Once you’ve started smoking, it’s very hard to quit. Nicotine is addictive stuff. In fact, it’s more addictive than heroin. But you can cut your cravings – Patrick Holford tells you how.
Nicotine produces a stimulating effect, even in small doses, and in large amounts acts as a sedative. This is its attraction: on the one hand, it can give you a lift; on the other, it can calm you down. Before a meal it can stop you feeling hungry; after a meal it can stop you from feeling drowsy. These effects are mainly down to nicotine’s action on adrenal hormones and blood sugar balance.
HOW YOU MIGHT FEEL WHEN YOU QUIT
If all you do is quit nicotine without correcting the biochemical imbalance it creates in your brain and body’s chemistry, the chances are you’ll be climbing the walls – feeling agitated, irritable, moody, hungry, spacey and desperate for a cigarette and the whole ritual of smoking.
Many people feel nauseous, have headaches and flu-like symptoms, feel lethargic, depressed, have blood sugar lows where they crave something sweet and, consequently, gain weight.
For many people these symptoms last a week. The bad news is that, for some people, these symptoms are still there weeks, and even months, later. The good news is that this need not happen if you get your brain chemistry back into balance with our nutrition programme.
HOW TO QUIT NICOTINE
1. Before you even begin to try to give up cigarettes, we recommend you take the Basic Supplements and the Stimulant Prescription for one month. At the end of this period you should no longer be consuming any other stimulants (such as tea, coffee and chocolate) or sugar. Instead you’ll be eating small, frequent meals, with an emphasis on foods containing slow-releasing carbohydrates combined with foods rich in proteins. Your background blood sugar balance will be much better, which means you’ll experience less withdrawal symptoms on quitting.
Four basic supplements: our Basic Supplement Pack
- An optimum nutrition multivitamin and mineral
- Additional vitamin C, ideally with berry extracts (bioflavonoids)
- Essential omega-3 and -6 fats (ideally providing GLA, DHA, DPA and EPA)
- Phospholipid complex (ideally providing phosphatidyl choline, serine, DMAE, TMG and either glutamine or pyroglutamate).
- You will need specific amino acids as well, depending on your abstinence symptoms and on the substance you are quitting.
General guidelines for taking amino acid supplements
- When you are feeling anxious, stressed or tense, take GABA, tryptophan, 5-HTP or taurine.
- When you have low energy, or feel apathetic, take tyrosine.
- When you are having difficulty concentrating, or you have memory problems or feel mentally ‘fuzzy’, take tyrosine.
- When you are feeling hypersensitive to noise, lights, touch or pain, take DL-phenylalanine (this is a combination of D- and L- phenylalanine).
- When you are having trouble sleeping, take tryptophan or 5-HTP, GABA, and/or taurine.
- When you are irritable, take tryptophan or 5-HTP.
- To offset cravings, take glutamine or GABA.
- When you are depressed and apathetic, take tyrosine. When depressed, tense and agitated, take 5-HTP or tryptophan.
2. Break all the associated habits. The average smoker is addicted not only to nicotine, but also to smoking when tired, hungry or upset, on waking, after a meal, with a drink, and so on. Biochemically, there is a close link between nicotine addiction and alcohol addiction. You need to quit both otherwise you will keep craving.
3. At first don’t try to change your smoking habits. Just keep a diary for a week, writing down every situation in which you smoke, how you feel before, and how you feel after smoking. When your week is up, add up how many cigarettes you smoke in each situation. Your list might look something like this:
- With a hot drink: 16
- After a meal: 6
- With alcohol: 4
- Difficult situation: 4
- After sex: 3
4. Now set yourself weekly targets. For the first week, smoke as much as you like whenever you like but not when you drink a hot drink or within 30 minutes of finishing a meal. Continue like this until, when you smoke, all you do is smoke, without the associated habits. Set yourself a maximum of six weeks to complete this phase. This will be tremendously helpful for when you quit. Most people start again because someone phones them with a problem, a work colleague brings in a coffee, offers them a cigarette . . . and before you know it they’re smoking.
5. Put your cigarette butts in a big glass jar with a sealing lid. Fill it half with water. You will begin to associate cigarettes with the nasty stuff in your jar.
6. Now it’s time to reduce your nicotine load gradually. Week by week, switch to a cigarette brand that contains less nicotine, until what you smoke contains no more than 2 mg per cigarette. Now reduce the number of cigarettes you are smoking until you smoke no more than five cigarettes a day, each with a nicotine content of 2 mg or less. If you wish, stop smoking and replace it with nicotine gum (in two strengths: 4 mg and 2 mg) as an intermediate step.
7. You want to be down to a maximum of 10 mg of nicotine a day before quitting – that is, five pieces of 2 mg nicotine gum, or five 2 mg nicotine cigarettes.
8. For the first week of quitting also take an extra 8 g of vitamin C. Magnesium is a calming mineral. Put 8 g worth of it in a bottle of half water and half juice. Drink it throughout the day.
9. Also take chromium 200 mcg: one with breakfast and one with lunch to help stabilise your blood sugar level.
10. Take 50 mg of niacin (nicotinic acid) twice a day. You will experience a harmless blushing sensation when first taking niacin. Nicotine and niacin occupy the same receptors in the brain – so giving yourself more niacin is likely to reduce your cravings.1
11. Eat an alkaline-forming diet: one that is high in fruit, vegetables and seeds. Also, make sure you are supplementing a total of 850 mg of magnesium and calcium combined. A good multivitamin will provide 200 mg calcium and 150 mg magnesium, and there will be at least 500 mg in the magnesium ascorbate powder noted above. Whenever you feel the need for nicotine, first drink a glass of water and eat an apple or a pear. This will raise your low blood sugar level, which is often the factor that triggers such a craving.
12. Improve your breathing. Your lungs are damaged by smoking and it’s really important to do something that stimulates breathing and their recovery. Any exercise that focuses on the breath, such as some forms of yoga and psychocalisthenics, is ideal. At least go for a walk.
13. If you have difficulty sleeping, or are irritable or depressed, supplement 200 mg of 5-HTP – an amino acid that the body converts into serotonin, an important brain chemical that controls mood. Nicotine withdrawal tends to lower serotonin levels. The best time to take your 5-HTP is one hour before bed.
14. Another useful aid during the fi rst month is sugar-free liquorice, which promotes the action of adrenal hormones. Liquorice is either available as a supplement or as a bar. Supplement with either 1 to 2 mg powdered root, or 2 to 4 ml fluid extract, three times a day. Caution: Liquorice should be avoided by people with high blood pressure.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN THE 30 DAYS LATER
It takes, on average, about 30 days to recover and normalise your brain’s chemistry and blood sugar balance, depending on whether nicotine is your only vice. If you’ve been using a variety of addictive substances for years, stick to this kind of recovery programme for at least 90 days.
Alternatively, stop the Stimulant Prescription, but keep taking the Basic Supplements. By now you’ll know the effects of the other temporary supplements – niacin, chromium and 5-HTP. Reduce or stop these according to your need.
Keys to unaddicting your brain
- Rebalance your brain with amino acids.
- Raise your methyl IQ with vitamins and minerals – check your homocysteine level to find out your ideal level of B-vitamins. Smoking definitely raises it.
- Balance your blood sugar to gain energy and reduce cravings.
- Repair your brain with antioxidants.
- Find new pleasure in life by raising endorphins – exercise really helps to get your lungs back into shape (but start gently).
1. Prousky JE.Vitamin B3 for nicotine addiction.Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine. 2004;19(1):56-7.
Holford P, How to quit without feeling s**t. Piatkus Books: London, 2008.