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Can a Vegetarian Diet Improve Your Mood During Drug Addiction Recovery?

Most everyone has met the yoga-practicing, meditation-touting vegetarian that claims no one should ever ingest the soul of another living animal; to them, it’s a matter of preserving good karma, spiritual self and physical health.

Recent findings may support this concept, at least in part. Although it’s obviously impossible to accurately “test” people’s karma, some researchers administered a random double-blind study using a survey designed to measure participants’ mood and emotional state in relation to their eating habits.

Vegetarian malesWhen the survey answers were analyzed, it was clear that all of the individuals who ingested animals – including the group that only ate fish meat – saw no change in their mood from the start of the study, having been on an omnivore diet (that is, eating a variety of meats as well as vegetables). However, in contrast, the vegetarian group demonstrated a drastic improvement in the rankings for their mood.1

In reviewing these findings, the big question relating to addiction is: Is it possible that eating a vegetarian diet can actually help people feel better as they go through drug addiction treatment and embark on a drug-free life in recovery?

Important Dietary Considerations for Bodies Ravaged by Drug Addiction

  • Eat a well-balanced diet – A healthy, balanced diet “with lots of fresh vegetables, including green leafy ones, avocados and nuts” can help people in recovery get the vitamins and minerals they need,” states Dr. Adrienne Youdim, medical director of the Center for Weight Loss and Nutrition at the Lasky Clinic in Beverly Hills, California. Some people may also need vitamin and mineral supplements, which is something they can talk about with their physician or nutritionist.
  • Focus mostly on easily digestable foods – “Drug addicts – particularly opioid abusers – often suffer from gastrointestinal distress,” notes Aimee Noel, clinical director at Sober College. Opioid abusers often develop constipation. Then, when they stop using drugs, they often suffer from diarrhea and nausea. Easily digestible foods, such as vegetables and fruits (high in fiber)are good for substance abusers who have gastrointestinal problems. If meat is eaten, get it fresh and lean.
  • Establish a healthy eating regimen –“It’s critical for people in early recovery to develop a foundation of good eating,” says Beth Kane-Davidson, director of the Addiction Treatment Center at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland. “People who’ve been abusing alcohol and other drugs often haven’t been practicing nutritional eating habits. They need to build up their physical defenses, their whole foundation of health. The importance of overall strength and health in recovery can’t be overstated.” Newly sober people should try to not only eat healthy foods, but get in the habit of eating at regular times and make that a normal part of their daily routine.2

Some Nutritionists Think Omega-6 Fatty Acids Might Be the “Bad Mood” Culprit

So, what is the explanation for the significant emotional change occurring when meat and fish are eliminated from the diet? There are many nutritionists who believe that the high level of omega-6 fatty acids in meat and fish is a major contributor to people’s foul mood. Past research shows some evidence to support this theory that omega-6 fatty acids can negatively alter how human brains work.

Some scientists conclude that the human body is not built to eat meat on a daily basis, as so many Americans typically do.

One study suggests that omega-3 from walnuts and fish both work to lower heart disease risk, but by different routes. Walnut’s omega-3 (alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA) help reduce total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol, while the omega-3 from fish (eicosapentaenoic acid, or EPA, and docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA) lower triglycerides and raise HDL (good) cholesterol levels.3

The “Western Gut” Is Driven by Factors that Stand in Contrast to Good Health

Without even realizing it, most food choices by Americans are made on the basis of taste, convenience, and familiarity…unless, of course, dietary wisdom rules the day. The gut is not primed for digestion of fibrous fruits and vegetables, and there exists a strong preference for food that is salty (such as chips) or sweet (like candy bars and sweetened cereal).

Even though no weight problem is noticed, a diet governed by these natural tendencies can represent a form of addiction in itself – a food addiction –with these individuals rejecting those foods that do not stimulate the brain’s reward system. This relationship to food is increasingly common today; it represents a systemic issue, not just an individual dilemma.

Nutrition can be used to improve the intestinal/digestive microbiota and, eventually, help rewire the brain.4

Care to Share Your Thoughts on This Topic?

Vegetarian saladMillions of people in the U.S. are vegetarians, and millions more choose to eat only fish and chicken meat. People become vegetarians for many reasons, including health reasons, religious convictions, concerns about animal welfare, the use of antibiotics and hormones in livestock, or a desire to eat in a way that avoids excessive use of environmental resources. In addition, some individuals eat a meatless diet simply because it’s less expensive or more convenient.1

While debate continues about the ideal diet for the human body, optimum brain function, and best dietary support during drug addiction recovery, the limited research currently available invites people to consider how reducing meat consumption may have a beneficial impact on overall health and well-being.3

Have you tried vegetarianism? Do you think it could aid in mood regulation in early recovery? Leave a comment below and tell us your thoughts. We would love to hear from you.


1 “Vegetarian Diet for a Better Mood?”, Huffington Post, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/riley-rearden/vegetarian-mental-health_b_1417756.html, (June 12, 2012).

2 “What’s the Best Diet for Newly Sober Alcoholics and Addicts?”, U.S. News & World Report, http://health.usnews.com/wellness/food/articles/2017-01-09/whats-the-best-diet-for-newly-sober-alcoholics-and-addicts, (January 9, 2017).

3 “Considering a Vegetarian Diet: Is Meat-Free Really Better?”, Harvard Health Publications, Harvard Medical School, http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/considering-a-vegetarian-diet-is-meat-free-really-better, (June 18, 2015).

4Avena, Nicole, Ph.D., “Nutrition in Recovery from Addiction”, Psychology Today, (October 26, 2016).