Has America become a nation of anxious worry warts who can't get to sleep at night?
In a word, yes. That is what sales data from SPINS suggests, which saw annual sales in this health-condition sector climb from $110.2 million to $116.6 million — a 5.8 percent increase — for the 52 weeks ending May 15.
In light of public interest like this, Organix-South of Florida couldn't have timed better their launch of Stress Ease dietary supplement in late 2009.
The formula is based on the ancient Ayurvedic herbs ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) and shatavari (Asparagus racemosus), delivered in a patent-pending technology that combines carbon dioxide (fat soluble) extracts with hydrophilic (water soluble) extracts, which are then bound back to the whole herb.
"Made with certified organic herbs and vegetarian capsules, Stress Ease is designed to be fast acting so that most people will experience results within 15 to 30 minutes," said Autumn Blum, founder and CEO of Organix-South. "No other company offers a product with the targeted potency and concentration of these extracts, as well as the holistic benefits of the whole herbs."
A 2003 study in mice confirmed the theory that ashwagandha has a significant antistress adaptogenic effect. The study found that the herb decreases the frequency and severity of stress-induced ulcers, reversed stress-induced inhibition of male sexual behavior, and inhibited the effects of chronic stress on retention of learned tasks — with no adverse side effects.
Sleep these off
Over on the ingredients side of the aisle, a 2009 French pilot study found new promise in a melon extract rich in the antioxidant enzyme superoxide dismutase (SOD). The study used the extract Extramel, produced by France's Bionov and distributed internationally by Seppic. The results were reported in Nutrition Journal.
After four weeks taking a daily supplement containing 140IU of SOD (10mg Extramel), significant improvements in pain, irritability, sleep troubles and weariness scores in the Extramel group of 30 percent, 22 percent, 38 percent, and 26 percent were observed, respectively, compared to the placebo group.
Extramel Microgranules are concentrated melon juice microencapsulated in a vegetal coating, guaranteed for their SOD content. The microgranules also contain other ingredients naturally found in the melon's pulp (catalase, glutathione, vitamins, caratenoids, selenium, etc.).
The findings were replicated in a June 2010 study on piglets, which assessed the changes of stress proteins in the animals' intestines. Those that ingested the melon-pulp concentrate had decreased stress proteins in their stomach, mid-small intestine and colon after three weeks of supplementation.
New research is also pointing to possible anxiety benefits in chamomile. A study at the University of Pennsylvania in 2009 showed a modest benefit in chamomile extract for individuals with mild to moderate generalized anxiety disorder. The trial included 57 participants who were monitored for eight weeks.
As this was the first controlled trial of chamomile extract for anxiety, the researchers said additional research using larger samples for longer periods of time is needed.
Do old standbys measure up?
While it's helpful to learn what does work for sleep and stress disorders, it can be equally important to review what doesn't.
The benefits of valerian, a popular ingredient in natural sleep-aid products, have yet to be established scientifically, according to the National Institutes of Health's Office of Dietary Supplements.
In its review of nine published studies on valerian, reviewers concluded that the studies were "not sufficient for determining the effectiveness in sleep disorders," due to shortcomings in the study designs. In reviewing an additional three studies that suggested some benefit for insomnia, the reviewers also concluded that "overall, the evidence from these trials for the sleep-promoting effects of valerian is inconclusive."
But that's the US government talking. The American Botanical Council's Clinical Guide to Herbs (ABC, 2003) looked at 29 studies including more than 5,200 participants. "All studies found positive effects for indications including anxiety, sleep disorders, and mood." Who you gonna trust — some faceless bureaucrat, or Mark Blumenthal?
Another sleep standby, melatonin, faired marginally better in a literature review by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, a division of the US Department of Health and Human Services. Melatonin (N-acetyl-5-methoxytryptamine) is a neurohormone that is primarily produced by the pineal gland; commercial supplements are derived either from the pineal glands of cattle, or are chemically synthesized.
In a survey of studies, in English, on human subjects, the reviewers found that melatonin is not effective in treating most primary sleep disorders with short-term use, but there is "some evidence" it is effective in treating delayed sleep phase syndrome — this is when your circadian rhythm is thrown off and your normal sleep cycle is from, say, 4am until noon. Good for rock-n-rollers, not so good for the 9-to-5 crowd. There is also no evidence of its effectiveness in secondary sleep disorders, or alleviating sleep disturbance from jet lag or shiftwork disorder.
"There were some aspects of some questions of this review that could not be answered, due to a lack of relevant information," the reviewers noted. "For example, it remains unclear how the effects of melatonin vary by age, gender, ethnicity, and co-morbid conditions of the population, as well as formulation, timing, and duration of melatonin administration.
"The mechanism by which melatonin produces sleepiness in humans is unclear."
Bio Serae Laboratories SAS
Serenzo is a natural patented ingredient for stress-relief support: it reduces stress symptoms and improves mood via a particular mechanism. Serenzo indeed helps to reduce the inflammation induced by stress and consequently helps to limit the stress response.
+33 468 76 76 20
Valerian root powder and extracts
Embria Health Sciences
EpiCor is designed to help balance the immune system, which can easily be thrown off balance by high stress levels, lack of sleep, poor diet and other life factors. Clinical studies have found EpiCor®'s immune-balancing properties provide year-round support by helping the body boost or suppress immune response as needed.
Ankeny, Iowa, USA
L-Theanine, Melatonin, Valerian Root
San Francisco Herb & Natural Food Co.
Peppermint leaf, chamomile flower, catnip leaf
Trace Mineral Research
ConcenTrace Ionic Trace Mineral Blend