Get a Head Start on Managing Holiday Stress

By David Blyweiss, M.D., Advanced Natural Wellness

November 21, 2012

  • A secret weapon to combat the stressful holiday season
  • Why you should reconsider taking the good herb that got bad press
  • How to relax before you go out rather than wait until after you get home

Whoever made sure that our national elections were over by the time we hit Thanksgiving and Christmas was a genius. Can you imagine, adding in divisive political arguments to the already-stressful holiday dinner table?

The odds of making it intact to greet the New Year would be a bookie’s dream.

Seriously, while the holidays are often portrayed as a Rockwell painting, many people find it to be an extremely stressful time. The season inspires over-eating, minimal sleeping, and sometimes, a little more quality time with friends and family than our nerves can take.

Since Thanksgiving’s tomorrow, I want to encourage you to craft a plan now for limiting the amount of stress you take on during the remaining 6 weeks of the year.

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Of course, there are some simple commonsense approaches – such as watching what you eat and continuing with your exercise routine no matter what. And getting enough sleep, even during the holiday party season.

But it might also make sense to get a little herbal assistance…

No, I don’t mean of the illegal variety!

But there are plenty of natural herbs that alleviate stress, and are a good idea to try – particularly around stressful times like the holidays.

The top herb on my recommended list is kava. Used by Pacific Islanders for generations – for both medicinal and spiritual purposes – this herb has been shown in numerous studies to be effective against anxiety.

The active ingredient in kava is called kavalactones. Look for a product containing 60-70 mg of kavalactones per serving. If you have never taken kava before, try 460 to 920 mg. about 30-60 minutes before bed. See if it makes you drowsy or just relaxed. Once you know how your body responds, you can try a few small doses of 120-140mg throughout the day.

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Now, you might remember that there was a lot of controversy about the safety of kava a few years ago, and perhaps you crossed it off your list back then. Here are a few reasons I think you should re-consider.

First, there has been quite a bit of research performed on kava, and no overwhelming proof of its toxicity has ever been shown. And when used for generations as traditional medicine in Polynesia, it has always been considered safe.

So, why did some people develop liver problems? And do you need to be worried?

There are some differences between the commercial and the traditional preparation that may partially explain the problem. Traditionally, kava root was ground and mixed with water and it was consumed as a beverage – much as you might drink tea. But commercial preparations sometime use the leaves and stems as well, which may change the strength of the active ingredient. Also, it is often mixed with alcohol as a preservative, instead of the water used in the traditional preparation.

Perhaps the key difference, however, is that the traditional water extract contains glutathione, a powerful antioxidant that protects against liver damage. The commercial preparation does not.

And here’s the kicker…

While the body produces glutathione, stress depletes it! So, if you are already stressed, you may already be low. In which case, taking kava in high doses, maybe in combination with other liver-taxing substances such as alcohol or Tylenol, could put you at risk for trouble.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take kava. But it does mean you should be smart about it. Here’s what I recommend:

  1. Eat plenty of garlic, onions and cruciferous vegetables throughout the holiday season (that shouldn’t be too hard) as they stimulate glutathione production.
  2. Take either N-acetyl-cysteine or Alpha-lipoic acid, or both. I recommend 600 mgm of N-acetyl-cysteine twice a day, or 300 mgm Alpha-lipoic acid twice a day. These will boost your glutathione production, plus protect your liver. Also, be mindful of your antioxidant levels in general and boost them. This is one of the best ways to support your body – during the holidays or any time of year.
  3. Avoid alcohol and Tylenol while taking kava. Your liver can handle a little stress – but not an overload. So, choose what you consume wisely. If you decide to have a few drinks, don’t take kava that day or the day after. And in general, avoid Tylenol any time you are taking any other supplement that gives your liver a workout.
  4. Be sure to get physical exercise. Even if you don’t take kava through the holidays, this will help eliminate stress and improve your mood. Plus, it boosts your production of glutathione, so it is a good complement to taking kava, as well.

The truth is if we weren’t going to take anything that might damage or compromise our health and that had zero side effects, well, the entire pharmaceutical industry would be out of business. Alcohol would be illegal. And most over-the-counter drugs would be cleared from the shelves.

All drugs and supplements need to be taken with care.

You should know the right dose and not guess. You should understand what the possible side effects might be and watch for them. And you should locate a practitioner or expert in your area you can call when you have questions and concerns.

But what you don’t need to do is avoid perfectly good herbs and supplements – like kava – just because of a few well-publicized cases of complications. Instead, take them wisely, support your body accordingly, and you can get all the benefits of these natural solutions to common problems when you need them most.

And a few more herbal suggestions…

Don’t wait until you’re sick to sip tea and honey. This is an excellent holiday pastime, depending on which herbs you’re using. Valerian is one of the best for stress reduction. Also, lemon balm and chamomile are excellent for a relaxing tea concoction. You might even want to get a holiday blend of these to serve at the end of a family meal – and help the whole crew relax a little!

I also recommend adding lavender to a bath – with a little epsom salt mixed in. This works on both your muscles and your mind. And while most people take a bath like this at the end of the night, before bed, you might consider taking one before you go out instead.

During high-stress times, like the holidays, you might as well start out relaxed, rather than have to de-stress when it’s already too late.

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