Stop smoking using a common sense approach
By Dr. Martin Gleixner, MSc, ND
To help determine a patient's health priority, I frequently ask myself the question "What is the most important change they can make to improve their health?" For smokers, finding a way to quit is often at the top of the list.
To help my patients achieve this health goal, I've developed the Integrated Smoke Cessation Program. This common sense program is customized to each individual based on his or her goals and unique medical needs. The program can be followed by all smokers, regardless of the number of cigarettes smoked per day or the number of previous attempts to quit smoking. The ultimate goal is to minimize the side effects of withdrawal and to be smoke-free permanently.
* Step 1: Establish an action plan
The first step is to work with your medical doctor or naturopathic doctor to adopt an action plan. Set your goal and develop your intentions. Establish a quit day. Be realistic by determining whether you want to do it cold turkey or slowly decrease the number of cigarettes per day. For certain patients a nicotine patch may also be part of the program.
* Step 2: Understand how to prevent unpleasant withdrawal symptoms
In previous articles, I used the bucket analogy to explain a number of health topics. This same concept can help us understand why a whole-body approach is recommended to prepare our body before and during smoke cessation.
Let me review this analogy again. Let's think of our body as a bucket (click here to view diagram). Generally we are born in a state of health -- our bucket is empty. As we go through life, a number of factors can interfere with our health. Perhaps it's a lack of exercise, a stressful job or poor dietary choices that can contribute to increasing the level in our bucket. The level in our bucket represents our health status. Declining health comes with rising levels.
We are also exposed to a great number of toxins that are derived from cigarette smoke. Our lungs, kidneys, digestive tract, and liver can normally remove most toxins on a daily basis, but sometimes these detox mechanisms become inefficient or overwhelmed. In addition, key systems in the body (such as the hormonal system) can become imbalanced (or deficient) which can put the 'squeeze' on the bucket thereby significantly contributing to raising the level in the bucket.
Quitting smoking is a type of shock to the body. Lack of nicotine and an increased release of toxins in the lungs (the body's attempt to detoxify itself), can cause the bucket to overfill. This can lead to symptoms such as fatigue, skin reactions, muscle aches and pains, unexplained weight gain, insomnia and changes in our mood. In addition, mucous membranes (these cells line our digestive tract) can become severely irritated. This can lead to digestive disturbances including diarrhea and constipation, as well as abdominal cramping and burning bowel movements.
So what can one do to address an overfilled bucket? We don't want to put a lid on the bucket by suppressing symptoms. Such quick fixes or band-aid solutions rarely work for the long-term and do not enhance overall health status. Rather, the most long-lasted way to prevent withdrawal and detox reactions is to address all aspects that are causing our bucket to overfill.
* Step 3: Address lifestyle factors
It's hard to stop a bad habit unless you can replace it with new good habit.
Adopt a lifestyle change that you've wanted to do for a long time. Considerations can include improving your nutrition and sleep, increasing pure water intake, or starting up a new exercise program. Redirecting the energy you had previously placed on cigarettes onto something else is crucial to staying smoke-free.
Shifting your lifestyle can be made easier by first identifying your patterns that promoted smoking in the first place. Do you mostly enjoy a cigarette with your morning coffee? Do you smoke most in social situations? Do you light up when stressed or upset? Do you get a real craving for cigarettes when you haven't had one for a while?
By identifying these patterns appropriate substitutions can be identified. Brainstorm and come up with ways to redirect your focus on cigarettes with something new. For example, you find yourself smoking when you come home from work...it's your time to unwind. Perhaps, you've always thought about going to the gym after work; adopting this new habit can offset the void created by being smoke-free.
Also, make a Top 10 list of what gives you endorphins. Then do them. I don't generally promote that people become adrenaline junkies...but during the initial quitting phase, big measures are needed for a big change.
* Step 4: Optimize organ function
Avoiding or minimizing side effects is an important consideration. Without preparing the body before and supporting the body during the process, uncomfortable symptoms often appear. It is common for people to experience both withdrawal symptoms as well as detoxification symptoms.
Symptoms can include cravings, headaches, 'the shakes,' irritability, inability to concentrate, fatigue, insomnia, bowel changes, or worsening of preexisting chronic health conditions.
Various naturopathic recommendations are aimed at optimizing the function of the lungs, kidneys, digestive tract and liver. These organs offer the most efficient way for our body to detoxify nicotine and other toxins found in our bodies derived from cigarettes. Through breathing, urination and bowel movements, these organ systems are consistently repairing and renovating our body.
Equally important is to support and build your hormones and nervous system. Maintain energy levels and improving mood will provide the framework to get through the smoke-free transition.
* Step 5: Adjunctive treatments
As always, a combination of naturopathic approaches tailored to each individual provides the best clinical results.
The use of specific vitamins or minerals in medicinal doses (B vitamins for example) and individualized herbal or homeopathic combinations provides good adjunctive treatments to smoke cessation. Interactions between naturopathic medicines and current prescription medications should also be taken into consideration.
Weekly acupuncture sessions (especially during the initial phases of tobacco withdrawal) allow for a smooth transition. These sessions focus on improving energy status, decreasing cravings, reducing anxiety, and strengthening the respiratory system.
Knowing that quitting smoking is often difficult, pro-active measures can be taken to reinforce your body during this transition thereby improving the outcome of being smoke-free permanently.
Published by Dr. Gleixner on Wednesday December 9th, 2009 in Times & Transcript.
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