The holidays are a crazy time. From overindulging in sweets, to stressing out over invasive questions from family, to feeling groggy because of the drastic schedule shift, there is no better time to implement supplements into your life. A nutritional supplement is a dietary aid that is intended to provide nutrients that may not otherwise be consumed sufficiently, and in this case, help with specific issues.

Taking supplements over the holiday season is a holistic approach to staying healthy, both physically and mentally, in a time of sugar and madness. They do everything from helping you gradually de-stress, to digesting those latkes and that gingerbread house, to gaining energy so you can deal with your grandparents.

I believe it is very easy for us to start feeling like sh*t when we faintly hear Mariah Carey's Christmas voice playing in CVS, as the joy of the holiday season rapidly takes over our health regimen and rituals. Motivation to drink water and eat greens fades, because all we (well, I) wanna do is lay in bed and eat sugar cookies and dream about snow. However, the key to staying alive during the holiday season is taking supplements.

While they aren't the be-all-end-all solution, they certainly help me stay on track so I can return to the New Year somewhat functional. The supplements I discuss in this article are amazing for daily life, but I find them to be especially helpful over the holidays. We deserve to feel like our best selves and treat ourselves, no matter the season.

1. Milk Thistle

Monarch on thistle photo by Sean Stratton (@seanstratton) on Unsplash

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Drinking is a huge part of people's holiday experiences. Parties, family stress, big dinners... Unfortunately, this takes a huge toll on our liver. Luckily, milk thistle (an herbal remedy native to southern Europe) is known for its liver-aiding effects. It's used to supplement everything from liver disease, to hepatitis, to diseases as serious as cancer. It works because milk thistle reduces damage caused by free radicals, which are produced when your liver metabolizes toxic substances. Milk thistle has a ton of other benefits too, such as bone protection, brain function, and reducing acne. However, it is especially beneficial for maintaining liver health during the holiday season.

2. Digestive Enzymes

We all know how big of a part food plays in December. It's the time when we indulge and enjoy, but it may not make you feel the best physically. To be able to eat those 10 sugar cookies without crashing and feeling like sh*t in the morning, I take digestive enzymes

Digestive enzymes are proteins involved in the digestion of food, and while they're found naturally in the body, they're also sold in supplement form. They help you break down fats, proteins, and carbohydrates to help your food digest more easily, as well as protect you against malabsorption. So, when treating yourself at Christmas dinner, consider taking digestive enzymes to help everything, uh... flow. 

3. Ashwagandha

My favorite adaptogen, ashwagandha has been used for over 3,000 years to combat anxiety, stress, and thyroid problems. Studies have been conducted on this root, showing that it blocked the stress pathway in the brains of rats. It did this by regulating chemical signaling in the nervous system. Another study showed that 88% of people who took ashwagandha said there was a reduction in their anxiety. Cool!

So, basically, ashwagandha is my #1 BFF for large family gatherings. In a time where anxiety can easily arise, you've got a secret weapon. 

4. B12

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B12 is the only supplement I take everyday, no exceptions. I'm vegan, and it is easy to become deficient in B12 on a vegan diet. B12 is awesome for other reasons too. It helps keep the body's nerve and blood cells healthy, improves mood, aids in vitamin absorption from food, prevents anemia, and may support bone health.

It's most important benefit for the holidays is that it provides energy. While spending time with family and having a vastly different sleep schedule, fatigue may set in and set you off track for the New Year when things get busier. B12 helps boost your energy naturally, through an essential vitamin, that can keep you and your sleep schedule regulated.

5. Valerian Root

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Speaking of sleep, our schedules can get totally messed up around New Years and the holiday season. Late nights at parties, early mornings for Christmas (hey, Santa!), and stress can cause us to sleep less than usual, which is detrimental for our overall health. There is a solution to this problem, and it's valerian root. It has been shown to increase GABA levels in the brain. Gamma-aminobutyric acid (aka GABA) is a neurotransmitter that sends chemical messages throughout the brain and nervous system, and, in large enough quantities, has a sedative effect. This means it improves sleep quality. Yay for only 3 cups of coffee in the AM!

Valerian root also calms anxiety by stabilizing the nervous system (again, GABA ftw). If you want to fall asleep easily even though you can hear your drunk uncle yelling from the living room, valerian root is for you. 

6. Maca

One of my personal favorites, maca is an adaptogen with an earthy, caramel flavor that helps primarily with unbalanced hormones, chronic fatigue, and stamina. Personally, the holidays are a time where my hormones decide to go crazy due to the sugar and processed foods that my body is not accustomed to. This leads to skin, period, and energy problems. Luckily, we have maca to help us balance our hormones.

If your hormones are out of whack (especially during midlife when most hormone production is taken over by the adrenal glands), stress takes control and cortisol floods the system. Thus, the body takes from its own supply of progesterone and depletes a key balancing hormone, which causes estrogen dominance. Simply put, unbalanced hormones will lead to crazy stress, lowered energy, and may put you at serious risk for a chronic illness due to the overwhelming of your immunities.

Soooo, maca is a key player. I can feel comfortable having a different diet and exercise regimen during those 2-3 weeks because I know I'm staying balanced. Maca comes in a powder and pill form, so it's super easy to consume. Plus, while my hormones are being balanced, my mood is being improved, my blood pressure reduced, my free radicals are being fought, and my memory being improved.

7. Echinacea

It is unrealistic to think we are always going to drink 8 cups of water, eat our veggies, and get enough sleep during the cold season, so herbaceous flowering plants such as echinacea are my best friends during the winter. This immunity supplement saves me from getting sick every winter, as it has antimicrobial active substances which have a positive effect on the human immune system. It also contains compounds called phenols, which control the activity of certain enzymes and cell receptors, and have antioxidant properties. Whenever I feel a cold coming on, I up my dosage of echinacea and get better rapidly. It is so easy to take in a tincture too, and definitely worth it. Because, really, who wants to be sick over the holidays?

8. Lion's Mane

Ah, shrooms. No, not those shrooms, adaptogenic mushrooms! AKA one of the trendiest health crazes of 2018. However, it's one of the few health crazes that is worth the hype. Lion's mane mushroom (which comes in a powder or pill form) contains bioactive substances which have a positive effect on the brain, heart, and gut. Personally, I feel its brain benefits the most, so I love to consume Lion's Mane during the holidays when my mind is more vacant, as I want to remember everything I learned when I return to school. In one study, Lion's Mane mushroom gave mice better object recognition and recognition memory. That's definitely necessary for me, as the chemistry I've learned simply exits my brain if I stop studying for more than a week.

It's Not That Hard!

Though taking supplements regularly during the holidays may seem like a nuisance, it will be a huge benefit to you in the long run, and help you start 2019 on the right foot. These supplements can also be a bit pricey, so remember that any supplement is better than none. They all benefit you in different ways, so hone in on what your body needs—you don't need to go crazy and buy all of these at once! Just relax, enjoy your holiday season, and treat yourself (high quality sugar cookies are only here so often)...