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Clarity Natural Health Immune System - How Substance Abuse Affects Immune Function and Key Nutrients That Support it during Early Sobriety.

Immune System – How Substance Abuse Affects Immune Function and Key Nutrients That Support it during Early Sobriety

Article At A Glance:

One of the most important body systems we can support during early sobriety is our immune system.

When our body encounters various viruses, bacteria and various harmful substances, it’s up to our immune system to protect us and keep us from illness and long-term disease.

Unfortunately, when we turn to alcohol or drugs, our immune system becomes suppressed, recovery becomes impaired and our risk of infection drastically increases (Molina et al., 2010).

In this article, we will discuss how substance abuse impairs our immune system, and some of the key nutrients to consider when supporting it in early sobriety.

Substance Abuse: How Does It Affect our Immune System?

Substance abuse can affect our immune system in various ways depending on the type of addictive substance. 

Generally, though, most substances reduce immune system function through excessive inflammation, decreased liver function, a reduction in white blood cells and damage to mucous membranes.

Chronic ethanol consumption impacts our immune function through excessive glutamate activity, which results in a greater increase in proinflammatory markers. This will also often result in more oxidative stress throughout the body, impacting the immune system (Crews, 2012).

Learn more about Glutamate in my recent article – Alcohol Withdrawal: The Seesaw Effect of Glutamate and GABA.

Most drugs have a similar effect to alcohol when it comes to inflammation and increases in oxidative stress. Some though, such as cocaine use, can damage mucous membranes in the nose, throat and lungs, increasing our risk of respiratory infection (Wilson & Saukkonen, 2004). 

Certain opioid drugs, such as heroin, morphine or fentanyl have also been shown to impact the production of white blood cells, which can drastically reduce the function of our immune system (Whitten, 2008).

Most importantly, addictive substances impact our ability to extract and absorb nutrients, leading to poor energy production, low mood, and an under-functioning immune system.

This is why in early sobriety, understanding some of the key nutrients is absolutely vital to ensure our immune system is functioning well.

Crucial Minerals: Zinc, Iron and Selenium.

Something that’s absolutely critical for the optimal functioning of our immune system is minerals, with some of the most important to note including Zinc, Iron and Selenium (Weyh et al., 2022).

Minerals play a crucial role in various aspects of immune function, including various defence mechanisms against pathogens, and the long-term balance of inflammatory processes.

Zinc plays an absolutely critical role in the functioning of both the innate and adaptive immune system, meaning helps to regulate both lines of defence (Bonaventura et al., 2015).

I write extensively about Zinc in this article and is also discussed in-depth in my book, Hacking Your Addiction.

Iron, on the other hand, ensures healthy proliferation (or growth) of our immune system, and ensures healthy function through its primary action of supplying oxygen to cells (Weyh et al., 2022).

As for Selenium, it’s considered an extremely potent anti-oxidant, helping to regulate inflammation and mechanisms associated with it, including immune cell signalling and overall function (Huang et al., 2012).

If you’re looking for some mineral product recommendations, I’m currently using or have used in the past the following products:

Anti-oxidants: Vitamin C, Vitamin A and Phytonutrients.

One trait that most individuals share when struggling when addiction is a phrase known as oxidative stress.

Oxidative stress generally occurs when there’s an excess of oxygen reactive species (ROS) in the body, and chronic drinking or drug abuse will often create this imbalance (Karajibani et al., 2017).

When we have too much oxidation for long periods of time, we create low-to-moderate grades of chronic inflammation. Over time, this impairs immune function, and eventually, impacts the functioning of our central nervous system (CNS) – also described as neuroinflammation.

Neuroinflammation is what we want to avoid, as this makes it extremely difficult to quit drinking in early sobriety. This is because our CNS isn’t functioning the way it should, and we can experience fatigue, depression, cognitive impairment, and an increased risk of relapse (Kohno et al., 2019).

This is why looking after our nutrient intake and consuming an antioxidant-rich diet in early sobriety is extremely important.

Some core nutrients include Vitamin C, Vitamin A and other Phytonutrients such as Bioflavonoids, which can all help to reduce inflammation and better support immune health (Karajibani et al., 2017).

If you’re looking to supplement, some product recommendations to incorporate include:

Building Blocks: Essential Amino Acids (Protein).

Something absolutely critical for optimal immune function (and pretty much our entire nervous system) is Essential amino acids.

Essential amino acids can be found in almost all protein sources, such as beef or chicken, or in the most common quality whey protein powders – I discuss more on buying whey protein powder in this article.

Certain amino acids, such as glutamine or cysteine, all play a critical role in immune cell development, and activation, and ultimately ensure healthy regulation of our immune system (Li et al., 2007).

We also need amino acids for neurotransmitter formation, which ensures our nervous system functions well, resulting in better energy, mood and an easier journey throughout early sobriety.

More on Neurotransmitters in this article – Substance Abuse and Neurotransmitters: Understanding the Neurochemistry Behind Addiction and Sobriety.

In alcohol abuse, protein malnutrition is quite common, and this is particularly due to alcohol’s ability to interfere with essential amino acid uptake (N et al., 2009).

This is why I generally recommend an amino acid or protein supplement when looking to get sober, a couple of options include:

Healthy Fats: Omega-3 Fatty Acids

One last thing that can play an essential role in optimal immune function is Omega-3 fatty acids.

Omega-3 fatty acids are an essential component of cell membranes throughout the body, and without them, immune cells can’t function properly, or respond adequately to inflammation.

Supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids has been shown to reduce the inflammatory response commonly present in substance abuse individuals, and may also improve measures of immune function (Reimers & Ljung, 2019).

I write more in detail about omega-3 fatty acids in this article – Nutrition in Addiction Recovery: Understanding Key Nutrients in Early Sobriety.

If you have any feedback regarding this article, reach out. Help Clarity reach more people and quit addiction by following us on Instagram, it’s also the perfect place to message us and ask questions!