The most wonderful time of the year often doesn’t feel the most wonderful to our bodies. As the days get shorter and holiday treats, feasts, and spirits kick into high gear, most of us quickly go from “‘tis the season to be jolly”, to fighting an uphill battle against holiday fatigue.
According to Statista, the top two most common New Year’s Resolutions in 2021 for Americans were to exercise more and to eat healthier, and it’s no wonder why: the holidays are a prime time for sweets, comfort food, and indulgence, leaving us feeling bleh by the time the ball drops.
That isn’t to say you shouldn’t embrace the holiday spirit! There are many ways to indulge with friends and family over the holidays and still feel on top of your overall health, and we are here to help provide you with time-tested tips and tools to keep your mind and body in balance even after a week straight of Thanksgiving leftovers. Our biggest advice? Go with your gut!
… Your gut health, that is.
Why Gut Health is So Important
The human gut plays a critical role in our overall health, and is made up of what is called the gut microbiome. Our microbiome is made up of bacterias, fungi, and other living microbes.
This may sound alarming, but when our gut microbiome is in good shape these diverse flora are extremely beneficial in keeping us healthy. However, our guts can also become overrun with potentially harmful bacteria and microbes, which often is due to poor diet and lifestyle choices.
In fact, research has shown that when our intestinal flora is off-balance or lacking in diversity, it can contribute to the onset of chronic diseases like inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, type 2 diabetes, and others. This can also lead to shorter-term discomforts like diarrhea, irregular bowel movements, constipation, or abdominal pain.
Our gut health goes beyond our bowel movements: there is a direct link between the health of our microbiome and our immune health, our hormonal balance, and even our emotional well-being (the gut produces over 90% of the serotonin, the happy hormone, in the body).
Gut Health in Traditional Chinese Medicine
Gut health is at the center of many principles in Traditional Chinese Medicine. In TCM, the foods we eat are broken down and separated into useful components and waste components. When in balance, the useful components of the foods we eat are processed in the spleen, where they become the nutrients, fluids, and energy (Qi) that our body needs to thrive. The wasteful components are digested further and eventually excreted from the body.
The flow of Qi energy in our spleen and stomach is interlinked with our mood. Unbalanced Qi can cause worry and anxiety, and is associated with chronic disease and skin troubles.
Poor gut health can also lead to trouble sleeping, memory issues, chronic pain, fatigue, and more. While the side-effects of an imbalanced gut sound like the stuff of spooky season, they are unfortunately a very real problem during the holidays, too.
How the Holidays Impact Your Gut and Digestive Health
“I’m so full!” may as well be the official slogan of the festive season. It’s extremely common to feel bloated, irregular, and simply uncomfortable throughout the holidays, and there are many reasons why. The most common disruptors to our gut and digestive health during the holidays include:
Lack of routine
Think travel, disrupted sleep schedules, and less time to exercise. Our bodies (and our digestive system) thrive on routine: a regular bed-time, fixed meals, steady nutrients, and normal activity levels.
We’ve all experienced how one bad night of sleep or an unhealthy meal can make us demotivated in other areas of our lives: we then miss a workout, or find ourselves unable to focus at work. Before we know it, we feel like we’ve fallen off of the wellness wagon.
Routines are important, and traveling across the country to see relatives, attending holiday events, or eating at uncommon meal times (since when is dinner at 2:00 in the afternoon?) can disrupt our normal rhythms.
Many holiday foods lack essential fibers that help feed the good bacteria in our guts. Alternatively, sugar and alcohol tend to feed the bad bacteria in our gut microbiome, throwing our digestive health out of whack. Foods with high concentrations of fat are also difficult for our bodies to digest and break down, which can cause gastrointestinal issues.
Beyond digestive discomfort, poor diet through the holidays can lead to concentration problems and disrupted sleep patterns. This, in turn, can lead to a harsh cycle of reaching for sugar and caffeine for an energy fix when we feel overtired and unmotivated.
Chronic stress affects far more than just our minds; being under stress from family dynamics, holiday finances, crazy work schedules, or anything can impact our gut health. Stress impacts levels of cortisol in the body, which in turn can cause issues like cramping, gas, and constipation.
At this point you may be thinking, “what a bunch of scrooges!”. Well, we are happy to report that the bad news is over, and even happier to tell you that we know of several science-backed solutions to holiday digestion woes. To help keep your holidays jolly, here are our gut health hacks to keep your digestive system balanced this year.
How to Hack Your Gut Health With Traditional Chinese Medicine
To get the most of your holidays, try these ancient practices to improve gut health:
Explore Acupuncture for Your Gut Health
While our bread and butter (so to speak) is herbal remedies that are grounded in Traditional Chinese Medicine, acupuncture is another important facet in TCM. Acupuncture is an integrative medicine that utilizes small needle pricks to help treat both physical and mental conditions, including ailments impacting our digestive health.
In TCM, acupuncture is believed to help improve energy flow throughout the body. In Eastern medicines, it is more commonly believed to help stimulate nerves and connective tissues throughout the body to help us heal.
Acupuncture may be effective in helping to alleviate some of the common holiday discomforts we tend to feel: gas, bloating, diarrhea, nausea, etc. are all symptoms that can potentially be helped using acupuncture.
Another holiday hack? Gift cards to see a licensed acupuncturist make an excellent holiday gift that acts as both an experience and a health boost (one for you, one for them!). They’ll thank you later.
Move Your Body
You may be surprised to learn that T’ai Chi is another facet of Traditional Chinese Medicine. An Ancient practice used for thousands of years, T’ai Chi consists of slow, intentional body movements that are designed to balance and stimulate qi energy, enhance mindfulness, and minimize stress.
Studies have found that T’ai Chi can help to improve immune function and reduce inflammation of the gut. It may even positively affect the gut microbiome by mediating the HPA axis (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis).
You don’t have to be a T’ai Chi expert (or practice T’ai Chi at all) to put this wisdom into practice: exercise in general has been shown to help improve the gut microbiome. Clinical research suggests that exercise can help increase gut microbes that produce short-chain fatty acids, which help to reduce overall inflammation in the body. Other studies have shown that exercise can additionally help to promote higher levels of “good” bacteria in the gut.
The holidays may be busy, but finding a fun way to work in exercise this holiday season could be just the hack you need to improve your gut health. Make it interesting by going snowshoeing with the family, braving a turkey trot with the in-laws, or challenging your friends to a daily steps competition.
Consume These Chinese Herbs for Digestive Health
Incorporating medicinal herbs into your diet is a great, low-effort way to hack your digestive system this holiday season.
Plants rich in antioxidants, polysaccharides, and active compounds are the perfect way to support your gut and immune systems through the holidays, and here’s why: the right plant superfoods give your body the nutrition it needs to operate at its best.
Our Gut Feelings herbal superblend comes in the form of easy-to-take capsules that are filled with powerful medicinal plants like ginger root, hawthorn berry, licorice root, chinese dates, and radish seeds.
As a result of combining these powerful herbs, you can expect reduced bloating, improved digestion, more energy, balanced emotions, and stronger immunity, to name just a few benefits.
Here are a few examples of how these natural herbs work to balance your gut health:
- Ginger root is a well-known stomach aid that has high concentrations of gingerol, a phytochemical that helps to reduce indigestion, improve nausea, and aid in the breakdown of food.
- Chinese Hawthorn Berry helps regulate cholesterol and blood pressure, and is rich in prebiotic enzymes that are great for our microbiome. Chinese Hawthorn Berry can help reduce symptoms like bloating after a big meal, making that second serving of stuffing a bit easier to manage.
- Chinese Licorice Root is rich in glycyrrhizin, an active compound that has been shown to relieve indigestion, heartburn, and upset stomach. Move over, pepto bismol.
- Ginseng has excellent antioxidant properties that boost our immunity and combat fatigue. Ginseng is an adaptogenic herb, meaning it can also help curb the effects of holiday stress that can cause stomach upset. By keeping us calm and energized, we’ll feel more at ease as we ring in the New Year.
The idea of sourcing and preparing these ingredients regularly is daunting, so investing in an all-in-one superblend is perhaps the greatest nutritional hack for you (and your loved ones) this holiday season.
Keep Your Gut Healthy For The Holidays
We have to wonder: if the Grinch had known these tips, would he have even stolen Christmas in the first place? Perhaps he was just upset because his gut microbiome was out of balance.
While that is up for speculation, we know these gut health hacks will help keep you feeling healthy and well this holiday season. This year, go with your gut and give your microbiome the gift that keeps on giving: balance. Just remember, sleep, nutrition, and movement will go a long way in helping you to feel your best.
No matter how you choose to celebrate, we at The Hao Life want to wish you healthy festivities ahead. Happy holidays!