Who among us is not affected to some degree by periods of stress and anxiety? For virtually everybody, modern lifestyles create a fair amount of tension, irritability, worry and frustration, which can lead to feelings of chronic anxiety and depression.
According to a recent article in the Archives of General Psychiatry, antidepressant drugs are the most commonly prescribed class of medications in the United States. More than 10 percent of the American population is taking one or more antidepressant drugs, which represents 27 million individuals taking more than 120 million prescriptions and spending over $80 billion per year.
Another recent study in the Psychiatric Services Journal shows that huge numbers of Americans felt an antidepressant drug would be helpful for:
• Dealing with day-to-day stresses (83%)
• Making things easier in relations with family and friends (76%)
• Helping people feel better about themselves (68%)
Antidepressant drugs carry the FDA’s most stringent “black box” warning. The black box is FDA’s strongest warning that appears on the package insert for prescription drugs that may cause serious life-threatening adverse effects.
I’m not sure that a “black box drug” is the best choice for almost 30 million Americans who can get even better anti-stress and anti-depression results with natural options—faster, safer, more holistic.
Stress and Stress Management
In addition to the emotional effects brought on by chronic stress (feeling tense, anxious, fatigued, irritable, and depressed) are its direct physical effects on the brain. Research has shown that stress can increase the incidence of simple forgetfulness and accelerate the development of full-blown memory loss and senile dementia. Each of these conditions involves a degree of mental deterioration characterized by damage to and death of nerve cells in the brain as well as physical rearrangement of brain neurons.
In some stress-management clinics, the primary determinants of whether or not a person will succumb to a “stress-related disease” include:
· The number of major life events in the past year (divorce, death in the family, change in job or location, etc.)
· A psychological perception that daily demands exceed coping resources and/or support system
· Current emotional state
In addition to the above three “sickness determinants,” studies also show us that at least three factors can make a huge difference in how the body responds to a given stressor:
1. Whether the stressor has an outlet
2. Whether the stressor is predictable
3. Whether you think you have any control over the stressor
Our resilience to stress can be greatly improved by giving stress an outlet (exercise is a great choice); making the stress predictable (such as planning ahead for upcoming bills); and finding a way to exert some degree of control over the stress (such as catching up on calls while sitting in traffic).
And, as I’m here to tell you, you can also supplement.
Top Ten Stress Busters
1. Magnolia Bark & Phellodendron Bark
> Relora brand, from Next Pharmaceuticals
Magnolia bark (Magnolia officinalis) and Phellodendron bark (Phellodendron amurense) have been used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) since 100 A.D. for treating “stagnation of qi” (equivalent to low vigor) as well as a variety of syndromes, such as digestive disturbances caused by emotional distress and emotional turmoil. This combination is rich in two biphenol compounds, (magnolol and honokiol), which are thought to contribute to the primary anti-stress and cortisol-lowering effects of the plants and their use as general anti-stress and anti-anxiety agents.
Several research groups have also shown the bioactivity of magnolia/phellodendron bark to possess powerful “brain-health” benefits via their actions in modulating the activity of various neurotransmitters and related enzymes in the brain (increased choline acetyltransferase activity, inhibition of acetylcholinesterase, and increased acetylcholine release).
2. Tongkat ali
> Physta brand from Biotropics
> AlivEL 100 brand from SourceOne
Eurycoma longifoliais an herbal medicinal plant found in South East Asia and commonly called tongkat ali. In traditional medicine, it is used as a general health tonic and for improvement in physical/mental energy levels and overall quality of life. The roots of tongkat ali, often called “Malaysian ginseng,” are used as a traditional “anti- aging” remedy, while modern dietary supplements are intended to improve energy, restore hormonal balance (cortisol/testosterone levels) and improve both sports performance and weight loss.
In both men and women, testosterone levels peak between 25 to 30 years of age, while at the age of 60, testosterone levels are typically only 40-50% of youthful levels and may be lower due to stress and related lifestyle issues such as diet, exercise, and sleep patterns. The benefits of maintaining a youthful testosterone levels are many, including increased muscle mass and reduced body fat, high psychological vigor (mental/physical energy), and improved general well-being.
Laboratory evidence shows that eurycoma peptides stimulate release of free testosterone from its binding proteins and improve overall hormone profiles. More than a dozen animal studies have demonstrated balanced hormonal profiles and enhanced physical function. Human supplementation trials show a clear indication of reduced fatigue, heightened energy and mood, and greater sense of well-being in subjects consuming tongkat ali root extracts.
> Wellmune brand from Biothera
Beta-glucan is generic term for “beta-1,3-linked polyglucose” which is a polysaccharide (long chain of sugar molecules) found in the cell walls of yeast cells. Purified beta-glucan has been shown in a wide variety of animal and in vitro studies to have general immune-priming properties. Among its many effects is macrophage activation, tumor inhibition, and decreased infection rates.
Wellmune is a patented form of highly-purifed Baker’s yeast beta-glucan. A range of published human supplementation trials have shown Wellmune to improve psychological mood state subsequent to improvement of immune function (people “felt better” when their immune system function was optimized).
> ETAS brand from AminoUp
ETAS (enzyme-treated asparagus) is a form of Japanese asparagus (Asparagus officinalis) that has been treated with pectinase and cellulose enzymes. The concentrate has been shown to enhance the expression of “heat shock” proteins that protect cells from stress and deliver anti-inflammatory activity. In addition to its cytoprotective effects, ETAS has been shown to reduce blood levels of cortisol and enhance feelings of relaxation and overall sleep quality.
5. Ashwagandha Root
> Essentra brand from Nutragenesis
Ashwagandha is a plant grown in India that is revered in Ayurvedic medicine for its ability to balance, energize, rejuvenate, and revitalize. Its stress-reducing characteristics result from unique bioactive compounds, generally referred to as “adaptogens” for their ability to help the body adapt to and recover from stress, and stimulate an overall feeling of balance.
Essentra is an ashwagandha extract that has been shown to reduce stress-related symptoms and improve mood in people exposed to chronic stress. It does this by reducing levels of serum cortisol and raising levels of serum DHEA – a precursor to testosterone. This natural restoration of stress hormone balance helps to boost the body’s ability to return to a state of normal equilibrium after stress has disrupted homeostasis.
6. Milk Peptide
> Lactium brand from Pharmachem
Based on the observation that babies are calm and relaxed after drinking milk, researchers have identified a 10-amino-acid peptide from milk protein (casein). The peptide, Lactium, is a food-grade patented product with anti-stress and relaxation properties.
In one study, 63 women were given 150mg/day of Lactium in double-blind, cross-over fashion, for 15 or 30 days. Results showed a wide rage of significant anti-stress benefits of Lactium versus placebo, including both physical and psychological parameters – especially for subjects who started the study with the highest stress levels.
7. Pine Bark
> Enzogenol brand from Enzo
> Pycnogenol brand from Horphag
Pine bark extract, either as Pycnogenol from Horphag (Pinus maritima) or Enzogenol from Enzo (Pinus radiata), delivers potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects that can protect the body from various forms of “metabolic stress” associated with free radicals and inflammatory cytokines. Pine bark has also been shown to balance stress hormones, including cortisol, epinephrine, and dopamine – leading to improvements in mental focus, concentration and irritability.
> Zembrin brand from P.L. Thomas
Kanna (Sceletium tortuosum) is a traditional mood-enhancing and anti-anxiety herb from South Africa. Zembrin, is a sustainably cultivated and standardized source of sceletium from P.L. Thomas. Clinical case reports indicate that Zembrin is effective in reducing emotional distress, relieving tension and improving calmness and overall mood.
The mood-elevating effects of kanna are known for the whole herb and are thought to be due to an antidepressant-like effect of a group of naturally occurring alkaloids, including mesembrine, to improve dopamine and serotonin activity.
9. Fenugreek Seed
> Testofen brand from Gencor Pacific
Fenugreek seeds are rich in saponins, which have been shown in animal and human studies to maintain free testosterone levels (and libido), improve lean muscle mass and reduce body fat. In one recent placebo-controlled human study, subjects reported improved quality of life measures, including higher energy levels and overall well-being after taking fenugreek (Testofen) for six weeks.
> Suntheanine brand from Taiyo
Theanine is a unique amino acid found in the leaves of green tea (Camellia sinensis). A unique aspect of theanine is that it acts as a “non-sedating relaxant” to help increase the brain’s production of alpha-waves (those associated with “relaxed alertness”). This makes theanine effective for combating tension, stress, and anxiety—without inducing drowsiness. By increasing the brain’s output of alpha waves, theanine helps to control anxiety, increase mental focus, improve concentration and promote creativity.
Break the stress
Giving up old unhealthy habits—such as grabbing a fast-food meal when you’re feeling stressed instead of sitting down to a nutritious dinner—is always a challenge. But besides the difficulties of changing behavior, I believe that many people fail to take advantage of natural stress busters, such as exercise or dietary supplements, simply because the idea that stress can seriously damage health has not really sunk in—including for many in the medical profession.
However, the scientific evidence clearly shows us that it’s just as important to get our stress levels under control as it is to eat a healthy diet, get regular physical activity and a restful night of sleep. Once you let that idea sink in—and once you’ve absorbed the information about how much damage stress can do to your heart, your brain, your waistline, and your overall health—I believe you’ll naturally begin to adopt the behaviors that will help you balance your stress hormones and finally feel your best.