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Doctor's Corner: Ditch the Winter Blues and Rejuvenate!

January: the holidays are finally over, the gifts unwrapped, the parties all done for the season. Many of us find this to be the bleakest and most depressing time of the year. Perhaps we've gained a few too many pounds eating our favorite holiday confections, perhaps getting back to the grind of work after too-short-a-time with cherished friends and family feels daunting, or perhaps the holidays have served as a good excuse to put health concerns and self-care on the back burner for a while - then of course the days are still so short and its COLD outside!

Never fear! Holistic medicine offers many ways to pull one’s self back from the brink and feel the sweetness and quiet of the season once more:

Herbal teas to uplift your spirits

Try combinations of herbs that either calm the nerves or increase your energy to feel uplifted and ready to face your day:

  1. Melissa (Lemon Balm): This herb has been used for hundreds of years to calm anxiety and promote restful sleep. Although it has a calming effect, it’s anti-anxiety properties help to relieve ‘brain fog' and promote clear thinknig. An Australian study noted improved alertness in participants supplementing with the herb in addition to feelings of calm and an improved, more positive mood.

  2. Glycyrrhiza (licorice): This herb has a long and rich history of medicinal use, particularly in Chinese medicine. Licorice has both soothing properties as well as having a mild steroidal effect that can improve mood and energy for those under long-term stress.

Get a little extra vitamin D

Vitamin D is well known for its benefits to the bones due to the hormone-like action on absorption, storage and utilization of calcium in the body. Vitamin D has multiple other effects including regulation of proper cellular differentiation (highly important in cancer prevention) as well as mood and energy regulation. Most North Easterners don’t get nearly enough sun exposure to generate sufficient vitamin D stores in the winter months. It’s worth getting your D levels checked with your ND every 4-6 months to make sure that your levels are adequate.

Set realistic but significant exercise goals

When it comes to energy balance and our bodies, research has proven the old adage ‘a body in motion stays in motion’ – the more we exercise the more mitochondria are produced. Mitochondria are the energy-generating centers housed within our cells. One of the most profound adaptations to endurance training is increased mitochondrial function and content within the exercising muscles. The more properly functioning mitochondria you have the more energy you can make!!

So what’s the best type of exercise to increase your energy and endurance? The gene PGC-1α is a key regulator of mitochondrial biogenesis (making more mitochondria) and can be used as a biomarker for increased mitochondrial production after specific types of exercise. It appears for most of us average Joes that the best combination of exercises to increase energy levels (based upon the activity of PGC-1α) is the old standard combo: cardio such as cycling and running in combination with resistance weight training!

It can be a challenge to fit exercise into a busy schedule, but reframing its importance can help you to set consistent and realistic goals. The more you exercise, when used in combination with techniques to uplift and regulate stress as well as proper personalized nutrition, the better you will feel!

The tendency to feel blue or anxious might be written in your genes

OPUS23 genomic analysis software designed by Dr. Peter D’Adamo has led to the capacity for NDs to interpret a patient’s genomic profile and compose high quality treatment strategies to modify genes that contain mutations (single nucleotide polymorphisms or SNPs) decreasing their functionality. Although there is much still to be learned about the direct impact of nutrition, environment and natural products on gene function, there are many genes that appear to have a direct impact on our state of mind that are also well controlled with naturopathic treatment modalities. Examples include:

  1. TPH2/TPH1: These genes code for enzymes that turn the amino acid tryptophan into serotonin – probably one of the most widely known neurotransmitters studied for its effects on depression as well as other psychological disorders.

  2. COMT: This gene is responsible for processing stress hormones called catecholamines among several other important molecules such as estrogens and drugs to treat Parkinson’s disease and Asthma. When this gene contains a number of mutations decreasing its function, the stress hormones are cleared from the body at a slower than normal rate leading to prolonged periods of anxiety and emotional discomfort.

If you are experiencing a down turn in mood, energy or both in these long winter months, perhaps a session with an ND for diet, lifestyle and even genomic assessment might be right for you!

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