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No.114 Annual Holiday Health Challenges

Applied Health Journal

Applied Health Journal

Topics of Health and Natural Healing
Issue 114
ISSN: 1525-6359


So, Halloween has come and gone. Retailers are changing out their displays of goblins and candy in favor of garland and more candy.

Seems like every festivity this time of year is marked by traditional sweet treats. Any way you look at it, the holiday season can be a challenging time to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

The Annual Holiday Health Challenge

I try to prepare for the onslaught of goodies by stepping up my exercise routine well in advance, as well as, being more disciplined about avoiding some foods. In my mind, I think I am “banking” some goodwill -- sort of a paying forward scenario -- to allow me the occasional indulgence without beating myself up, afterwards. This is a great plan, right up to the point that I am exposed to the first pumpkin pie of the season. One of those enormous Costco pumpkin pies is no match for me and a tuned fork. By the time I am done, I have not only consumed the whole pie, I have forfeited the entire value of my pay-forward-bank-reserve. 

However, as daunting as the goody maze is, there are far more sinister threats to our health lurking in the frivolity of the holidays. Often hard to detect, lingering among the shadows of our mind, stealth enemies await. Only our personal situations determine the method of the strike. For some, it will creep from the shadows drawing attention to itself early on, coming closer with every breath. For others, it will pounce with the ferocity of... well... me on a Costco pumpkin pie.

Since Halloween is over, I will spare you more suspense and tell you the threat is Stress.

It is well established that healthcare professionals report more patients with stress related disorders during the holidays. Anxiety, depression, weight gain and eating disorders, as well as problems associated with compromised immune systems are all commonly reported. Although we may not always admit it, holiday expectations and cuisine traditions can cause substantial stress for anyone.

Some have estimated that stress contributes to 80% of doctor visits during the holidays. I think we can all relate. We now have the added burden of squeezing into our normal days the extra shopping, extra traffic, extra cooking, and extra eating. We stress over the right gifts, the right guests, or the right events to attend. We stress whether there will be enough money for gifts, will the carpet get cleaned in time, or will Aunt Mildred make it through airport security this year with her special fruitcake that triggers the explosives monitors.

I have often heard people say they thrive under stress. Perhaps so… for a while.  Like it or not, over time, stress -- and the body’s activation of the Fight or Flight functions -- will take a health toll. It is no secret there is a close tie between our mental and physical well being. Physical illness can spawn from biological systems initiated by mental functions. Holiday stress is enough to potentially knock anyone down, which is why this is an even more important time to be considerate of getting adequate nutrition. 

For those of us who work here at Applied Health, we have been around this “nutrition stuff” long enough to know what does or does not work for us. We have each -- through trial and error -- developed our own specialized nutrition profiles to help get us through the season. But, although our personal programs are quite tailored, there are some generalities we have learned through the years that will help protect you when the dreaded stress and temptation emerge from the shadows.

Biologically speaking, micro-nutrient components should be considered. In times of stress, mental and physical dependencies increase for vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. Included are the B-vitamin group, calcium/magnesium combinations, and the amino acids L-Tyrosine and L-Glutamine. 

The importance of B vitamins can not be overstated. Stress depletes B vitamin reserves at an accelerated rate in both sexes. These nutrients play an important role in nerve impulses, adrenal support, immune system function, and skin nourishment. 

The combination of calcium and magnesium help maintain calmness, sleep, and neuromuscular hyperactivity and excitability. 

The amino acids Tyrosine and Glutamine, B vitamins, and minerals are all utilized to support serotonin function. Serotonin is a key component for achieving and maintaining a sense of well being.

Since we know from the outset that holiday events present temptations and departures from our normal habits, it is sometimes easier to plan ahead by allowing ourselves minor indulgences. The key, as in most things in life, is moderation. 

If you love chocolate, and it makes you feel good, then there is no reason you should refrain from enjoying a little. But that is not an invitation to strap on a feed bag of Hershey’s Kisses. If your weakness is pecan pie, have a slice, but stop before you see your full reflection in the pan. Or if you start craving your mom’s holiday pudding in August, treat yourself to a second helping… just don’t threaten Aunt Mildred with the gravy ladle for the last bowl. 

The consumption of sugar is one of the most important areas where moderation should be employed. Glucose metabolism is a source for energy, and it manages carbohydrates that can be stored as fat. Consuming too many sweets can disrupt insulin production contributing to energy problems. In addition, sustained high sugar consumption can lead to adult onset diabetes, hypoglycemia, and hyperglycemia. To help support healthy glucose metabolism, besides moderating sugar intake, remember to supplement your diet with high quality multivitamin/minerals, antioxidants, and essential fatty acids. 

To help manage stress, there are herbal remedies that have been employed with considerable success. Herbal teas of chamomile, valerian, and passion flower can be very effective for calming your nerves. Some people rely on supplements made from Kava Kava or St. John's Wort. One of our tricks around here for calming frayed nerves is L-Theanine, which can be used during the day, and Sleepease for night, which is L-Theanine mixed with Melatonin.

I have my own 3-part routine that has proved very successful at keeping me stress and illness free during the holidays. I break my method into three generalized areas that represent supporting the immune system, controlling intake of bad substances, and trying to reduce known stress inducers.

First, in addition to all the daily supplements I take, I keep my immune system super-boosted by consuming 20-25 capsules of our blue-green algae product (Foundation) per day. I do not recommend anyone else try this unless they have had experience with the product. That much can cause some people to be so energized, they won’t sleep until Valentines Day. 

Second, I have to minimize my sugar consumption. It runs down my immune system so much that I find my ability to cope with stress goes down, and my tendency to catch a cold goes up. Minimizing my sugar intake basically means avoiding all sweets to allow myself a taste of pumpkin pie, but remembering to come up for air well before I reach the bottom of the pan. 

And third, I try to control the external stressors that needlessly add to the ones you can’t control during the holidays. That means I say “no” when appropriate. It also means I am at least ten feet away, and cleared the room of all ignition sources, before my sister cuts the first piece from Aunt Mildred’s fruitcake.

Whatever methods you choose, just remember it might take a bit of experimenting to see what combination works best for you. The key is to remember that stress can make you sick (or worse), and your nutritional choices this season can contribute to your ability to manage stress.

Fruitcake, anyone?

-Bill Evans


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