By Dr Zoltan P. Rona, MD, MSc
Every year around the holidays, your social calendar fills up and you’re tempted to eat and drink indiscriminately away from home. Office parties and family get togethers make for the majority of excuses to overeat and drink excessive amounts of alcohol and sugary beverages. Add to this the genetically modified popcorn, nachos, pizza, and soft drinks consumed at the movies and you are almost guaranteed to become physically stressed out. This in turn can lead to lead to weight gain and numerous symptoms that include fatigue, depression, and body aches and pains.
How can you make healthier choices this season? Are there supplements that can help to prevent problems caused by too much feasting and revelry?
It should not be surprising that a 2000 study reported in New England Journal of Medicine found that the average person gains about one pound of weight during the holidays, weight that they don’t take off any time in the future. Each year, a pound is gained during the holidays that never seems to disappear (thus the saying: “Sweet on the lips, forever on the hips”).
Effects of Serotonin and Cortisol on Weight Gain
Low brain levels of the hormone serotonin are partially to blame for over-eating – especially bingeing on grains and simple carbohydrates. Serotonin levels drop with increased stress, lack of sleep, inadequate protein intake, and low exposure to sunlight. Serotonin tends to be lowest during the fall and winter months, causing the body’s stress hormone (cortisol) to rise. Higher levels of cortisol cause blood sugar levels to rise then fall, leading to more eating and weight gain, especially in and around the belly.
So, basically we need to optimize both serotonin and cortisol levels. Aside from vigorous, exercise, serotonin can be boosted by:
1) 5-htp (5-hydroxy-tryptophan) – 100 to 300 mg daily boosts serotonin levels and is most often used by people to reduce anxiety, depression, and sleeplessness. Some people will get the benefit of curbing their appetites by taking much higher doses up to 600 mg daily. The one side effect you may notice with too much 5-htp is nausea, and this is a sign that you should cut back the dose to better tolerated levels. High doses of 5-htp can also augment the side effects of a group of prescription anti-depressants known as the SSRIs (selective serotonin uptake inhibitors) such as Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, Celexa, Cipralex, Cymbalta, Well-butrin, Effexor, etc.) Make sure you consult a health care practitioner to get advice on dosing conflicts of 5-htp with this class of drugs. If 5-htp is poorly tolerated or ineffective, one can try the amino acid supplement L-glutamine.
2) L-glutamine – 5000 mg or more twice daily. Aside from curbing appetite, L-glutamine is the main source of nourishment for the gastrointestinal tract. It works to repair leaky gut syndrome together with probiotics, enzymes, and vitamin D; it also improves brain function and helps enhance muscle strength and definition. L-glutamine is used with a high degree of success by body builders and is usually very well tolerated. A high glutamine content whey protein extract is another effective supplement that can deliver more of this amino acid into the body (if one is not allergic to dairy).
3) Rhodiola – 500 to 1000 mg daily is an adrenal gland adaptogen. If cortisol levels are too high, rhodiola helps lower them. If they are too low, rhodiola helps do the opposite. Many can benefit from rhodiola for higher energy and athletic performance. Some reports suggest that it might make bipolar disorder worse by inducing a manic state, so check with your health care practitioner if you have been labeled with this diagnosis. Like 5-htp, rhodiola is an excellent stress and fighter.
Hangover Prevention and Cure
Want to avoid a hangover? If you drink alcohol, there are several supplements you can take in fairly high doses to protect your liver, brain, and other organs from damage.
4) Vitamin B complex (100 mg daily). B complex vitamins not only protect the liver but relieve stress when taken in high doses. A few years ago, I published an article in Vitality on all their benefits.
Niacin (vitamin B3) in very high doses can irritate the liver, but when flanked by the other B vitamins in a B complex capsule, irritation is a very rare occurrence. Avoid B3 in high doses on its own, or consult a health care practitioner if these are concerns.
5) N-A-C (N-acetyl-cysteine) – 2000 mg daily. This is a novel amino acid that has been used intravenously in emergency rooms by conventional doctors to treat acetaminophen (Tylenol) overdose. As such it can prevent liver failure. This is good to know if you overdo Tylenol and numerous other drugs. N-A-C boosts the body’s major antioxidant known as glutathione. I have also written articles previously in Vitality on both of these critical nutrients. 
6) Curcumin – This is a powerful anti-inflammatory extract of the spice turmeric. A dosage of 1000 mg daily can be used as a remedy for most liver conditions, as an anti-cancer agent, as a memory enhancer, antifungal, weight loss supplement, antidepressant, as a cholesterol-lowering supplement and for treating most types of arthritis, bursitis, and tendonitis. The three types of curcumin that I recommend are BCM-95, Meriva, and Longvida. All have high absorption rates, and come from turmeric with or without added pepper and other extracts. Side effects of stomach heartburn can be avoided when this supplement is taken with food. Beware of synthetic curcumin derived from petrochemicals. Look for BCM-95, Meriva, or Longvida on the label to make sure you are getting a natural form.
7) Milk Thistle (1000 mg daily) is a very well known plant-derived liver protective agent. This herb has primarily been recommended as a liver detox agent but can and should be used liberally as a hangover preventive before parties, and a hangover cure after parties. It comes in a liquid tincture or extract form, which can be added to smoothies.
Fat Loss for the Festive Season
Rather than dieting for successful weight control during the holidays, make healthier food choices a regular habit by choosing mostly fresh, organic foods with an emphasis on vegetables, fruits, seeds and nuts. Organic foods are much more easily available these days from health food stores and supermarkets.
To speed up weight loss if you cannot be totally in control of your food intake, focus on optimizing the levels of the hormone insulin (that controls fat) and the hormone leptin (that controls appetite). To accomplish this, eliminate foods high in sugar and grains, especially those that contain gluten (read Wheat Belly by Dr. William Davis). Foods that are low on the glycemic index scale are optimal (ie. paleo type) diet.
For better appetite control, drink spring water instead of fruit juices, “diet” pop, and alcohol. Regular fitness programs, stress reduction, and adequate sleep are also important for weight loss. As well, few people are aware of the importance of vitamin D as a weight and metabolism controller.
8) Vitamin D – 5000 to 10,000 IU daily for adults is a must all winter long. Vitamin D deficiency causes weight gain and makes one more prone to cancer, autoimmune disease, recurrent infections, and many different types of inflammation.
World experts on vitamin D will see it as the most important supplement to take in high amounts during the holidays so maybe this supplement should be higher on the list, but the reason I rated it so low was because the results seen with D take longer to realize. It really should be taken in high doses starting after October 1st when sunshine exposure in the Ontario area is inadequate for D to be produced by the skin.
Get your blood levels of vitamin D checked because a deficiency increases fat storage (read my book Vitamin D, The Sunshine Vitamin). Consume more omega-3 fatty acids because this boosts the benefits of vitamin D. Best results are seen when all these measures are implemented simultaneously.
9) Vitamin C – 1000 mg or more daily, is well worth taking as an added nutrient that prevents infections. Vitamin C is antiviral and has numerous other benefits that encourage longevity. See my article archived on Vitality’s website on supernutrients for longevity. 
10) Magnesium – L-Threonate is the one form of magnesium that will cross the blood brain barrier. As such it will improve memory, alleviate headaches, help improve sleep, anxiety, and irritability, all without causing loose bowel movements or diarrhea in high dosages. No doubt, many can make use of this supplement during the holidays. Recommended dosage: 1000 mg daily.
Recommended for Holiday Travel
For people travelling to sunny or exotic climes that feature parasites and other bugs, they should add two very important supplements. Vitamin D may not be needed if you get lots of sun exposure in Mexico or the Caribbean, but you might need pancreatic enzymes (pancreatin). Pancreatin will digest not only your food but also the bacteria and parasites that often come with it.
The other supplement to take while in the third or fourth world is a good probiotic that does not require refrigeration. Taken together, these supplements can help improve your digestion and assist in preventing the most common gut infections away from home.
Well, there you have it. Stock up on these nutrients if you want to survive the onslaught of rich, sugary, and genetically modified foods and beverages that come with the holiday season, as well as the stressful times spent with relatives in December and January. Happy and healthy holidays and a big thank you to all my readers!
References Boost Your Brain and Body with B Vitamins. http://tinyurl.com/hj78w44 The Amazing Benefits of N-A-C: http://tinyurl.com/gs6a7s4
 Reversing Glutathione Deficiency: http://tinyurl.com/jvy3d9f
 Supernutrients for Longevity: http://tinyurl.com/lekwmkl
 A Prospective Study of Holiday Weight Gain. http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM200003233421206
 Rhodiola for High Cortisol: http://tinyurl.com/hb2eezf
 And: http://tinyurl.com/hcpj8dt On 5-HTP. http://tinyurl.com/qg75rwh
 On N-acetyl Cysteine as reported by Life Extension Magazine http://tinyurl.com/29kqlo2
Dr. Zoltan P. Rona practises Complementary Medicine in Toronto and is the medical editor of The Encyclopedia of Natural Healing. He has also published several Canadian best-selling books, including Vitamin D, The Sunshine Vitamin. Visit his website at: http://www.highlevelwellness.ca
For appointments, call (905) 764-8700; Office: 390 Steeles Ave. W. Unit 19, Thornhill, ON
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