10 Winter Wellness Tips From Parsley Health Founder Dr. Robin Berzin: How To Beat Burnout And Boost Immunity

Winter wellness during Covid-19 will require much more than the usual health tips we hear each year. As infectious disease experts advise us to continue hunkering down to prevent a spike in cases, we’ll have to take extra steps to physically and mentally deal with the colder and darker days ahead.

“Now is the time to take a functional and holistic approach to healthcare,” says Dr. Robin Berzin, the founder and CEO of holistic medical startup Parsley Health and a graduate of Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons. The serial healthcare entrepreneur built the health-tech platform to focus on whole-body, transformative medicine.

“We look at the body very differently,” says the Brooklyn-based mother of two. “For instance, when I look at the gut, I also focus on energy, mood, anxiety and sleep patterns. Most doctors don’t look at you this way because the healthcare system is developed in a way that’s very fragmented. We miss the big picture, even at top institutions.”

1. Shift your sleep cycle earlier by one hour. “One of the biggest reasons I see people tossing, turning, and not feeling rested the next day, is going to bed too late,” says Dr. Berzin.

Inadequate sleep increases the accumulation of toxic metabolic debris in the brain, and creates stress in the body. The cortisol levels all lead to a less than lovely mix of increasing appetite, weight gain, and fatigue, as well as suppressing immune function.

From an immune perspective, less than 7-8 hours of sleep decreases the production of immunoprotective cytokines (proteins released by your immune system that help fight against illness).

“Winter is one of the best times to start the habit of going to bed earlier. Early to bed avoids the late evening cortisol bump. Some people call this a ‘second wind’ but the truth is it can lead to an uneven sleep cycle. I know that when I go to bed by 10pm instead of 11pm, I sleep deeper and feel more rested in the morning. This is especially true as a mom with early waking kids!”

According to Berzin, an optimal sleep schedule would be from about 10 PM to 6 AM daily because it is in line with the body’s natural circadian rhythm and the general rising/setting of the sun.2. Make magnesium a staple. It’s the most common mineral deficiency in America. But magnesium is essential because it supports these y-shaped proteins produced by your immune system that neutralize harmful bacteria and viruses. From a burnout/stress perspective, magnesium helps to calm the nervous system, mildly lower blood pressure, and quickly relax smooth muscle throughout the body. “I often joke that magnesium is nature’s Xanax,” says Dr. Berzin. “I’ve been taking it regularly and recommend it to my patients when they had trouble sleeping or with anxiety. It’s not addictive and you can take 200mg to 400mg at bedtime. It’s especially good for pregnant moms who can’t take other sleep aids.”

3. Learn a simple breathing practice to stay calm, focused and energized. Meditation is not just for yogis. From an immune perspective, numerous studies have proven that meditation increases the production of antibodies. 

Mindfulness-based practices have been shown to dampen the activity of genes associated with inflammation—and even reduce the molecular damage caused by stress/burnout. Specifically, deep belly breathing during meditation stimulates the vagus nerve and turns on the ‘rest and digest’ part of our nervous system to lower heart rate and reduce anxiety. 

“I used to teach both yoga and meditation,” says Dr. Berzin. “Meditation is one of the ways I support myself to manage both mom life and building a venture-backed startup.” Her favorite breathing practice is to inhale for five seconds, exhale for seven, which stimulates the nervous system to heal. It’s incredibly effective. 

Says Berzin, “Meditation is not a quick fix but, over time, regularly deactivating your body’s stress response may support stronger immune function and reduce burnout.”

4. Drink alcohol no more than 3 days per week. During the pandemic, doctors noted a spike in the alcohol intake of patients due to stress, anxiety and the new ways that weekdays and weekends have seemed to blend. But in addition to being addictive, alcohol is a depressant and interrupts quality sleep. “I find that most people do best with having at least 3-4 nights a week completely off from alcohol,” she says. “This can be the difference between a clear head and brain fog.”

If imbibing, opt for higher quality, lower sugar varieties of alcohol such as tequila, mezcal, or vodka with seltzer and a citrus wedge and steer clear of beer and sugary cocktails. “On my ‘on-nights’ I tend to enjoy a glass of natural wine or a mezcal margarita which allows alcohol to have a balanced, small place in my routine, not a big role,” says Berzin. 5. Take Vitamin D3/K2. If you spend the majority of your day inside, as many of us do these days, you may be deficient in Vitamin D (like 42% of the US population), which is essential for the effective activation of our immune defenses. Berzin explains that Vitamin D3/K2 is the best formulation to absorb and activate Vitamin D.

When combined with Vitamin K2, Vitamin D3 forms your best defense against infections, osteoporosis, dementia, and type 2 diabetes. Most people are deficient and new research is showing that Vitamin D3 plays a critical role in our defenses versus Covid-19. Studies show that adding just 1,000 IU of Vitamin D per day can reduce fatigue, mood swings, joint pain, muscle cramps, depression, and anxiety. 

Says Dr. Berzin: “I take 5000 units daily and give at least 1000units to my toddler every day and my infant every other day. It’s especially important for pregnant moms as research show it has implications for kids’ bone and dental health if deficient in utero.”

6. Exercise is nature’s antidote to seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD is common in northern climates and winter months. To combat it, Dr. Berzin prescribes regular exercise. It improves immune regulation and mental health by helping the brain cope with stress. 

“For some of my patients SAD is massively disruptive. For others it’s mild but palpable,” says Berzin. “While you can’t always cure it with exercise… it can be the difference between a manageable winter and one that’s off the rails.”

Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobics or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week, or a combo of both. Weight training and resistance work are also essential.

7. Drop the fear of (good) fat. Omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation, and with it, chronic disease. However, we have much more of the inflammatory type called Omega-6, as the standard American diet is large on inflammatory oils and oxidized fats in processed and packaged foods.

We home make baby food and even sometimes baby formula for our infant,” says the mother of two. “The food is a blend of wild salmon, winter squashes, Brussels sprouts, apples, and EVOO; all are the best sources of Omega-3s. It’s cheaper and healthier than the packets. I even add EVOO or cod liver oil to my kids’ bottles.”

She breaks down the science of taking in the right fats: the ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty acids that you consume is actually more important than the amount of either. The optimal ratio is 4:1, with ideally four times more Omega-3 fatty acids to counteract Omega-6’s inflammatory properties

Swap out foods rich in Omega-6 (processed foods and industrialized seed oils such as corn, soy, canola, and sunflower oils) and opt for more anti-inflammatory Omega-3 rich-foods (walnuts, chia seeds, wild salmon, sardines, anchovies, pasture-raised eggs, and flax seeds.)

8. Feed the good bugs. Add probiotics and prebiotics to support your healthy microbiome, the ecosystem in your gastrointestinal tract that helps regulate your immune system. It is home to 40 trillion microbesthe vast majority of which are essential for optimal health.

What lives and dies in the gut is a matter of what you eat daily, says Berzin. Whole veggies, unprocessed foods and fiber feed the best bugs in the gut for a healthy immunity, and even better mood. 

From an immune perspective, those with a greater diversity of gut bacteria have a decreased risk of conditions including asthma, obesity, depression, and diabetes. 

From a burnout/stress perspective, studies have confirmed that probiotics can increase or decrease the synthesis of certain neurotransmitters and other biologically active factors such as serotonin, brain-derived neurotrophic factor, and cortisol, helping to reduce stress, anxiety and depression.

For best practices, eat more fermented foods and prebiotics (what your microbes feast on). Fermented foods include kimchi, kombucha, sauerkraut, yogurt and prebiotic fibrous foods like garlic, onions, leeks, artichokes, asparagus and onions, among others. 

9. Eliminate refined sugar and carbs from your diet. Eating too much sugar can decrease your immune fighter (white blood) cells, making you more susceptible to illness and infection. Also, too much refined sugar can overfeed the “bad” bacteria in your gut microbiome.

From a burnout/stress perspective, your body absorbs simple sugars quickly, which increases your blood sugar and gives you a temporary surge of energy. But this “sugar high” is short-lived and followed by a dramatic crash in energy, often accompanied by irritability, sadness, or mental fogginess.

“The idea isn’t to deprive your self,” says Berzin. “It’s about ensuring you’re getting your daily requirement of carbohydrates and sugars from whole food-based sources such as fresh fruit, starchy vegetables, and whole grains rather than processed foods like bagels, pizza, cookies, and on-the-go “nutrition” bars.” Need a healthy detox? Eliminate refined sugar from your diet for five days straight.

10. Connect responsibly. In these times it’s critical to find ways to be socially close while being physically safe. Connecting through screens is exhausting and after a while, alienating. Now is the time to take socially distant walks with friends, find outdoor exercise opportunities, and meet for a masked chat on the outdoor patio.

“We will have to live with this virus in our lives and even with the vaccine, it may be like the flu where it doesn’t entirely go away,” says Berzin. “That means learning to live vibrantly while taking precautions and protecting the most vulnerable.”

She says there are so many ways to be mindful: testing, wearing masks, handwashing, and “podding” up with closest friends and family to create a safe bubble and connect responsibly.

After all, says Dr. Berzin, “seeing those we love supports our immune system, helping to reduce your risk of developing colds and chest infections, and simply makes us happy.”

Tanya Klich

Tanya Klich

I am a Lifestyle Reporter for Forbes, covering the business of beauty and style, as well as the arts, luxury real estate and more. I’m a former television reporter for NY1 News, where I covered all things Queens, NY and got my start in business news as a greenroom greeter and PA at Fox Business. I am a graduate of Columbia Journalism School and an adjunct professor at the NYU Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute. Twitter @TanyaKlich


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