‘Tis officially the silly season! A time filled with office parties and Christmas and New Year celebrations. Before you go delaying health goals until next year because of disrupted routines and eating more than usual, there are some small and simple ways to support your health.
No one should let guilt stop them from enjoying festive treats and celebratory drinks, but we can help ourselves by understanding that alcohol and refined sugar affect the gut microbiome. You may have heard the gut described as a ‘second brain’, as there is a large crossover between the two and they are in constant communication.
In its series On the Brain, the Harvard Mahoney Neuroscience Institute described how the trillions of bacteria in the gut, and the by-products they produce, interact with the central nervous system and can affect mood, cognition, and behaviour.
In his educational content for Huberman Lab, Dr Andrew Huberman, a neuroscience professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine, explains that eating fermented foods increases overall gut microbiota diversity and reduces key markers of inflammation.
He suggests introducing low-sugar fermented foods into your diet such as sauerkraut, plain yogurt, kimchi, kombucha, natto, kefir, or even drinking brine. Huberman notes you’ll need to shop for these items in the chilled section to ensure they are live, active cultures. For a more cost-effective option, you can easily experiment with making kefir at home. Make a special effort to include these good gut bacteria foods while enjoying those mince pies!
Speaking of healthy gut bacteria, never underestimate the power of quality supplements. I’ve found an all-round supplement like bee pollen can support health and consistent micronutrient intake over the holidays.
Bee pollen is bursting with B vitamins, which interact with the gut microbiome. Among many other functions, B vitamins in the distal gut can contribute to the regulation of immune cell activity, play a role in drug efficacy, and can act to suppress pathogenic bacteria. No small feat.
While health is all about moderation, we know the festive season often sees us indulge in alcohol more than we normally would. Water is your best friend, and so is bee pollen! A Healthline article highlighted that bee pollen may enhance your liver’s ability to process and eliminate toxins and is also made up of several anti-inflammatory compounds. Research is developing in this area, comparing these anti-inflammatory effects to those of naproxen, which is good news for those over-indulgence headaches.
Particularly timely with the renewed focus on virus behaviours, Dr Huberman highlights that over-sanitisation can affect the gut microbiome. While it is important to stay safe from infection, we could try to physically connect with the natural environment over the holiday season, and no, I’m not suggesting you hug a tree! We spend time in nature, but with our walking boots and gardening gloves on, how much contact do we actually have with grass and dirt?
Maintaining some level of physical activity over the holiday period is another important tool in your wellbeing kit. If you’ve never been a gym bunny or a runner, and exercise feels like a new level of punishment on your break, finding movement in an activity you’re interested in is a great way to exercise without thinking about it.
Is this the time to explore a new hobby? No matter the hemisphere – whether you’re windsurfing, horse riding, biking, swimming, trying new walking tracks, dancing, or skiing – anything that keeps you from becoming couch-comatose helps balance out the gingerbread and tipples. A general lack of time in our busy lives can often feel like a large barrier to exercise, so slowing down and actively falling into a new passion can provide motivation to keep moving when life’s tempo picks up again.
And pay attention to your immunity. At a time that could see you exposed to the extreme ends of the temperature spectrum (you don’t just get a cold in cold weather!) and a changed sleeping pattern from all those social catch-ups, you’ll want to look after your immune system even more.
In summary, as the holiday activities put pressure on your system, look after yourself. Focus on balance with exercise, sleep, and good nutrition (and supplements) where you can.
https://hubermanlab.com/6-key-tools-to-improve-your-gut-microbiome-health/ https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/how-make-kefir https://www.vogue.co.uk/article/how-to-look-after-gut-health https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32761878/