Since Christmas is here I’d like to start by wishing you and yours a safe and joyous holiday. I also encourage you to take a moment to reflect on your blessings—we all have many more than we often acknowledge. And as you find yourself surrounded by traditional holiday favorites, here are some interesting tidbits to keep in mind.
- Candy canes may only surface around the holidays, but peppermint is something you should keep in your medicine cabinet year round—especially if you suffer with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Peppermint oil is a proven remedy for relieving pain, gas and bloating, diarrhea, constipation, and other symptoms of this common condition.
In one study, Italian researchers gave patients with IBS either peppermint oil or placebo capsules twice a day. After four weeks, three-quarters of the patients taking peppermint reported a greater than 50 percent improvement in symptoms, compared to just 38 percent of those in the placebo group.
Peppermint oil can cause heartburn in some people, so I suggest taking only enteric-coated capsules, which don’t break down until they’ve passed through the stomach. The dose used in most studies is one to two capsules containing 0.2 mL of oil twice a day. I also recommend a cup of fragrant peppermint tea after meals to aid digestion. Look for peppermint oil capsules and tea in your health food store.
In addition to these digestive benefits, the aroma of peppermint has been shown to boost memory, focus, and concentration.
- Gingerbread cookies clearly aren’t a health food, but the benefits of ginger cannot be denied. Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is best known for its ability to quell nausea, but it has been used in traditional medicine to cure a variety of ailments ranging from colds and flu to motion sickness and digestive woes.
Ginger improves cold and flu symptoms by stimulating perspiration and warming the body from the inside. It also helps keep the respiratory tract moist and relieves nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
One of the easiest ways to reap these benefits is to drink ginger tea. Look for it in your health food or grocery store or brew your own: simply slice a two-inch piece of fresh ginger, add to four cups of water, bring to a boil, and simmer for 15–20 minutes. To avoid motion sickness, try eating a 1/4 inch slice of ginger, or take 1,000 mg of standardized ginger extract three or four hours before travel.
Ginger extract has also been shown to reduce exercise-related muscle pain and to be as effective as conventional analgesics in relieving arthritis pain.
- Chestnuts roasting on an open fire are a seasonal tradition—and a heart-healthy one at that. Though holiday treats like eggnog and cookies are loaded with saturated fat, chestnuts and most other nuts contain primarily healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats, which help reduce cholesterol levels.
Nuts are also an excellent source of vitamin E, which prevents LDL cholesterol from being converted to its oxidized, artery-damaging form. Finally, nuts contain arginine, an amino acid that the body converts into nitric oxide. Nitric oxide protects against the adherence of plaque, prevents blood platelets from sticking together, and relaxes the arteries, helping to control blood pressure.
For a healthy holiday snack, grab a handful of raw walnuts, almonds, or roasted chestnuts. But don’t go overboard—nuts are very fat- and calorie-dense.
- In biblical times, frankincense was as valued as gold. This fragrant resin has also been treasured for its many medicinal uses, and it remains a staple in Ayurvedic medicine. The bulk of modern-day research focuses on an extract from the Indian frankincense tree, Boswellia serrata.
Scientists have discovered that this extract mimics the anti-inflammatory effects of NSAIDs and helps relieve arthritis pain—without any negative side effects.
A double-blind, placebo-controlled study examined the effects of Boswellia serrata on patients with osteoarthritis of the knee. Those who received the supplement daily for three months reported significant pain relief, some in as little as one week. They also experienced improvements in function and stiffness and had markedly lower levels of an enzyme that breaks down cartilage.
Boswellia extracts are safe and well tolerated. To ensure potency, go with a supplement standardized for 65 percent boswellic acids and use as directed.
Now it’s your turn: What are your traditional holiday favorites?