UW Health: Four natural ways to holiday health

CONTACT:  Toni Morrissey
(608) 263-3223
(608) 576-6456
 [email protected]

MADISON- Sugary treats are everywhere you turn.  Families and friends gather and expose each other to what’s going around.  Despite these holiday inevitabilities, a UW Health integrative medicine specialist says there are four ways to put health on your side this holiday season.  Dr. David Rakel from the UW Health department of family medicine offered these tips.

1.Take water-soluble fiber

Those sugar-sweetened holiday treats make you gain weight and increase blood sugar levels. “Fiber, like psyllium, ground flax seed, chia seeds and bran, when absorbed by water slows down the absorption of sugar,” said Rakel.  He says fiber should be taken about 30 minutes before a meal.

2.Eat the rainbow and exercise

Rakel recommends a multi-color, whole-food, high-fiber diet combined with activity.  “If it’s available, buy fresh food from local farmers who don’t use pesticides and other chemicals,” Rakel noted.  If you find yourself eating lots of sugary treats, some activity or exercise can really make a difference.  Rakel says that exercise drives sugar into muscle and keeps triglycerides, which store unused calories in fat cells, in check.  High levels of triglycerides can lead to heart disease and diabetes.

3.R-E-L-A-X and keep a lid on stress

Rakel says the annual fight with your sister can make your body vulnerable.  “The stress of a fight or other tension drives cortisol levels higher,” says Rakel.  Cortisol, called “the stress hormone,” regulates blood pressure and insulin release.  Rakel says when there is family tension and people eat and drink too much, it sets up what he calls, “a cascade of badness.” “When your body senses a threat, cortisol levels increase causing your heart to beat harder and more rapidly. Your breathing speeds up.  It becomes even riskier when you’ve had a big meal,” says Rakel.  “On the other hand, if you are relaxed, pancreatic enzymes are released to help digest your meal.”

4.Prepare the sleep environment

“Sleep is one of the foundations of health,” says Rakel. “The hormone melatonin regulates sleep and wake cycles.  There are some things that encourage the body’s production of the hormone, and other practices that can suppress melatonin.”

Rakel says that exercise, exposure to sunlight and sleeping in a cool environment stimulate melatonin production.  On the other hand, there are several ways that people unknowingly suppress melatonin. “Sleeping with lights on, or even a bright night light could interfere with sleep,” says Rakel. Electrical and electronic devices (including those that emit blue light like tablets or cellphones) can also disrupt sleep cycles.  “Electrical devices should be kept at least three feet from your head.  Energy is picked up by the retina, even with eyes closed, and suppresses melatonin. Electronic devices can turn off the melatonin hormone,” he says.

      These natural ways to stay healthy during the holiday can help you avoid illnesses and weight gain. “Planning ahead will help avoid the holiday cycle of weight gain and increased blood sugar levels which lead to New Year’s resolutions,” says Rakel.