Addiction can take many forms, from drug and alcohol abuse to eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, and chronic bingeing and/or exercising. What these myriad addictions have in common is their destructive effect on the body. It’s quite one thing to triumph over addiction mentally, but one must also heal the body in order to prevent or lessen the ravaging after-effects of addiction.
Drugs, alcohol, starving, bingeing, and purging are all incredibly taxing on the body, namely on the heart, kidneys, liver, spleen, and endocrine system. Whether you’re flooding the body with chemicals or purposely withholding minerals and nutrients, you’re taxing the eliminative organs. All addictions deplete the body of electrolytes which are essential to the healthy functioning of the body. Left untreated, these kinds of addictions can lead to heart, liver, and kidney failure.
Pretty dire, right? Well, yes and no. There’s no doubt that abusing the body can be disastrous. There’s also no doubt that addiction is a tricky subject. Even if you haven’t yet slain the addictive impulse, there’s no reason you can’t start to feed the body the nutrients it needs. There are schools of thought out there that attribute addiction to malnourishment; you may find that supplementing with these herbs helps lessen the sting of withdrawal.
Hawthorn for the Heart
Hawthorn berries (Crataegus spp.) are tonic for a heart weakened by eating disorders or from chemical substance abuse. As a heart tonic, they’re pretty mild, so there’s no danger in taking this herb as a precautionary measure, even if your heart is healthy. Use this herb for heart inflammation, heart weakness, and orthostatic hypotension (a drop in blood pressure characterized by dizziness when moving from a seated position to a standing one). Try taking this as a tincture, noting that you will probably have to take it for six weeks or so before noticing results. For those who’d rather avoid the alcohol in a tincture, look for this in glycerite form, or place your dosage of tincture in recently boiled water. The alcohol will evaporate, leaving the medicine behind.
Dandelion for the Spleen
The spleen is essential for warding off infection, keeping body fluids in balance and managing red blood cell count. Eating disorders are especially damaging to the spleen. Try adding dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) to your daily diet. You can use the leaves or the roots, fresh or dried, capsule or tincture. This herb is completely safe (although use with caution if you suffer from gallstones—consult your physician first) and helps replace nutrients (such as potassium) which are lost with eating disorders and excessive laxative use. The cooling and drying tendencies of dandelion help to relive spleen swelling and congestion. Bonus: dandelion is tonic for the liver and kidneys as well.
Milk Thistle for the Liver
Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) is a wonderful herb for healing the liver, especially after chemical abuse. The beauty of this herb is that it helps heal the liver without hampering the liver’s ability to detoxify drugs and environmental toxins from the body. In other words, milk thistle helps heal the liver while also protecting you from daily exposure to toxins. Try taking milk thistle as an alcohol or glycerite extract. Note: this herb may cause mild diarrhea as it stimulates the flow of bile, especially if you eat a high fat diet. This is no cause for alarm, however; simply back off from the herb a bit until bowels normalize and then increase the dose slowly over time.
Burdock Root for the Kidneys
Burdock root (Arctium lappa) is a blood purifier, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and tonic for the liver and kidneys. It’s a mild bitter and, as such, stimulates digestion and gastric juices. As a diuretic, burdock root stimulates the body’s release of waste water which helps flush the kidneys. Finally, the root is also a nutritive, loaded with minerals which are often flushed from the body when the kidneys aren’t working as well as they should. If you can find burdock root in the produce section of your local natural food store or Asian market, then feel free to add it liberally to stir-fries and soups. Otherwise, take in capsule or extract form.
Obviously, the body and mind need to heal in order to fully recover from addiction. If you find yourself suffering from tension and mental turmoil as the body heals, try adding chamomile, holy basil, lemon balm, and valerian to your daily herbal protocol. Turn to yoga and meditation in order to bring balance once again between the mind and body.