T’is the season for end of year deadlines, family stressors, holiday parties plus way too many cocktails and Christmas cookies. While fun, the holidays aren’t exactly compatible with vibrant health and balanced hormones. Parties, treats and all of that end of year stress can wreak havoc on your hormonal health from December to New Year’s. Fortunately, it’s possible to maintain healthy balanced hormones through the chaos of the holidays with a few tried & true diet and lifestyle tricks.
Our gift to you this holiday season is the Replete guide to enjoying good times and great food without sabotaging your hormones. At Replete Wellness we prefer to start the new year with happy healthy cycles, clear skin and vibrant energy, so for us this means carefully navigating the holiday season in a way that maintains optimal hormonal health. Trust us … when January resolutions roll around you’ll be happy for all of the self-care and healthy eating you managed through the holidays. We’ve put together this holiday hormone survival guide to give you our best tips and tricks so you can have the healthiest holiday possible. We encourage you to try out these hormone hacks to help you navigate the holiday season while still maintaining the great work you’ve put into improving your hormonal health in 2019:
So, alcohol is definitely a tricky topic. On one hand, we have studies telling us wine is great for the heart and women that drink wine daily have lower BMI’s than those who abstain. On the other, researchers have found that even 1 drink weekly can increase a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. This happens because alcohol interferes with your body’s ability to detoxify estrogen and can also increase the body’s production of harmful estrogens. There are studies showing that drinking more than 7 glasses of alcohol weekly causes significant increases in serum estrogen levels which can contribute to heavy periods, weight gain, PMS and hormonal breakouts. While 7 glasses of wine or champagne weekly may be difficult to accomplish on a regular weekday it becomes surprisingly easy to pass this number during the holidays.
If you’re planning on having more than 1 glass of wine nightly then we suggest switching to organic red wine since studies show that red wine contains natural aromatase inhibitors that block estrogen production. Pinot noir and cabernet sauvignons seem to have the highest levels of these hormone-helping compounds. A methylated B12 supplement can also be a good idea when drinking excess alcohol since it helps the body metabolize estrogens and is depleted by regular alcohol consumption.
Replete Tip: speak to your naturopathic doctor about adding a high quality milk thistle-based product to your holiday health protocol. This herb helps to upregulate alcohol dehydrogenase which improves breakdown and excretion of toxic alcohol metabolites. It protects the liver and prevents excessive drunkenness making it ideal for those company holiday parties.
Give Your Liver Some Love
Great liver health is critical when it comes to healthy hormones since its job is to process and eliminate excess hormones. While the liver is constantly trying to break down harmful hormones all of those extra drinks and sugary treats can impair healthy liver function, leading to estrogen build-up. The following food and lifestyle tips can help your liver function at its best through the holidays:
- Eat for Liver Health: Increase dietary intake of nutrients that naturally up-regulate your liver’s ability to detoxify hormones. These include: protein (from lean organic meats), selenium (from oats, eggs, brazil nuts), cilantro (contains a compound called linalool which is wonderful for liver detoxification).
- Drink Lemon Water: Lemons and other citrus fruits contain a compound called Limonin which has been shown to reduce markers of liver damage and oxidative stress in response to toxins. Simply squeeze the juice from 1/2 a lemon in 1 cup warm water and drink upon waking to stimulate liver detoxification and promote digestive function.
- Increase Glutathione Levels: Glutathione is your body’s most powerful antioxidant and detoxifying agent. It is created by the liver to aid in detoxification and it has been shown to support the production of the liver enzymes that break down toxins created by drinking alcohol. Speak to you naturopathic doctor about including a glutathione supplement into your holiday hormone protocol. Additionally, you can increase your dietary intake of the following foods to support glutathione production: garlic, onions, asparagus, avocados, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, parsley and watercress, curcumin, and cinnamon.
- Reach for a cup of black coffee: Studies show that coffee can reduce liver damage. In one study a single cup of coffee each day led to a 22% decrease in the risk of developing liver damage, while two cups corresponded to a 43% drop in risk.
Balance Blood Sugar
Recent surveys estimate that Canadians are eating approximately 52g of sugar daily or around 10 teaspoons of added sugar every single day. For most of us that number doubles, or even triples during the holiday as a result of all those Christmas cookies being passed around at work, or the extra cocktails you’re drinking at holiday parties. Sugar is a problem for your hormones and natural beauty because it causes insulin levels (your blood sugar regulating hormone) to spike, which in turn initiates a cascade of hormonal responses within the body. Your ovaries are super sensitive to insulin levels and we’ll often see patients with heavier menstrual periods and irregular cycles for the first few months of the New Year as a result of over indulging in sweets and treats through the holiday season.
Many of our patients also complain of breakouts through the holidays because high insulin levels from sugar cause an increase in a protein called insulin like growth factor or IGF-1, which is one of the worst acne culprits. IGF-1 causes the glands in your skin that regulate oil production to go into overdrive and also increases the cell turnover in your skin. This means that sugar causes an overproduction of dead skin cells and excess oil, which creates an ideal scenario for the acne-causing bacteria propionibacterium acnes to grow on your skin, leading to inflammation and acne. Here’s even more bad news if you’re over 25 years old and consuming a ton of excess sugar this holiday season. After the age of 25 your skin’s production of collagen (the protein responsible for skin elasticity) dramatically declines leading to wrinkles and sagging skin. Sugar has the ability to further decrease levels of this important anti-gaining protein via the process of glycation which causes premature ageing and dull skin.
These are our best evidence-based blood sugar balancing tips so you can start the new year with glowing clear skin and balanced, happy hormones:
- Focus on Fibre: We recommend that patients increase their intake of insoluble fibre throughout the holidays. This specific type of fibre is found in the skin of many fruits and vegetables and is especially great at balancing your blood sugar levels. A fibre supplement can also be a good idea this time of year since studies show that fibre positively influences probiotic levels in the gut and reduce the build-up and re-absorption of free-floating harmful estrogens. Dietary sources of insoluble fibre include bran, the skins of fruits and vegetables (apples, pears, berries, tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini and carrots), nuts (especially almonds), seeds (particularly sunflower seeds), organic soybeans, dried beans, and whole gluten-free grains.
- Sugar-Balancing Supplements: Our favourite blood-sugar balancing secret helper is a herb called Gymnema. This Ayruvedic medicine herb suppresses the ability to taste sweetness and reduces insulin levels with just a single dose. Berberine is another natural supplement that can help control your overall blood sugar levels through the holidays. Research shows that a standardized dose three times daily with meals is as effective as metformin (the most commonly prescribed blood sugar modulating medication) without common medication side effects like stomach aches and B12-depletion. As always, speak to your naturopathic doctor before taking any herbs or supplements.
- Sprinkle Cinnamon: We put that sh*t on everything this time of year! Cinnamon is truly a blood sugar balancing super food. It lowers blood glucose by an average of 10-29% and contains specific compounds called polyphenols that increase insulin sensitivity. Studies show that 3g daily is ideal for maintaining healthy blood sugar levels – or approximately 1/2 a tsp daily. We like to add cinnamon to our daily coffee, or mix it up in a chia pudding as a filling pre-party snack.
- Practice Carb-Cycling: Carb-timing, or carb-cycling, is a wonderful dietary practice this time of year because it allows you to enjoy a few treats in the evening without majorly sabotaging your overall blood sugar and hormone health. Our favourite way to practice carb cycling is to simply start your day with healthy fats while saving carbohydrates for dinner time. Studies show that eating a low carbohydrate diet rich in healthy fats can improve insulin sensitivity by approximately 75%. Research also suggests that eating a breakfast high in fat and low in carbohydrates maintains your overnight fasted state of ketosis and essentially tricks your body into thinking that you’re still fasting. In this state your body is using ketones from fat instead of glucose to fuel your body activating a cellular process called autophagy, which reduces oxidative stress and even helps to balance blood sugar levels all day long. The day of our Replete Wellness Christmas party we’ll be drinking our favourite keto smoothie for breakfast, followed by a big green salad topped with olive oil, walnuts, olives and salmon for lunch so that we can have extra glasses of wine at the party without totally messing up our blood sugar.
You must make sleep a priority if you plan on surviving the holiday season with your health intact. Poor sleep habits from late nights, alcohol and chronic stress cause a reduction in the hormone melatonin, which worsens estrogen dominance, thyroid function and blood sugar regulation. Sleep deprivation also disturbs stress hormone cortisol levels – and we already have enough stress this time of year!
Studies show that only four days of insufficient sleep will reduce the body’s ability to process insulin by more than 30% which means those Christmas treats will be even worse for your blood sugar levels and skin health. If you’re concerned about holiday weight gain sleep is critical in order to maintain a healthy BMI. In a recent study subjects that slept less than 6.5 hours had an 8.5% increased body fat. Sleep deprived dieters also lost 55% less weight than control groups, even though calories stayed equal. This is due to the fact that sleep influences release of metabolism hormones like leptin, ghrelin and glucose.
Start with the following Replete Rules for beauty sleep tips – we encourage you to visit your Naturopathic doctor if you’re still having issues with sleep after a few nights of committing to these sleep-boosting strategies:
- Avoid alcohol 4 hours before bedtime: Many people believe that alcohol helps them sleep. While alcohol has an immediate sleep-inducing effect, a few hours later as the alcohol levels in your blood start to fall, there is a stimulant or wake-up effect. It also prevents your body from entering restful sleep states.
- Eat a light snack before bed: We encourage our patients to try a protein-rich snack before bedtime. The most common cause of sleep-offset insomnia (or waking in the night) is blood sugar imbalance so a little protein before bed may help stabilize your insulin levels leading to more restful sleep. 2tbs of raw pumpkin seeds are a great pre-bed snack choice since they’re high in sleep-supportive magnesium, protein and essential fatty acids.
- Establish a pre-sleep ritual: Pre-sleep rituals, such as a warm bath, essential oils or a few minutes of reading can go a long way in helping you sleep. Your sleep routine should be completely individualized to your needs but there is one universal rule when it comes to restful holiday sleep: avoid television, cellphones & computers 1 hour before bed. These electronic devices cause in increase in electrical activity, and a decrease in melatonin production – the exact opposite of what should be happening before sleep.
While self-care looks differently to everyone, it’s especially important during the Holidays. As the body responds to high levels of stress it “steals” progesterone to manufacture the stress hormone cortisol, often leaving a relative excess of estrogen. Throughout the month of December I encourage you to complete one of the following stress-busting selfceare activities every day. There can be repeats, and if you find one activity particularly relaxing feel free to do it every single day):
- 30-minute hot bath with ‘detox salts’: add 1 cup Epsom salts, 2 tbs baking soda + 20 drops of your favorite essential oil (lavender is nice for the adrenals)
- Book an acupuncture session with your Naturopathic doctor to lower cortisol levels and improve sleep.
- 10 minutes deep breathing exercise or guided meditation: use the calm app or pick one of thousands of options on youtube.
- Get a 1 hour-long full-body massage from an RMT (use up those benefits people!)
- Start a new ‘self-care/self-help’ book and read 3 chapters (some options to get you inspired: Perfect health – Deepak Chopra, The Gifts of Imperfection – Brene Brown, Start where You are – Pema Chödrön, When the Body Says No – Gabor Mate, Loving Yourself to Great Health – Louise Hay, The Desire Map – Danielle Laport).
- Exercise: do a HIIT session around 10:00am if possible, these activities raise cortisol levels and your cortisol should naturally spike at this time of day.
- Increase yin-based exercise to normalize adrenal gland response to stress: take a winter hiking in nature, or try a tai chi class.
- Book yourself in for a 30-minute adrenal drip with you Naturopathic doctor to give your body a ton of stress-busting nutrients and a little extra energy support.
- Listen to a health podcast, you can check out one from each if you’re feeling particularly ambitions, they’re great to listen to on a walk or while wrapping gifts:
- Ultimate Health podcasts (the episode with Christiane Northrup was especially great)
- Natural MD Radio with Aviva Romm (“Come as your are” episode was incredible)
- On Being
- Happier with Gretchen Rubin
- Take a meditation class
- Journaling: list 5 things that you’re grateful for, ideally do this every morning and every evening before bed.
There are also a few key lifestyle strategies that we employ this time of year to keep our adrenal glands functioning at their best. As mentioned above we keep our carbohydrate intake to dinner time. Not only does this help balance blood sugar and regulate insulin levels, it can also improve cortisol output and adrenal health. Carbohydrates antagonize cortisol secretion, meaning they lower stress hormone levels, so by avoiding carbs in the morning we can keep cortisol higher throughout the day (as it should be on a normal curve). Adding complex carbohydrates to dinner causes an insulin spike which lowers cortisol levels to reset the cortisol curve and promote a restful sleep. We are also religious about our seasonal affect disorder light ritual this time of year since 15 minutes of bright light upon waking has beneficial effects on cortisol levels and energy. In the spring and summer we simply head outside, but in the dark days of winter a seasonal affective disorder lamp is a must.
Happy Holidays beauties! If you have more questions, or if you live near Oakville and are interested in a customized hormonal health assessment and functional medicine protocol you can book your first visit in person visit here or visit my website for more information.
*Note: online services provided by Dr. Sarah to those of you living outside of Ontario are delivered as a Certified Functional Medicine practitioner consult and not as an Naturopathic doctor appointment & as such they will not be eligible for reimbursement through private insurance.
- Scoccianti, C., et al., “Recent evidence on alcohol and cancer epidemiology,” Future Oncol 2013; 9(9):1315-22.
This information is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your Naturopathic doctor or primary care physician. Do not use the information in this document for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease. Always speak with your Naturopathic doctor before taking any medication or nutritional or herbal or using any treatment for a health problem. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem, contact your health care provider promptly. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking professional advice because of something you have read online.