Raise Your Glass to Health this Holiday Season

Well the time for spreading holiday cheer has come! To keep the holidays spirited and healthy, I thought that I would share some tips and counsel about how to indulge healthily this season (limiting the ill effects of alcohol and exploring bitters, verjus, non alcoholic mocktails). And in case you overdo it, I discuss the benefits of nux vomica herein. I began this blog post hoping to cover a number of topics (digestion tips, ways of dealing with holiday stressors, etc.), but alas, with so many holiday preparations still awaiting many I felt compelled to keep it concise! More on the other topics in the New Year…

Alcohol figures prominently into many a holiday celebration and deserves mention. Alcohol keeps the spirit and healing properties of many a medicine alive. Alcoholic beverages in turn have medicinal properties. Here in Oregon, we are fortunate to have a wealth of craft distillers, vintners and brewers who produce high quality products from regional goods. Furthermore we are home to some top cocktail bars in the nation, serving quality mixed drinks infused and/or garnished with locally grown herbs, fruits and vegetables. Looking for something festive and good for your liver, how about a beet-infused cocktail with fresh herbs? Wanting to garnish a drink with color? Opt for pomegranate seeds, additive-free preserved cherries, citrus slices/rind or a sprig of rosemary or thyme.

A discussion on drinking with health in mind would not be complete without a discussion of bitters. This has become an increasingly interesting, healthy and savory way to mix a drink. (The production of bitters is growing to encompass a budding craft industry with unique blends!) A key reason why bitters are so healthy is their effect on the liver: the bitter flavor stimulates digestion and mitigates the effects of overindulgence of food or alcohol. There are all manner of herbal bitter concoctions available using Gentian, citrus peel, Lavender, Devil’s club, Schisandra, Cinchona bark (an ingredient in tonic water), Hibiscus, Hops and a variety of other bitter and digestive herbs. These herbs figure prominently in my custom herbal formulations to help patients improve digestive and liver health. For those opting to avoid alcoholic beverages*, or for those who have indulged in a little too much holiday cheer (alcohol or food), bitters and soda make a flavorful and healthy drink! (*Note that bitters are generally made and preserved with some alcohol for those who completely avoid alcohol.)

In moderation, alcohol stimulates the appetite, relieves stress, improves the circulation of blood, may increase HDL (‘good’ cholesterol) and may decrease atherosclerosis. Now to some of the pitfalls of excess alcohol consumption: alcohol is a depressant, increases blood pressure and the risk of heart disease, is a digestive irritant ( it increases gastric acid secretion, increases gastrointestinal permeability (which can intensify one’s reaction to food sensitivities and allergens), decreases peristalsis (the muscular contractions that move waste material through your intestines) and shunts the liver’s metabolic capacity away from digesting your food in order to metabolize the alcohol). The liver is responsible for a plethora of metabolic functions from the manufacture of clotting factors, the storage of vitamins and the synthesis and degradation of cholesterol to the detoxification of dietary and environmental toxins. The liver is also a key organ in regulating hormone levels in the body.  A final caveat with alcohol consumption: check to ensure that any medication you are taking does not interact adversely with alcohol (or the herbs within alcohol). The latter will likely not be an issue for most (given the herbs used in drinks and the quantity consumed), but for some conditions and medications, it is worth checking!

Those opting to avoid or limit alcohol needn’t despair, there are many healthy options for non-alcoholic drinks: verjus** (a more palatable and sophisticated way to have some of the digestive-stimulating effects of apple cider vinegar (a naturopath’s favorite!)), virgin cocktails, bitter lemon soda, tonic water or herbal sodas (a number of brands are on the market). Served with a citrus twist, fresh fruit and/or fresh herbs, this might be just the thing to celebrate in style and health! (**Verjus is made from the grapes that would otherwise be wasted in the wine-making process. It has a tart, slightly sour flavor that benefits the digestion and pairs well with a variety of flavors.)

Lest you overdo the libations, consuming bitters, plenty of water, broths, fresh fruits and vegetables (including lots of dark, leafy vegetables), a dose of homeopathic Nux Vomica and rest should help you recover. And then it’s time to make resolutions for a healthy New Year!

I wish you all the best for a happy and healthy holiday! If you would like to be notified of future blog posts by email and would like to receive our e-newsletter, sign-up here.

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