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.
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.
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:
- Deep Sea Minerals by Natural Superfoods & Co – A natural source of minerals from the deep seas of the great barrier reef in Australia.
- BioMins Multi-Mineral by Thorne Research – A fairly reputable brand when looking to buy online through outlets such as Amazon.
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.
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.
If you’re looking to supplement, some product recommendations to incorporate include:
- Greens & Gut Health by White Wolf Nutrition – This is a comprehensive greens formula that tastes amazing!
- Super Greens + Reds by Nutra Organics – If you’re more budget conscious, this one is also a great option.
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:
- A quality whey protein powder – Such as UM Sports Platinum Blend or Clean 100% Whey Protein Isolate.
- An essential amino acid powder – Such as UM Sports Resurrect or if you’re extremely budget conscious, you can buy straight unflavoured essential amino acids.
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!
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Former drinker, Nutritionist, Biohacking enthusiast, self-experimenter, research fanatic, and self-taught writer, Stephen immerses himself deep into the literature of human optimisation and better understand the nature of addiction. His goal is to help people take control of their addiction, reset their cravings, unscramble their broken brain circuitry and use actionable strategies that work ten times better than anything else.