Stimulants. I’m not talking about hard drugs here, just those “innocuous”, legal, everyday substances people are self-admittedly addicted to: coffee, tea, energy drinks, artificial sweeteners, sugar, MSG or other flavor enhancers, chocolate, diet pills, and more.
Do you feel like you can’t start your day without one of these? Do you make plans to find and consume these products before you start your day, at the expense of anything and everyone else? Do you commonly reach for these items in the afternoon as well? Do you feel jittery or irritable yet crave the boost from these products? You may need some help replacing stimulants with substances and nutrients that energize you more gradually or make up for deficiencies that are causing you to crave these things in the first place. Please work with your doctor, nutrition practitioner, or other health care provider before just adding in all of the following. In some cases, lab work is required.
Ways to overcome stimulant addiction:
- vitamin B12. First, get your level tested. If you are in fact deficient or on the low-end of the scale, you can add in a proper form of B12 which is called Methyl B12 or Adenosyl or Hydroxy B12. If you don’t know if you have COMT gene mutations, play it safe and use Adenosyl or Hydroxy B12 as Methyl B12 can worsen mood for those with COMT. Avoid synthetic B12. Take B12 in the morning. Your dose will vary according to your blood work.
- DLPA. This is a natural stimulant that raises catecholamine levels. However, it is very different from caffeine. DLPA is subtle and should not cause jitteriness. If you have autoimmune thyroid disease — Hashimoto’s or Graves’ disease you should probably avoid, unless you are a rare person who can tolerate it (which sometimes happens in the case of thyroid disease that is more related to adrenal fatigue/adrenal axis issues than Leaky Gut). Work with your practitioner to determine if you need this — you can get your phenylalanine level tested before use. Avoid if you have kidney disease or inborn errors processing phenylalanine, or if you have melanoma.
- adrenal glandulars. This applies to people who have demonstrated via lab work that their cortisol is low at certain times of day. Get a 24-hour cortisol test to determine if and when your cortisol is low. Low cortisol/adrenal gland function is a major cause of fatigue and therefore, the desire to use stimulants.
- SAM-e. People who have been dependent upon stimulants for many years are often actually low in SAM-e, which causes the cravings. Supplementation with SAM-e may be very helpful. It is also a natural anti-depressant — win/win.
- determine if you have irregular blood sugar or insulin. This is an all too common cause of stimulant use — your blood sugar drops, or you have problems with insulin resistance, which makes you tired before or after meals. So you instinctively reach for a stimulant to give you an energy boost. Low carbohydrate, high fat, moderate protein diets work very well to eliminate low energy caused by food intake.
- determine what your food sensitivities are. If you feel horrible (cranky, sleepy, achy, disoriented, or brain fogged) after every meal, you must determine which foods you are in fact intolerant of. Common food intolerances include: gluten, dairy, soy, corn, grains, nuts and seeds, salicylates, oxalates, histamine, sulfur, gluatamate, and others. Remember that food sensitivities are not always immune-mediated and therefore difficult to prove via testing. You must work with a practitioner and do an elimination diet to figure out which foods you are reacting to.
- determine if you have underlying mood problems. Low mood can cause us to reach for uppers because they temporarily make us feel on top of the world. We can feel powerful, fun, invincible, and ready to take on the world. Caffeine perpetuates a vicious cycle of ups and downs. Address the cause of your low mood and why you instinctively are self-medicating to boost your mood with caffeine. 5-HTP, GABA, DLPA can be very helpful to boost a naturally low mood. Essential fatty acid deficiency, food allergies, and other nutrient deficiencies are a known cause of mood disorders too.
- determine if you have low iron. This is a simple blood test you can order from your doctor and if it is low, it is a common cause of fatigue. Address the low iron and you can begin to cut back on stimulants for energy.
- determine if you have low thyroid function. I assume most everyone following this site is familiar with thyroid labs or has a diagnosed thyroid disease. But if your doctor has never performed a “full thyroid panel” lab test on you either for your diagnosed thyroid disease or because of your symptoms of fatigue, demand one. Then ask your doctor to treat your thyroid disease according to which values you were low (or high) in.
- get your electrolytes tested. Low potassium is a common cause of fatigue and in fact it is difficult to get enough potassium daily — unless you’re eating tons and tons of raw fruits and vegetables every day. You can find magnesium/potassium blend powders or drops to put in your water to make-up for any deficit. Do you ever have twitching muscles or muscle cramps? Those are easy-to-spot low potassium symptom.
- use B-vitamin and mineral-rich foods. If you can tolerate yeast, nutritional yeast is full of potassium and B vitamins which will keep you naturally energized. Choose one that is not synthetically fortified, like Foods Alive brand. Sprinkle on cooked vegetables, sweet potatoes and white potatoes, gluten-free pasta, mix into sauces and use as a cheese replacement (it has a cheddar cheese flavor).
- determine if you have underlying digestive issues. Sometimes if a person is chronically constipated, they reach for caffeine subconsciously to stimulate a bowel movement. If you are chronically constipated, there are underlying gut issues that need to be addressed: food allergies, gut infections (yeast, bacteria, parasites), lack of healthy gut flora (the good bacteria), lack of digestive enzymes (you can supplement these with each meal), lack of bile production (you can use ox bile and salt your food liberally to taste, or drink lemon water before meals to stimulate bile), and more.
- exercise. No one wants to hear about exercise because we’re already bombarded with recommendations to get moving but here’s the thing: it actually works to energize you and we all need to be doing more of it. Don’t overwork yourself if you have thyroid or adrenal diseases. Just do moderate exercise that you enjoy and that gets you sweating, multiple times per week.