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Sure, there’s joy and connection at family festivities Thanksgiving through New Year’s. But they can also come with a dark side. “From the hustle and bustle of travel, negotiating tricky family dynamics to overbooked party schedules and over-indulging, the holidays certainly can be a challenging time to keep your health in balance,” cautions Holly Lucille, a naturopath and nurse in private practice in Los Angeles.
This year, pack yourself a holiday “survival kit” of wellness supplements and you just might sail through all the extra food, festive beverages, travel, germs, and stress of the holidays.
1. Saffron Extract
“Staying healthy during the holidays doesn’t have to mean giving up your favorite holiday foods, but instead learning how to control yourself around them,” says Heather Hausenblas, PhD, Professor of Kinesiology at Jacksonville University in Florida. Her favorite tool to control overeating? An extract from the exotic spice saffron. With saffron extract, people tend to snack less and stay full longer, according to research in a group of overweight women. Recommended dosage: 176 mg of saffron extract per day.
Mimosas with brunch and champagne on New Year’s Eve—December’s imbibing opportunities abound. Plan ahead by taking N-acetylcysteine (NAC), suggests Lucille. “NAC is one of my favorite supplements to have on hand this time of year,” she adds, since it restores antioxidants in the body that are wiped out by stress and alcohol use. It even blocks the effect of acetaldehyde, the alcohol by-product that’s a big contributor to hangovers. Recommended dosage: 750 mg.
Bedding down in a new place—whether it’s a hotel, a relative’s house, or a new time zone—can lead to tossing and turning even for the best of sleepers. L-theanine, an extract from green tea, calms both mind and body so you can get some rest. L-theanine can even help the night before a trip, to calm pre-travel jitters interfering with a good night’s sleep. Recommended dosage: 50–250 mg of L-theanine about an hour before your desired bedtime.
Not only are you likely to be around more people—at parties, in an airport, and so on—over the holidays, you’ll also be around more of their germs and viruses. Beta-glucan, an extract from yeast and mushrooms, can help.
A study published in the journal Nutrition showed that taking beta-glucan every day reduces sick days. When 100 medical students took a daily beta-glucan supplement during the three months of the cold and flu season, those taking beta-glucan (compared to a group taking placebos) ended up with 18 percent fewer days suffering from cold and flu symptoms. Recommended dosage: 250 mg of beta-glucan per day.
The hormone melatonin can be the traveler’s best friend for easing the time-zone adjustment of jet lag. Once you reach your destination, simply take it at your new bedtime. Immediate-release supplements work better than slow-release ones. Recommended dosage: Take 2–8 mg of immediate-release melatonin at your desired bedtime.
When holiday stressors add up, homeopathy offers a gentle way to unwind. “There are numerous single agent remedies in homeopathy that will combat a person’s own unique response to stress,” explains Molly Punzo, MD, physician advisor and medical director of care coordination for the Maine Medical Center in Portland, Maine.
These individualized homeopathy treatment plans, generally designed after consultation with a medical or professionally trained homeopath, offer a “tailored approach to stress and wellness that work very well and give deep and lasting results,” she adds. But you can also find many calming homeopathic combination formulas over-the-counter at any natural products store. Recommended dosage: Follow label instructions.
There’s no need for lousy digestion to interfere with your enjoyment of holiday feasts. Waning enzyme levels are often to blame for poor digestion, especially the older we get, says Steven Lamm, MD, author of No Guts, No Glory. The great thing about taking broad-spectrum digestive enzymes is that you should notice immediate benefits. Recommended dosage: Follow label instructions and take during meals for best results.
8. Siberian Ginseng
“This herb supports your adrenal gland’s ability to respond to stress,” says Laurie Steelsmith, ND, a naturopath in Honolulu. So if you aren’t getting enough sleep and feel overwhelmed, it can help you meet the demands of the day. Recommended dosage: Take 200 mg two times a day. Select a standardized extract of 0.5% eleutheroside E.
9. Natural Cold Care Basics
If a cold or flu strikes when you’re away from home, you’ll want to have a care kit on hand with some basic essentials: a natural cough syrup (look for elderberry on the ingredients list), natural throat lozenges, and immune-supportive supplements such as vitamin C and zinc (when taken at the first symptoms, both can shorten duration of a cold). Recommended dosage: Take according to label instructions.
Holiday Weight Control
The average person gains one pound over the holidays, and people who are already overweight tend to gain a lot more: up to five pounds, cautions Hausenblas. She shares four ways to rein in holiday snacking and weight gain, especially while at holiday parties:
- Chew Gum: When your mouth is busy chewing, you won’t be as tempted by holiday goodies.
- Out of sight, out of mind: Keep treats and sweet snacks on a high shelf, out of your sight.
- Minimize Booze: Alcohol lessens your inhibitions, so the more you drink, the more you will want to eat. Alternate between water and an alcoholic beverage while at a party.
- Mingle: Don’t stand in front of the food table at holiday parties. Mingling away from the table will keep you from constantly having your hand in the dip.