Stop with the New Year’s resolutions already!
As January 1st approaches and we start to have ideas on how to make the next year “different”, to turn over a new leaf, to eat better and exercise more and to resolve ourselves to these (usually) short-lived changes, there may be something we can do to stick with these ideas of self-renewal.
First, don’t just make a New Year’s Resolution (that will fizzle out in a couple weeks to months). Make a plan with specific goals. Write it down somewhere you can see it every day. You may have already heard of S.M.A.R.T. goals but let me refresh your memory.
S - Specific ~ make sure your goals are well-defined and clear
M - Measurable ~ use a method of measurement to clearly see your progress
A - Attainable ~ make sure your goal is not out of reach. Your goal should stretch you, but not be impossible
R - Relevant ~ choose a goal that is relevant to what you want to accomplish, your values, and long-term objectives
T - Time-based ~ set a realistic end-date to motivate you to success
Many New Year’s resolutions revolve around losing weight or reducing stress, which can be related.
We all know that stress can affect us all differently, but there are some common threads with how we humans deal with the stress in our lives.
As the stress hormone, cortisol, increases, we sometimes try to comfort ourselves with food. Sweet foods, salty foods, soft foods, crunchy foods, creamy, fatty foods…all to give us a temporary release of dopamine in our brain to tell us it will be ok.
The cortisol signals our body to store more fat around our mid-sections. The increased amount of sugar that usually accompanies these comfort foods also raises insulin levels in our body, which also tells the body to store the excess sugar as fat. Stress-eating and emotional-eating can lead to large weight gains.
I’m excited to tell you about a group of plant-based compounds that can help you cope with stress-based eating and may help with your New Year’s S.M.A.R.T. goals!
Adaptogens are compounds found in certain plants that can help the body cope with different stressors we come in contact with on a daily basis. Adaptogens help the body maintain homeostasis (keeping the body at its normal baseline) if certain biomarkers get either too high or too low.
Many adaptogens are thought to reduce cortisol release, protect against bacterial infections, and reduce adverse effects from biological toxins. Many adaptogens can help us cope with stress, promote cellular repair, and increase resilience to environmental factors.
There is one in particular I would like to focus on: Ashwagandha. (Gesundheit!)
Ashwagandha is a small evergreen shrub that hails from India, the Middle East and parts of Africa. This arid-loving plant contains many active compounds in the roots and berries that have been shown to improve sleep and reduce stress. There are also studies that show a reduction in stress-related weight gain.
Ashwagandha contains compounds called withanolides, withaferins, sitoindosides, somniferine, and flavonoids. Ashwagandha also contains some iron (3.3 mg of elemental iron in 100 mg of ashwagandha root).
The initial studies are showing the immense potential of these compounds. Some clinical trials have identified compound in the ashwagandha root that have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anticancer, antidepressant/anti-anxiety, cardio-protective, antibacterial/antifungal, thyroid-modulating, and immune-modulating properties. The clinical trials for ashwagandha (and other natural products) are limited (small sample size and few trials conducted) and not well funded, so more research is needed.
Ashwagandha can have some GI side effects like diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting, but these effects usually do not occur at standard doses (up to 1000 mg per day). Always consult with your healthcare provider before starting this or any supplement. Just because this is plant-derived or “natural” does not necessarily make it “safe”.
Just like any other medications or supplements, there can be some potential interactions with other medications you may be taking or other health conditions that you have. Ashwagandha is likely unsafe to use during pregnancy and since there is not enough reliable information, it is recommended to avoid use if you are breastfeeding.
If you suffer from anxiety, stress-eating, or insomnia, ashwagandha may be the adaptogen you have been looking for. Again, consult with your own healthcare provider or functional medicine practitioner before starting this or any supplement to make sure it is right for you.
Good luck with your S.M.A.R.T. goals and incorporating adaptogens into your daily routine. Happy New Year!
Are you ready to PIVOT to functional health and wellness?
Image of ashwagandha plant courtesy of: Korallenkirsche – Erste Hilfe für Kinder bei Vergiftungen (kigorosa.de)