CAPT. Hibbeln, M.D., explains the connection between essential fatty acid intake and substance abuse.
CAPT. Hibbeln, M.D.:
It’s very interesting to consider why we study essential fatty acids in the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the reason is really fundamental to brain function.
And that is that when people take excess amounts of alcohol, that is more than three to four drinks a day for men and a little less for women, the alcohol doesn’t get metabolize properly or broken down properly.
And it gets broken down and produces a lot of free radicals and peroxidative agents, and those peroxidative agents destroy the double bonds, the unsaturated bonds in the fatty acids.
And we have shown that when we take monkeys and put them on omega-3 deficient diet, that is the standard US typical diet, and give them access to alcohol for an hour a day, the DHA in their brain gets depleted by half.
So that has profound implications for depletions of the main neurotransmitters that are involved in addictions. That is, those depletions of DHA can deplete dopamine by half and can deplete serotonin by half.
And we have shown that when we look at the omega-3 fatty acid status of substance abusers that low omega-3 status predicts that they are going to have a greater likelihood of relapse in the next 12 months than other people.
And we are exploring whether or not this is an effective tool restoring DHA status and EPA status, is an effective tool in preventing relapse, both for alcoholism and for other substance abuse disorders that are characterized by a depletion of dopamine.
It’s very well to know that methamphetamine and cocaine deplete dopamine in the brain but the real question is how do you restore it? How do you support the nutrition of those neurons?
And as well, when people are deficient in DHA and irritable they don’t learn as well so they can be in AA and they can be in counseling but the word never gets into the oil or the soil of the brain.
Like the old biblical analogy of the seed and the soil, you know, if a seed falls on rocky soil it doesn’t sprout. If the fertile soil is there but there’s no seed or no word, nothing sprouts.
You need both the counseling and the receptive brain at the same time for new learning and new habitual patterns to occur and one of the big questions is whether or not restoring nutritional status can assist and facilitate those processes.
About CAPT. Joseph R. Hibbeln, M.D.:
Joseph R. Hibbeln, M.D., is a Captain in the United States Public Health Service. He is the acting chief on the Section of Nutritional Neurosciences at the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. CAPT. Hibbeln is a psychiatrist, a lipid biochemist, and an epidemiologist.