The holiday season is here and, with it, the attendant mix of pleasant anticipation and uncomfortable anxiety. This complex blend of emotions is not unique to the holidays, but it is known to affect more people and at greater levels than it does at any other time of the year.
While holidays tend to represent a time of joy, good cheer and optimism, the intensity of social interactions and family obligations or the inability to be with one’s own family can often lead people to unhealthy states of stress and emotional instability along with a sense of general anxiety, fatigue and depression. In addition, holiday activities so often include social eating and an abundance of sweet foods combined with the consumption of alcohol.
The excess ingestion of rich and sugar-laden foods may produce physiological imbalances such as poor sugar control. The holidays also often provide an environment in which individuals consume an excess amount of alcohol. The overindulgence taxes the liver as it increases it’s detoxification functions. Already carrying the burden of an increase in rich and fatty foods, the liver must manage the effects of increased alcohol intake, often with a decrease in the consumption of nutrients needed to handle the additional workload.
The issues are
- Stress and anxiety
- Holiday and post-holiday blues
- Overeating and excess consumption of carbohydrates
- Excessive alcohol intake
In a recent survey, 36 per cent of people considered the need to shop for gifts for friends and family to be major stressful event of the holiday season. Adrenal adaptation to stress is one of the body’s primary regulatory functions resulting in increased production of cortisol.
Adrenaline output is also increased leading to increased heart rate, alterations in glandular output, bronchodilation with quicker and shallower respiration and vasoconstriction, leading to anxiety, panic attacks and a decrease in the amount and/or quality of sleep. Removing the stressful event is the simple solution, but not always possible.
Herbs such as Valerian have been shown to restore function to the nervous system, specifically in aiding sleep and reducing anxiety. The other relaxing herb is withania, used to restore vitality in those individuals suffering from overwork or nervous exhaustion.
It is estimated that up to 50 per cent of individuals experiencing anxiety and panic disorders also suffer from depression. Seniors are especially susceptible to holiday depression since the perceived ideal holiday with family and friends may be more difficult for them to achieve. In the elderly population, lack of proper nutrients necessary for healthy nervous system function may be more prevalent due to poor absorption, loss of appetite, reduced ability to chew and digest food and financial difficulties. Many of the elderly are taking numerous medications, some of which can negatively affect nutrient balance or antagonize nutrient co-factors.
The well- known herb St John’s Wort has shown outstanding results in treating mild to moderate depression.
Another useful herb is scullateria, or commonly called skullcap, useful for its antispasmodic and sedative qualities along with for its nerve restoring abilities. It is a useful herb to consider during or after the holidays when alcohol use may have been excessive in individuals who routinely avoid alcohol. Scullcap also contains calcium, potassium and magnesium- minerals which are important in proper nervous system function.
As noted earlier, holidays can lead to overeating since none of us can overlook the foods offered which are rich in refined sugar or other refined carbohydrates. In addition, alterations in mood, due in part to the stresses we have seen so far, may increase the physiological craving for carbohydrates, chocolate and fatty foods.
Individuals who may already have biological imbalances in glucose metabolism and other cellular response to insulin may accelerate the dysfunction by the increased intake of refined carbohydrates along with a decrease in the foods high in the vitamins and minerals needed to control blood sugar levels, enhance cellular messaging and act as a catalyst in energy production. For some individuals, increased concentrations of insulin in the blood may lead to increased fatty tissue production and increased risk io cardiovascular disease.
The mineral chromium enhances insulin response and protects energy production pathways. Similarly, magnesium, zinc and potassium are vital for efficient regulation of glucose metabolism.
Increased and sustained stress during the holidays affects the liver’s glucose regulatory mechanisms. Responding to the increased need for fat metabolism, the liver begins to work even harder in its primary role in lipid management, including the production and transport of bile, lipid transport and protection from increased damage by free radicals. Liver detoxification requires a great deal of energy and a number of important nutrients in order to function optimally. It is wise to supplement this function with the nutrients needed for optimal liver detoxification function and enhanced lipid metabolism.
In addition to the B group vitamins and amino acids needed for liver detoxification, certain herbs have demonstrated the ability to restore and optimize liver function. St Mary’s thistle, or milk thistle, is the best known herb in this area because it has been shown to reverse liver damage. Globe artichoke has similar function and is useful for accompanying nausea and indigestion. Dandelion has a diuretic and detoxifying effect on the liver and gallbladder where it removes waste products. It also stimulates the kidneys to remove toxins in the urine.