It is that time again, to start the ride for another crazy year of endless exams, papers, and sleepless nights so who can keep up with their health?! Isn't only natural to get sick after each midterm and final as you attempt to nature yourself back to health when it is all over...only to have less than desirable results. Not to mention, getting the flu that is going around the dorm and/or your roommates? Well, this does,t have to be so. Studying for that test in advance (and retaining the information) versus cramming during an all-nighter, only to realize the information quickly leaves your memory as quickly as it went in for the exam...reminds you that the strategy to tackle the exam is pretty important. The same can be said about your health, that is preventing a disaster from occurring that would stop you dead in your tracks. No one likes to fail a test and certainly no one like falling sick, especially after finals. Here are some tips that can get you started on having a healthy school year ahead.
1. Eat Balanced healthy meals & snacks - keeping portions in mind and variety too. It is so tempting to reach for convenience foods that are highly processed but they contain everything your body doesn't need during times of high stress (emotional, physical, and mental ups and downs are pretty common during college). Brain power takes a lot of nutrition to allow you to think clearly too so eating that pack of powdered donuts is not the best of ideas. Having your blood sugar keep stable also allows to you not get hungry ten minutes (or so it seems) after your meal. In order to do this I suggest to my patients to eat a combination of: protein + fat + carbohydrate. So an example of this would be eating a snack that consists of an apple with nut butter. This will avoid sudden rises and drops in your blood sugars and satiety will also follow. If you live in a dorm and have a cafeteria plan, choose wisely what is on your plate. The majority of your plate should be vegetables with a fist-sized amount of protein along with a small portion of complex carbohydrates too. Your plate should be colorful too. If your plate has only the color white and brown in it, with no other color, that is a problem. See the rainbow in your plate...but don't let it be Skittles! Speaking of Skittles, also keep in mind that refined sugar SUPPRESSES your immune system. More of a reason to keep away from the Oreo cookies as you study the evening away! And if you happen to fall sick, stay away from it as it only keeps you sicker longer. Eating the same thing over and over can be problematic as well as you will not get a variety of various vitamins and minerals and can even create a resistance to that food too with a food allergy. There is a reason why nature provided us with four seasons in which different foods grow at different seasons, to give us a variety and naturally rotates our foods.
Some great snacks to keep in mind that are back-pack friendly are:
-protein shakes (some even have your daily multivitamin in them so you kill the birds with one stone!)
-nuts & seeds (pumpkin seeds are high in zinc so a great choice for students as it supports your immune system)
-chia seeds in water (high in omega 3s)
-jerky (make sure it is not too full of sodium)
**-if you need a stimulant like coffee or an energy drink, choose green tea or yerba mate instead; they both have lots of antioxidants!
2. Stay Hydrated. That is right, drink WATER! Believe me, your kidneys will thank you!!! Remember, we are composed majority out of water. Drinking multiple cups of coffee and/or energy drinks will DEHYDRATE you even further. The body is made of water and NEEDS water to run a large amount of biochemical processes in our bodies too!! You need to stay alert and you need the energy to get through this year so make water your friend instead of coffee or soda!! If possible, get a filter for your drinking water or if not purchase filtered water. However, if you buy filtered water, please make sure you add back trace minerals that were lost in the process of removing all the bad stuff. One inexpensive way of doing just that is adding a sprinkle of Himalayan salt to your water as you fill your drinking bottle. Here are some reasons to stay hydrated:
3. Exercise Regularly & Get Sunshine! This is most underutilized stress reducer. Getting hammered on the weekend to reduce stress is not gonna help much, in the long run that is. If anything, it will certainly leave you dehydrated (please see #2 above) and impair brain function. Exercise will not only help you manage your stress but it will also help improve your immune system and overall body constitution. See what the Anxiety & Depression Association of America had to say:
Don't have much time for exercise you say? Well, you are in luck. Try a 4-minute High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) routine. If that is not your style you can try a slow workout as described and recommended in the Body by Science Workout by Dr. Doug McGuff ( http://www.marksdailyapple.com/setting-yourself-up-to-win-a-body-by-science-approach/#axzz4HMVk5TLy ). Oh, and let's not forget that sitting is the new "smoking". So with that being said, after every hour of sitting down, get up and stretch your legs as it can hider your health!
Sunshine is beyond important as it allows your body to make Vitamin D, which is a hormone in our body that is necessary for cognitive health, immune health and cardiovascular health. All pretty important so don't underestimate the need of the sun. After all, it is not just for plants but us too!
4. Receive Sufficient Sleep. Staying up regularly and not having a regular sleep routine can be detrimental for your health. As a student, your ability to retain more information decreases and insulin resistance begins to take a toll on the system. Since you are in school trying to earn your degree then impairing your cognitive function should be a concern to you...as it can make you twice as hard and who has time for that?!
5. Vitamins & Minerals to Supplement. This does not mean that you can have a poor diet, dehydrated, little to no exercise and be sleep deprived and expect popping a pill or two will solve your problem. I am here to let you know that it is not going to happen!! When we live in a day and age when instant gratification, it is a hard pill to swallow when the true answer is that one does not exist when we are talking about your long term health. So in a world of multiple supplements out there, what are the minimal ones everyone should take? Keep in mind that not all vitamins and minerals are created equal. Most over the counter brands are a crap shoot. If you want quality then chose brands that are physician grade. Some you can find on Amazon, Whole Foods and of course at the office of your functional medicine practitioner (you can't go wrong by seeking out a Naturopathic Physician in your local area). Such brands can be Nordic Naturals, Jarrow, Klair Labs, Herb Pharm, Gaia, Pure Encapsulations, and Integrative Therapeutics just to name a few.
Here are some of the top choices for the basics:
i. Ashwagandha - It is an adaptogenic herb so as it's name implies, it allows you to ADAPT to the stresses you are experiencing. Burning the candle at both ends is not unusual when you are just trying to get through that school year. It is your adrenal glands that are trying to help you keep up but when you exhaust them, then you will begin to suffer and end up in complete systemic exhaustion. You can prevent this by supporting your adrenal glands on a daily basis and taking adaptogenic herbs to do so.
ii. Vitamin C - A water soluble vitamin that is essential for your immune health. During times of stress Vitamin C gets depleted pretty quick as our immune system is being suppressed! See how the never ending cycle of stress and immune health come into play? If you haven't caught that by now let me point it out again: STRESS SUPPRESSES YOUR IMMUNE HEALTH. Got it? Good :) If you happen to take more than your body needs, you can experience gastrointestinal symptoms, such as diarrhea or flatulence. If you experience these symptoms, do not be alarmed, just reduce your current dose. However, this is a good guideline to follow when you are experiencing an acute illness; during an active immune response our bodies utilize more Vitamin C than normal so one can increase their necessary dose by using "bowel tolerance" as a way to gauge the max dose you can handle. Once this max dose is known then you can decrease it to know what dose should be taken on a daily basis to help you get through that cold or flu.
iii. Omega 3's - They are naturally anti-inflammatory and will help the system at the cellular level. Healthy fats are essential for cell integrity and also our hormones. Cortisol, our stress hormone needs these to maintain a healthy balance. Just don't take too much as it can become a blood thinner too. I normally advice most patients to take a therapeutic dose, which starts at 3 grams daily.
iv. Probiotics - When you get nervous (a form of stress) do you get butterflies in your stomach, or even worse, gotta find the toilet PRONTO?! That is because there is a brain-gut connection and for this reason, you need to keep your gut healthy to maintain your mental health. The majority of our serotonin is made in the gut too, which is part of our neurotransmitters. And yes, you guessed it, our gut health affects our immune health!
v. Vitamin D - The sunshine vitamin or in all reality, the sunshine hormone. When winter hits you will often notice that everyone is getting sick. Why is that? Well, Vitamin D stores go down as the sun is not out as much. So here we go again, your IMMUNE health depends on it. And as I mentioned earlier too, when talking about the importance of sunshine in your life, Vitamin D is necessary for immune health, cognitive health and cardiovascular health.
vi. Multivitamin - This can allow you to get additional amounts of certain vitamins and minerals you might not be receiving, one being zinc as it is crucial for...you guessed it, IMMUNE health. This is not a substitute for a healthy diet though, so don't even try!
vii. Digestive Enzymes - If you are having a hard time digesting foods, especially if your are away from home for the first time and attempting to eat what is made in the cafeteria or for that matter a mysterious creation in your kitchen, then your body will need a little assistance digesting these new foods. Help it out by taking some digestive enzymes with some of your heavier meals.
6. See Your Functional Medicine Doctor Annually - Getting a baseline of where you are and what you need to achieve optimal health is important. Seeing a professional who is well versed in optimal health can also take the guessing game out of the equation too. This is how your health plan can be individualized, especially if you already have a chronic illness - maintaining it in remission will be the goal. Ask to see if your physician is a functional medicine practitioner and if you can't figure out how to find out if they are one, you can always go with a naturopathic physician. Naturopathic physicians receive an education highly focused on functional medicine through out medical school. They will have their credentials be 'ND' or 'NMD'. This will let you know that they truly went to medical school and are board certified by the national board in addition to being licensed. It is important to see some who knows and understands both conventional medicine, natural, alternative and complementary medicine.