Addiction can take many forms, from drug and alcohol abuse to eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, and chronic bingeing and/or exercising. And while it’s one thing to triumph over addiction mentally, one must also heal the body in order to prevent or lessen the after-effects of addiction.
While addiction is a tricky subject, even if you haven’t yet slain the addictive impulse, you can start the process by feeding the body the nutrients it needs. There are schools of thought out there that attribute addiction to malnourishment; while it's crucial to speak to your doctor to figure out what works for you and your body, you may find that supplementing with these herbs can help lessen the sting of withdrawal.
Hawthorn for the heart.
Hawthorn berries (Crataegus spp.) can be helpful for a heart weakened1 by eating disorders or from chemical substance abuse. As a heart tonic, they’re pretty mild, so there’s relatively little danger in taking this herb as a precautionary measure, even if your heart is healthy.
Try taking this herb 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 relatively safe (although use with caution if you suffer from gallstones—consult your physician first) and can help replace nutrients (like potassium) that may be lost during eating disorders. The cooling and drying tendencies of dandelion can also help to relieve spleen swelling and congestion. Bonus: Dandelion is great for the liver and kidneys as well.
Milk thistle for the liver.
Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) can be a wonderful herb for the liver, especially after chemical abuse2. The beauty of this herb is that it helps soothe the liver without hampering its ability to eliminate drugs and harmful agents from the body.
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 you can increase the dose slowly over time.
Burdock root for the kidneys.
Burdock root (Arctium lappa) can be a blood purifier, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and tonic3 for the liver and kidneys. It’s a mild bitter and, as such, can stimulate digestion and gastric juices. As a diuretic, burdock root stimulates the body’s release of waste water, which can help 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, feel free to add it liberally to stir-fries and soups. Otherwise, you can take it in capsule or extract form.
It’s important for the body and mind to heal in order to fully recover from addiction. If you find yourself suffering from tension and stress as your body heals, you can try adding chamomile, holy basil, lemon balm, and valerian to your daily herbal protocol.
Yoga and meditation are also great for maintaining balance between the mind and body. However, as mentioned, it’s always best to consult your primary care doctor before attempting anything new—and as always, find what’s best for your own body.