The formalities of the Christmas period are essentially wonderful, with time off work, nice food and spending time with your family and friends. But in reality it is also a stressful time of year for many people. Then we have the excitement of the New Year and the psychological impact of a new calendar year and perhaps the post seasonal ‘blues’ as winter sets in.
In addition the Christmas and New Year is a period where (however hard we try) many of us are likely to have over-indulged in rich foods and perhaps alcoholic beverages. Our exercise regime may be suffering over the short winter days and the seasonal break may have created disruptive changes in our sleep patterns.
Yet of course the New Year is also a wonderful time to reflect on the 12 months that have passed and to set some aspirations for the coming months too.
In this article we will provide some suggestion for supporting health in to the New Year. Whether it’s taking supplements, staying active or endeavouring to relax – there are many ways to make your New Year’s resolutions more enjoyable, and healthy at the same time!
The period around Christmas and New Year is arguably one of the most stressful times of year for us all. When put into the context of the season stress just becomes something that we ‘deal with’. But the effect that it has on our bodies often goes either ignored or unnoticed, and if not addressed can lead to more worrying long-term symptoms.
The B-Vitamin Complex are B-Complex Vitamins are necessary for the normal functioning of the nervous system and may be the single most important factor in the maintenance of the nerves.
One good example is Pantothenic Acid (Vitamin B5), as this B vitamin is especially important when it comes to coping with stress. Vitamin B5 is necessary for the utilisation of fatty acids when it comes to the creation of essential hormones. It can improve the body’s ability to withstand stressful conditions through stimulating the adrenal glands and increasing the production of cortisone and other adrenal hormones which are important when it comes to healthy skin and nerves.
Organ meats, brewers yeast, egg yolks and whole grain cereal are the richest food sources of this vitamin. It is also available in a supplement form and as part of many multivitamin and mineral formulae. Pantothenic Acid has the following permitted health claims:
- Contributes to normal mental performance
- Contributes to normal synthesis and metabolism of steroid hormones, vitamin D and some neurotransmitters
- Contributes to normal energy yielding metabolism
- Contributes to reduction of tiredness and fatigue
More details on the B-Complex vitamins can be found in articles via the link further below.
Lack of Sleep
Do you find yourself lying awake with perhaps your mind in a ‘whir’? Particularly at this time of year many of us are restless at night contemplating the challenges of the New Year and possibly worrying about personal matters such as the credit card bills accrued over Christmas. Well if this sounds a little like you then you are certainly not alone.
If you couple this with all of the rich foods we eat over Christmas and New Year that the body finds difficult to break down, plus eating later at night and perhaps too much alcohol then it is clear to see that lack of sleep around this time is, however hard we try, predominantly self inflicted.
We all know that negative thoughts before bed can lead to a sleepless night, so it goes without saying that it’s important to relax throughout the day and simply try not to stress too much. And the nutrient that is most commonly associated with supporting a good night’s sleep is the mineral magnesium.
Magnesium is a vital mineral for the function of the GABA receptors which exist in the brain and the nervous system. It is a neurotransmitter that the brain requires in order to switch off and relax. With a lack of magnesium the working function of these receptors is a lot less efficient and this can lead to stress and a lack of sleep.
Indeed magnesium has the permitted health claim (from EFSA the European Food Safety Authority) of ‘contributing to a reduction of tiredness and fatigue’ (when taken in the appropriate daily dosages). We have previously written in detail on magnesium and its relationship with sleep, and stress, and links to these articles are to be found further below.
The full list of permitted health claim for Magnesium are:
- Magnesium can contribute to a reduction of tiredness and fatigue;
- Contributes to normal psychological functions;
- Contributes to electrolyte balance;
- Contributes to the maintenance of normal bone/teeth;
- Contributes to normal energy-yielding metabolism;
- Contributes to normal muscle function including the heart muscle;
- Contributes to normal nerve function;
- Contributes to normal protein synthesis;
- Magnesium contributes to normal cell division
It is incredibly important to keep up your intake of clean water throughout the year. And just because it is cold do not neglect your water intake during the winter months. Our bodies are around 60% water, so needless to say that the importance of maintain hydration all year round is essential. However, it is of even more importance around winter time when colds and flu are common.
A lack of water can cause our cells to effectively ‘shrink’ meaning that transportation of essential nutrients around the body is a lot less efficient. This makes us more susceptible to infections – so ingest sensible levels of clean, fresh water every day.
There are a number of vitamins and minerals proven to support the maintenance of the immune system. Obviously a healthy immune system is important throughout the year and during times of illness the immune system will need extra support. Cold and flu viruses are far more prevalent during the winter months. And if you are stressed and tired your body may be more susceptible to such pathogens too.
The minerals Selenium, Vitamin C and Zinc are beneficial to promote recovery and immune system health. If you are not getting enough of these respective nutrients from foods you can look for a multivitamin and mineral formula suitable for your gender and age that contains such nutrients.
It is important to note that when we are ill our needs for nutrition increases. Our body’s needs are greater at such times and our ability to uptake nutrients and use them appropriately may be impaired, this is particularly the case when the digestion is impaired by illness. In addition certain nutrients are rapidly depleted and need replenishing regularly, Vitamin C for example is water soluble.
‘Beta 1-3, 1-6 Glucan’ is a natural nutrient found in a supplement form that is increasingly popular for its possible immune support properties. Beta 1-3, 1-6 Glucan is a natural form of soluble dietary fibre, derived from the cell wall of baker’s yeast (it will not cause a yeast allergic reaction). However we must stress that there are currently no permitted health claims from EFSA for Beta 1-3, 1-6 Glucan.
A number of research studies over recent years have indicated that Beta 1-3, 1-6 Glucan provides a role in activating the immune system by alerting the body to help defend itself against viral and bacterial invaders. Due to its possible ability to assist in the immune response Beta 1-3, 1-6 Glucan is most commonly associated with colds, flu and infections support.
Beta 1-3, 1-6 Glucan is not found naturally in abundance in foods (the best source is certain types of mushrooms) and hence the popularity in a supplement form. For example at Cytoplan we provide purified Beta 1-3, 1-6 Glucan in our supplement ‘Immunovite’ that also includes Zinc and Selenium (both of which do have permitted immune support health claims).
Live Native Bacterial Supplements
Christmas is over and the New Year has begun. Unfortunately we have probably been overindulging and a little lazy. And with the short winter days our mood and energy levels may be subdued. Gut health is something we tend to overlook except when it goes more significantly ‘wrong’. However maintaining good gastro-intestinal (GI) is vitally important all-year round as the health of our gut is intimately linked to our overall bodily health.
For example our immune system is essentially linked with our gastro-intestinal system; so if the latter is performing poorly it will impact on the former. Additionally our gut is the major producer of the vital mood and cognitive moderator serotonin, most people may think it occurs in the brain but it’s the gut. So again if our gut health is impaired it will affect this vital bodily function.
One key to gut health is managing the delicate balance between the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ live native bacterial strains that always exist in our GI system. Ideally these two exist in a set percentage ratio (or balance). However if this balance is affected and the ‘bad’ bacteria’ increases at the expense of the ‘good’ bacteria this will cause digestive disruption and once this ‘colonisation’ has taken hold it is not easy to reverse it back to the appropriate ratios.
Our intestinal micro flora plays a major role in digestion and also acts to protect the gastrointestinal tract from pathogenic colonisation. This is commonly known as “the barrier effect”. The barrier effect protects humans from both invading species and species normally present in the gut at low numbers, whose growth is usually inhibited by the gut flora.
There are several factors that can affect this ‘good and bad’ bacterial balance, such as diet, medication, stress and infection. These can all lead to a disruption of the protective barrier effect, subsequently leading to intestinal disorders and a weakened immune response. Treatment with antibiotics is a common example where medication frequently detrimentally affects good bacteria.
However there are measures that can be taken to reduce the risks of this disruption and commensurately support your immune system to help stave fight off digestive disorders and other infections. The focus here is again based on a suitable diet for the individual with exercise and weight management. In addition many people take a ‘live native bacterial’ supplement (formerly termed ‘probiotic’) in the belief that this will support the ‘good’ gut balance and re-dress ‘bad’ overgrowth, However we must stress there are currently no permitted EFSA health claims for live native bacterial supplements.
The implied method of action for such products is that by supplementing with a variety of ‘good’ bacterial strains this will support the natural good flora and depending on your gut health at the time either a) support ongoing good bacterial gut health and b) restore the good bacterial balance at time where colonisation has occurred.
A wealth of relevant peer reviewed research information is available online from scientific and medical institutions worldwide that offers interpretations on the efficacy of live native bacterial strain supplements. In addition, with relevant Cytoplan products for example, there is also a body of research from our own suppliers on the efficacy and specific activities of the strains in our products.
Live native bacterial strains have popularly been used worldwide as a possible natural support for gut health in various forms. This includes traditionally being used for centuries in the diet such as fermented foods, yoghurts and in more recent decades in a supplement form.
Live native bacterial supplements come in either a capsule, tablet or powder form. These are our suggestions as to what you should look for when selecting such a supplement:
- Contains multiple good bacterial strains with wide-ranging activity
- With strains suited to age (e.g. baby, child, adult, adult 50+)
- Contains cultivated strains which will survive the challenges of stomach acid and bile in the human GI tract (acid and bile resistant strains)
- Stable at room temperature (no need to refrigerate)
- Where appropriate suitable for vegetarians and vegans and dairy free
- Contains pure naturally fermented strains
- Contains antibiotic resistant strains
- Assess the live viable count (of bacteria) in the supplement
- Provides strains designed to have activity throughout the whole GI tract
The enzymes we need to digest our food are either created by the body (digestive enzymes) or are already present in the food when it is eaten (food enzymes). Digestive enzymes are catalysts which break down food into its basic components; so that our bodies can absorb the nutrients they require to build cells, tissues and organs.
Our body makes enzymes and when we are young our body has an abundant supply of enzymes. As we age, we slowly begin to lose this efficiency. We also run short of enzymes due to lifestyle problems: for example fast food and excessive intake of fat and sugars all require large quantities of enzymes. In addition stress kills and damages cells, resulting in our enzyme-making machinery having to work overtime to help rebuild and replace them.
If you notice digestive symptoms such as bloating, wind, discomfort after eating, cramping or any other similar and related digestive symptoms, it is likely your body is not able to provide sufficient digestive enzymes for the food you eat. It is always a good idea to modify your diet to eat as much raw, fresh (enzyme-rich) food as possible in small, frequent amounts. You might also consider taking a good, broad-spectrum digestive enzyme supplement.
Replace the ‘bad’ with the ‘good’
Amidst all the bravado over the Christmas period is the over indulgence that unfortunately the majority of us partake in. Eating too many fatty and sweet foods, drinking alcohol and sitting around a little too much has a detrimental effect on our bodies.
Vitamins and minerals are essential to all enzymatic processes in the body and unfortunately a lot of the foods that we consume over Christmas are depleted in the nutrients that are so valuable to our health. Let us have a look below at some of the foods many of us will have available at the moment that are rich in beneficial nutrients.
Satsuma’s – As well as being very tasty, Satsuma’s, tangerines and oranges provide vitamin C, Folate and Beta Carotene. Around the Christmas period viruses are very common and keeping up the strength of your immune system is paramount to in attempting to fight of these illnesses.
Sprouts and Greens – Folate (Folic Acid) is one of the water-soluble ‘B-Complex’ vitamins and Folate is necessary for proper brain function as it is concentrated in the spinal and extra cellular fluids. Folic acid plays an important role toward the production of RNA and DNA as it helps in the formation of red blood cells and nucleic acids.
Folate is derived from the term ‘foliage’ which indicates where this vitamin is found. Some of the best natural sources of Folic Acid are in green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, sprouts, leafy greens and spinach. Links to previous relevant articles on Folate and Methylfolate are provided further below.
Dates – Low in fat, high in fibre and a very good source of Potassium and Iron.
Figs – Also low in fat and high in fibre. As well as being a good source of potassium, calcium, iron and magnesium.
Dark Chocolate – Although it is relatively high in fat and calories, if you opt for dark chocolate, it can provide bioactive substances such as polyphenols. Dark chocolate also provides iron and calcium. It goes without saying that it should be eaten in moderation.
Please follow the link further below to read our latest blog on the cocoa flavanols found in dark chocolate.
Obviously we are all aware that exercising and staying active all year round is of enormous importance to our physical and mental well-being. This is even more relevant at Christmas and New Year when over indulgence is so common. Just a brisk walk for 30 minutes a day, for example, can help to reverse some of the effects of too much food and burn off around 200 calories.
Exercise is also known to be a ‘blues-beater’ and a mood lifter (something that many of us need for the New Year!) This is a genuine and clinically acclaimed health benefit for consistent exercise. A strong body of research has shown that exercising between 3 and 5 times a week for at least half an hour a time helps to boost brain hormones that affect mood and stimulate cell regeneration.
And finally – A Very Happy New Year – To You All. From everyone at Cytoplan we wish you the very best for 2015. Thanks to you all for your interest in our blog articles in 2014 and your many comments. As always we need your involvement as your feedback and critique helps us to be a better company.
From all of us at Cytoplan we wish you the very best for 2015.