Matsumoto et al., 2013). Dysbiosis of the gut is associated with a reduction in the diversity of the microorganisms, whereas healthy guts have higher diversity (Belizario & Napolitano, 2015). Highly diverse microbial communities are more likely to expend energy and resources in competition whereas less diverse microbial communities have more resources for host manipulation (Alcock, Maley, & Aktipis, 2014). So how does the gut microbiota impact human behavior? Is it possible that they have much more influence than we ever imagine?

In 2014 Alcock and colleagues stated:

“We hypothesize that there has been a genomic arms race in which microbes have evolved genes to manipulate their hosts (particularly analogs of human signaling molecules such as neuropeptides and hormones) and corresponding host genes have evolved to prevent that manipulation where it conflicts with the host’s future interests.”

Authors proposed that gastrointestinal microbes could generate cravings for foods they specialize on, induce dysphoria until the host eats foods that enhance their fitness, acting as “microscopic puppetmasters.” Diagram from their publication below:

The Second Brain

 

These authors concluded:

  • Microorganisms are competing for nutritional resources
  • Evolutionary conflict between host & microbiota may lead to cravings and cognitive conflict regarding food choice
  • Exercising self-control over eating may be partly a matter of suppressing microbial signals that originate in the gut
  • Acquired taste may be due to acquisitions of microbes that benefit from that food
  • One way to change eating behavior is by intervening on the microbiota: FOCUS ON INCREASING MICROBIAL DIVERSITY

 

This information blew David’s mind and led him to researching this fascinating topic in great detail.

In April 2016 Mr. Wiss recorded a webinar with the Los Angeles District of the California Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that can be viewed HERE

You can get your microbiome analyzed at uBiome. For a 10% discount click HERE

References:

Alcock, J., Maley, C. C., & Aktipis, C. A. (2014). Is eating behavior manipulated by the gastrointestinal microbiota? Evolutionary pressures and potential mechanisms. Bioessays, 36, 940-949.

Belizario, J. E., & Napolitano, M. (2015). Human microbiomes and their roles in dysbiosis, common diseases, and novel therapeutic approaches. Frontiers in Microbiology, 6(1050).

Matsumoto, M., Kibe, R., Ooga, T., Aiba, Y., Sawaki, E., Koga, Y., & Benno, Y. (2013). Cerebral low-molecular metabolites influenced by intestinal microbiota: A pilot study. Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience, 7(9).

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West Los Angeles Dietitian

Nutrition in Recovery

Dave Cannon, Kristie Moore, and David Wiss

What is it like to be a West Los Angeles Dietitian in 2016?

The field of dietetics is changing rapidly. I have done much reflecting on this lately. Much of the information I was taught in school is entirely obsolete. Much of it was never true in the first place. I am really proud of the work we have done as Dietitians for Professional Integrity attempting to make an impact on the corrupt nature of corporate sponsorship within the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. While we have not made much of an impact on the national level, we have made a splash at the local level, particularly in the Los Angeles District (LAD). As a West Los Angeles Dietitian and proud member of LAD, I have made a few short informational videos worth watching. The first is about Corporate Sponsorship and the second is about Food Industry Front Groups.

Staying on the Cutting Edge

Thinking about my journey over the last several years, I am very grateful for my Master’s training at California State University, Northridge. My experience doing a Thesis has positioned me to be a critical evaluator of the latest research in the fields of nutrition, neuroscience, endocrinology, microbiome, addictions, eating disorders, and more! My first real interest was in the concept of Food Addiction and then I became obsessed with hormones. In 2014 I released an intense article called Hormones and Addiction and recorded a webinar on this fascinating topic. In 2015 I presented a webinar called Nutrition Therapy for the Addicted Brain through the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals. This presentation has been given in several different settings and is the basis of the work we do at Nutrition in Recovery. The webinar is free to view, and I hope you take advantage of it HERE

Excellent Teamwork

Being a training site for RDNs and DTRs has been critical to the growth of the company. Kristie Moore was David Wiss’ first dietetic intern and the magic has continued since that collaboration many years ago. Kristie and David even did research at Breathe Life Healing Centers for Kristie’s Thesis. Read all about in a recent article of the Behavioral Health Nutrition Newsletter. This concept of Hands-on Nutrition for addiction recovery is something we plan to develop more in this upcoming year. Read more about it HERE. Dave Cannon was also an intern with Nutrition in Recovery, and has since joined the team offering his expertise with group facilitation, personal training, in-home cooking instructions, and so much more. Dave Cannon has brought incredible value to the NIR team. Currently we have several other students rotating soon, and two more Master’s Thesis’ on the way. Stay tuned!

Keeping a Strong Presence

This work that we do truly is an uphill battle. It is very difficult to revamp food service systems in addiction treatment centers. There is resistance from the clients and resistance from the staff. It takes persistent and belief in our message. And we have that! So David Wiss gets his name out there in cyberspace to spread the word about the Nutrition in Recovery movement. Read a very potent blog article with a sample meal plan HERE. Mr. Wiss believes that the future of treatment will address addictions and eating disorders concurrently and simultaneously. This concept of integrated treatment is very important at Nutrition in Recovery. Listen to David talk about it on RadioMD.

West Los Angeles

West LA is the hub of many addiction treatment centers. We have helped so many programs integrate nutrition counseling. There are so many more that need our help! Contact us today and see how we can be improve the quality of your recovery!

 

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Corporate Sponsorship

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Corporate Sponsorship

For many years, the Los Angeles District (LAD) of the California Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (CAND) internally debated corporate sponsorship. Some members of LAD believed we should accept funding from whatever sponsors approached us, while others advocated for a more selective approach when it came to partnerships. This resulted in annual debates, votes, and substantive dialogue.

When Dietitians for Professional Integrity (DFPI) was formed in 2013, two founding DFPI members presented at an LAD Executive Board meeting, highlighting conflicts of interest within the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and explaining the need for greater financial transparency and ethical sponsorships with the Academy. The message was clear: if we are more rigorous about our standards for corporate sponsorship, we can improve the public’s perception of the RDN and advance the dietetic profession and credential. This led to a short series of videos where LAD members spoke up on this issue of corporate sponsorship and educated other members of LAD about the role of front groups in the food industry.

Meanwhile, the annual meeting of the California Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics received less-than-flattering coverage from Mother Jones about its McDonald’s “gold sponsorship.” DFPI core group member David Wiss MS RDN attended part of this conference and reported on the conflicts of interest and industry bias he encountered.

In 2014 the LAD Executive Board voted to put all sponsorship on hold for the 2014-2015 year. In lieu of accepting any money from food companies, LAD decided to raise its dues by $5. A very interesting thing happened: membership increased from the previous year. LAD dietitians were proud to be members of a progressive organization that was willing to take a stand on an important issue. LAD decided it would spend a year developing sponsorship guidelines with a standardized vetting and voting process. LAD used DFPI’s Sponsorship Rubric as a guide to creating its own internal rubric that allows its members to evaluate their personal (and anonymous) agreement with a potential sponsor company’s nutrition and ingredients, labor issues, environmental impact, and social responsibility.

After one year without corporate sponsorship, LAD was approached by Zevia. LAD Sponsorship Chair David Wiss MS RDN researched the company and generated a report for members of LAD to use for the vetting and voting process. A majority approval was reached on at least 75% of the established criteria items, making Zevia LAD’s first official sponsor to pass through the vetting and voting process. The sponsorship agreement ensures that LAD maintains editorial control of all content in materials bearing the LAD name, and that there is clear separation of LAD messages and content from brand information or promotion.

Additionally, The California Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has also started developing more stringent guidelines for sponsorship. The gold sponsor at the 2016 annual meeting is now the Lentil Board. California Almonds are a silver sponsor, and Sun-Maid raisins are a bronze sponsor. For a full list of sponsors please see here.

There is still much work to be done at the national level, but Los Angeles and California are proof that change can happen in a way that is constructive and substantial.

See the original post on Facebook here.

Dietitians for Professional Integrity

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Meditation in Recovery

meditation in recovery

Meditation in Recovery

Meditation in Recovery

In the most simple definition, this word means to “spend time in quiet thought.” For many of us, the idea of sitting still with no interruptions and only our thoughts is one of the most frightening things we could imagine. In fact, in the fast paced world we live in, with the constant bombardment of entertainment, media, and other distractions, sitting quietly alone can feel very uncomfortable. For without the constant stimuli, what types of things fill our brains? For many people, the answer to this question is anxiety, depression, fear and other emotions that are difficult to deal with. But what if by practicing meditation, we could learn to combat those feelings and enrich our lives? Are you ready for the good news? You can. Meditation in recovery is the angle.

Changing Brain Structure

One of the most exciting things about meditation is the ability it has to actually change the structure of the brain. It can help to create new pathways and wake up parts of the brain that have been inactive for long periods of time. This is excellent news for the recovering addict, as most of our old pathways led to jails, institutions, misery, and near death experiences.

One study in particular has shown positive changes in brain structure that after just eight weeks of starting a regular mediation schedule. The amygdala, which is important in terms of stress, fear, and anxiety, had reduced in size for the group participating in the study. The left hippocampus, which plays a large role in learning and emotional regulation, was also impacted in the meditation group. In addition, the posterior cingulate, which is related to focus and mind wandering, was also changed in a positive way.

To Sit, Or Not To Sit

Most of us picture the act of mediation taking place in a seated position in a quiet room, but did you know that it could be practiced in other ways as well? A type of mindfulness sometimes referred to as “moving meditation” can also bring on many healthful benefits.

Yoga is an excellent example of this type of meditation. In addition to the physical benefits, most practices help individuals to be in the moment and clear the mind. Focusing on the breath throughout the practice is a perfect way to bring yourself into a meditative state.

A walking meditation is another wonderful way to relax the mind. Focusing your thoughts and being in the moment during a walk is an excellent choice for someone that is trying to start this type of practice.

Practice Makes Perfect

Learning to calm the mind and genuinely be in the moment is a skill like any other. It is important to recognize that it will take practice to improve, and that no one is an expert from the beginning! For most of us, this is something new that we are trying for the first time, so it is important to start with an open mind and a sense of humor. Starting small for even just a few minutes a day is all it takes to start building a new habit.

Everybody take a deep breath….

Hölzel, B. K., Carmody, J., Vangel, M., Congleton, C., Yerramsetti, S. M., Gard, T., & Lazar, S. W. (2011). Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, 191(1), 36-43.

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Exercise in Recovery

Exercise in Recovery

Exercise In Recovery

What if I told you there was a healthy and inexpensive way to heal the body and mind from the ravages of addiction? What if that same approach would help you to stay addiction-free and sober over the long term? The great news is that such a thing exists! What we are talking about here is exercise and physical activity. Those words can be scary for some people, but it is important to keep in mind that we are not speaking about creating an Olympian or a gym rat. We are simply suggesting increasing a person’s amount of physical activity to a safe, fun, and healthy level.

Why Exercise?

There are a number of physiological and psychological benefits to exercise. For the average person, these benefits can have a wonderful impact on the mind and body, but for the recovering addict, they are a critical piece to the recovery puzzle. A regular fitness program in addiction recovery can help to repair the brain, grow new brain cells, and help to prevent relapse. When a person exercises, it helps to put the brain in homeostasis, grow neurons, and create new pathways in the brain. Moderate intensity exercise has been shown to increase dopamine and serotonin levels as well as release endorphins. These are the same chemicals that have been altered by drug and alcohol abuse.

New People, Places, and Things

One of the most important aspects for an individual that is starting down the road to recovery is developing new healthy habits, starting new relationships, and finding new ways to spend their time. Incorporating an exercise program into their lives can help to do all of this. Team sports, exercise classes, or working out with a partner is a wonderful way to reintegrate socially and to develop constructive interactions. The more fun a person is having and the more connected they are feeling to their new lifestyle, the less likely they are to miss the old drinking and drugging acquaintances and hangouts.

Coping Skills

For individuals that are recovering from addiction, it is important to find a way to cope with stress, anxiety, anger, agitation, and depression. Drugs, alcohol, and food were the only way that most of us knew how to deal with any feelings; so cultivating a new outlet is key to sustained recovery. Exercise can be the “safety valve” to vent these emotions by separating a person from what is antagonizing them and giving them time to think rather than act impulsively. Being physically active can help to build mental strength, self-confidence, and discipline.

Where To Start

The great news is that you do not need to spend a fortune on equipment or any fancy gadgets to get started. You could begin today just by walking out your front door. The most important thing to keep in mind is that it is not about the amount or intensity of the exercise regime. To start, it is more about getting in the habit of being active. Every person will have a different starting point and it is important to identify yours. If a five-minute walk at a slower pace is your maximum to begin, that is great! You can start with that and build from there.
Most of us did not come into recovery on a winning streak. By incorporating an exercise program, you can change that and start to build momentum in a positive direction. Get outside, get some fresh air, have some fun, and start moving around!

Learn more about the importance of exercise in addiction recovery HERE

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Probiotics?

Probiotics

In recent times, the word probiotic has been showing up more and more not only in nutrition and medical circles, but also in mainstream media and culture. There has been a large increase in the number of products on the market, and an enormous amount of claims in regard to the health benefits. So just what is a probiotic and are they something that you should be concerned with? It is important to have all of the information in order for you to make an informed decision on your health.

What Are They?

According to the World Health Organization, a probiotic is a live microorganism that confers health benefits on the host. In short, probiotics are bacteria that are friendly to the human body. In order for a microbe to be probiotic and beneficial to human health, they must first survive moving through the digestive tract and be resistant to all of the body’s digestive substances. In contrast to other bacteria that can cause illness and disease, these particular strains of microbes are nonpathogenic when consumed.

Why Do We Need Them?

Although these microbes are small in size, they do pack some serious health benefits. These organisms impact the body in many positive ways, and play a crucial role in the proper function of the G.I. tract and digestion. For individuals that suffer from issues such as irritable bowel syndrome, probiotics can help to alleviate symptoms including abdominal pain, constipation, and bloating.

In addition to digestive health, research is continuing to find evidence that a person’s gut health is directly related to mental health. This means that the trillions of bacteria that are living in our gut could play a roll in anything from agitation to anxiety and depression. The old saying, “we are what we eat”, certainly continues to ring true.

Where Do We Get Them?

We have discussed what probiotics are and why we need them, but where exactly do we find these helpful microorganisms? The good news is that they are available in a variety of foods and can easily be included into a healthful diet. The most common product to include probiotics, and the one you are most likely to have heard of, is yogurt. Not all yogurts are created equal, and it should be mentioned that the best choice would be a plain variety with no added sugar. Some additional sources of probiotics include:

· Tempeh
· Kefir
· Kimchi
· Sauerkraut
· Miso Soup

How Do We Keep Them Alive?

We know that probiotics can have a large impact on the health of an individual in a variety of areas, but how can we ensure that these advantageous microbes continue to flourish in our bodies? To promote the growth and to help sustain the life of these beneficial bacteria, it is important that we continue to feed them the types of food that they like! If you create an environment in your body that is favorable, these microscopic helpers will stay. If they are not receiving the things that they need, they will simply die out.

Probiotic bacteria need something called a prebiotic in order to survive and flourish. This is merely a nondigestible food ingredient that promotes their grown in the digestive tract. The magic word that we are talking about here is fiber. Examples of prebiotic foods include:

· Beans
· Legumes
· Onions
· Asparagus
· Apples
· Bananas

Now What?

The world of nutrition can be confusing and difficult to navigate at times, but it doesn’t have to be. The answer here is simple. You do not need expensive probiotic pills or prebiotic supplements. All you need to do is include some of the probiotic foods in your diet and eat fibrous foods to keep them alive. It is exciting to know that we have so much control over our bodies if we mind what we eat. Get started today on cultivating your new microbial friends!

probiotcs

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David Wiss MS RDN Rewired Radio Interview

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Rewired Radio Interview with Erica Spiegelman on RadioMD.com

Segment 1 Title: Beyond calories: the importance of nutrition

Segment Information: We all know that proper nutrition is important, but did you know that proper nutrition is about more than just counting calories? Nutrition can affect your mood, hormonal balance, and brain chemistry. People working through addiction need to understand that proper meal planning is an important part of recovery. David Wiss is a leading voice in the link between nutrition and addiction recovery. Today on rewired radio he’ll talk about how nutrition can help – our hurt – recovery and what we need to know about how food and nutrition affect our moods, energy levels, and motivation.
Listen to Segment 1 HERE

Segment 2 Title: Healthful eating in addiction recovery: a meal plan for addicts in treatment programs

Segment Information: Introducing the concept of nutrition into an addiction treatment program is not an easy task. Many addicts in early recovery are not ready for health behavior change, since most are simply trying to get past the immediate crisis of addiction and the associated life adjustments of abstinence. In fact, sobriety can magnify pre-existing dysfunctional eating behavior. My guest today, David Wiss, is the founder of Nutrition In Recovery, which specializes in the nutritional management of Food Addiction, Substance Abuse, Eating Disorders, Weight Management, Sports Nutrition, and General Wellness. He’ll share his expertise on why nutrition is an essential component of successful treatment programs.

Listen to Segment 2 HERE

Segment 3 Title: What is integrative treatment?

Brief Segment Description: Eating disorders and addiction are often treated separately but there are many underlying behaviors and issues that overlap and would benefit from a more integrated approach. In addition, addiction treatment may often foster unhealthy behaviors and attitudes towards food and nutrition. Many treatment centers are recognizing these links and integrating nutrition into addiction treatment programs. My guest today, David Wiss, is a leading voice in integrative treatment and will talk about why nutrition-inclusive plans are the future of addiction treatment.

Listen to Segment 3 HERE

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Sobriety Around the Holidays

Sobriety Around The Holidays

For many people in recovery, the holidays can be a difficult time. There are added pressures, anxieties, and old memories that appear as the year comes to a close. In many cases, individuals are separated from loved ones, or even more troubling – forced to spend time with their families. Staying clear of alcohol and drugs this holiday season may be a challenge, but there are a number of things that can be done to help make things easier. What can you do to maintain sobriety around the holidays?

New Memories

The holiday season is filled with traditions and habits that in many cases have been handed down through the generations. Unfortunately for many of us in recovery, the celebrations of years past included and revolved around alcohol and drugs. As this festive time of year approaches, it is important to introduce new ways to celebrate. This is a wonderful opportunity to spend time with other friends in recovery that are likely experiencing the same thing, and to create new traditions. These don’t have to be extravagant or complicated, just simple things to help steer clear of they typical alcohol focused holiday gatherings that are plentiful at this time of year.

Plan Ahead

One of the most important things that a person can do as the holidays approach is to have a plan. Before an uncomfortable situation arises, it is a great idea to have some things in place to help navigate through them. This could mean bringing a sober friend along to certain gatherings, or having several people to call in case things become difficult. In some cases, it may mean skipping certain events all together. Making sure that there is a way out and that a person does not become “trapped” in a particular situation is a wonderful way to help alleviate some of the anxiety that may occur.

Put Recovery First

A program of recovery should be of utmost importance at all times of the year, but around the holidays it can be important to put a little extra into it. No matter what program a person is involved in, it is a great idea to spend some additional time strengthening it. Making a gratitude list, setting aside some daily quiet time, and spending time with others that have experience navigating this time of year are all wonderful ideas.

Open Mindedness

A key component to having a successful holiday season in recovery is to be open minded about it. It is important to remember that some feelings of anxiety or emotional highs and lows are completely normal. This goes not only for the individual in recovery, but the rest of the population as well! These types of feelings are what make us human, and if we are able to embrace them rather than mask them with drugs and alcohol, a large step toward long-term recovery has been made.
Use this time of year to celebrate life as you look forward to a new year in recovery!

Sobriety around the holidays

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Phytochemicals

The Importance of Phytochemicals

Phytochemicals- sometimes called phytonutrients- are an important and exciting aspect to health and nutrition. Don’t be afraid of the name, it simply refers to non-nutrient plant compounds found in vegetables, fruits, grains, and other plant foods. In fact, “Phyto” is the Greek word for plants. The phytochemicals in fruits and vegetables are actually what gives them their bright and vibrant colors. These are different than vitamins or minerals, but may have an enormous impact on human health and wellness. There are over 5,000 different phytochemicals that scientists have identified, and that number is continuing to grow.

Free Radicals

The term free radical is something that is being mentioned more and more in the field of science, and chances are that even if you don’t know what it means, you have probably heard it mentioned. No, the term does not refer to a punk rock band that is performing at the local skate park, but rather to chemical reactions that are happening in all of our bodies.

The atoms in the human body are all seeking to reach a state of stability. In order to do this, they will sometimes lose and gain electrons, or in some cases share them with other atoms. Free radicals are created when there are an odd number of electrons and can be produced when certain molecules interact with oxygen. Once the process starts, the free radical attempts to steal the electron from it’s nearest neighbor to increase stability, which then leaves the new molecule one electron short. That molecule then continues this process with it’s nearest neighbor, and so on. It is this domino effect that can quickly build and can have a great impact on the health of an individual. In small amounts, the human body can handle free radicals and the damage that they cause. The problem begins when the free radicals become excessive in the body and if antioxidants are unavailable.

The Good News

The important thing to know is that there is help available to combat these free radicals and fight disease. The phytochemicals that are found in plant foods are packed with antioxidants that can help protect the body from these electron-stealing molecules. In fact, plant-based foods have close to 64 times the amount of antioxidants than animal foods do.

In addition to the free radical protection that phytochemicals provide, they also assist with other functions as well. For example, isoflavones that are found in soybeans and peanuts can assist with blood vessel dilation, which helps regulate blood pressure. Saponins in beans, corn, and other legumes may assist in fighting cancer, as they interfere with cell replication. A third phytochemical, curcumin, assists in preventing DNA damage and has been shown to promote death in cancer cells.

Eat To Your Health

The phytochemicals in plants are actually what helps to keep them alive and fight off certain things in the wild. For example, there are some phytonutrients that help plants protect themselves from insect attack, while others assist in keeping harmful microbes at bay. One interesting way of looking at this is that when a person eats plant foods, they are ingesting all of that protective power and gaining it for themselves!

There are no phytonutrients that are better or worse than others, and they in fact all work together to optimize health. The human body needs a variety of these compounds to function at the highest level and to help fight disease. To make sure that a person is getting what they need, it is a great idea to eat fruits and vegetables with a wide range of colors.

So load up your plate with an assortment of fresh fruits and vegetables and eat to your health!

phytochemicals

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