The American Psychological Association released their “Stress in America Survey” November 9, 2010, and the results are bleak. Less than half of all Americans (40 %) perceive themselves to be in excellent or very good health.
The report found that the most common physical symptoms of stress reported were irritability, fatigue and lack of energy or motivation. And the most common reason given by adults for not doing more to manage their stress was being too busy or not having enough time.1
Stress has behavioral consequences, which often has physical consequences:
- Two-fifths of adults reported overeating or eating unhealthy foods because of stress in the past month.
- Nearly one-third said they skipped a meal because of stress in the past month.
- More than four in 10 said they had lain awake at night in the past month.1
This is just the tip of the iceberg. The study found that stress has an enormous impact on families and children. The majority of parents say they are enduring stress levels that go beyond their definition of healthy.
A whole-foods diet, exercise, a good night’s sleep, and a stress-reducing technique such as meditation or yoga all help to reduce stress. Added to these important components of a healthy lifestyle, a number of herbal remedies that have been used throughout the centuries have been scientifically proven to safely reduce stress, anxiety and depression—all without the side effects common to anti-anxiety pharmaceuticals. Here are some of the best:
Magnolia extract to the rescue
Honokiol and magnolol are the main constituents in the bark of Magnolia officinalis, which has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat a variety of mental disorders, including depression. Although clinical trials in the U.S. are sparse, dozens of animal studies have shown that the extracts reduce anxiety and stress without impairing motor function or memory. This is unlike the typical drugs used for stress and anxiety, which often leave the patient sleepy, lethargic, memory impaired, and eventually dependent on the drug.
Used as a stress and anxiety reliever, Magnolia extract supports emotional wellness and helps people feel better mentally and emotionally, without drowsiness.
Typical animal experiments in which mice are given the extracts show that they are able to run through a maze repeatedly with reduced anxiety levels, without a change in motor activity or muscle tone. Memory and focus are also not negatively affected, and in some cases they are improved.2
A new study analyzed three different natural sedatives made from plant extracts used to help cancer patients receiving chemotherapy combat depression and anxiety. Oftentimes, when a patient is getting chemotherapy, additional therapies tend to interfere with the chemo results. This in-vitro (laboratory study of cell cultures) study at the School of Medicine and Aging Research Center in Chietii-Pescara, Italy found that cancer cells treated with honokiol had a significant reduction in ROS (chemically-reactive molecules containing oxygen). These cells are highly reactive and can increase dramatically from heat exposure, or other influences such as UV radiation. When they do increase in this haphazard way, there is significant damage to the cell structure. In this case, the magnolia extract acts as an antioxidant in helping to reduce the ROS molecules.
The researchers concluded that clinical trials should assess the use of natural sedatives such as magnolia extract in cancer patients getting chemo, since anti-anxiety and antidepressant drugs are often counteracted by chemotherapy.3
Passionflower is well documented as a safe and effective way to treat anxiety.
Passionflower Extract (4% flavones) is a medicinal herb that is approved by the German Commission E in the treatment of insomnia and nervousness. Passionflower is a nervine relaxant that is beneficial for anxiety, insomnia, tension headaches and irritability.4
It’s typical that patients who are about to have surgery get anxious and nervous. A study of 60 outpatient surgery patients assessed their anxiety levels before surgery. The group was randomly divided into two groups: one received 500 mg. of Passionflower and the other received a placebo 90 minutes before surgery. The study found that the anxiety scores were significantly lower in the Passionflower group than in the control group. The psychomotor function was comparable after surgery in both groups.5
L-Theanine is another outstanding treatment for anxiety. This unique amino acid is found almost solely in tea plants and is the main chemical constituent in green tea.
L-theanine is an ideal nutritional aid for stress because it produces alpha-wave activity that leads to deep relaxation and mental alertness. This is especially important because in order to mitigate stressful situations, it's important to remain calm and alert. Theanine also stimulates the release of the neurotransmitters GABA, serotonin and dopamine, which help us feel happy, motivated and calm.
Research with human volunteers has shown that L-theanine stimulates production of alpha brain waves, resulting in a deep relaxed state, much like the state achieved during meditation. In human volunteers, α-waves were generated on the occipital and parietal regions of the brain surface within 40 minutes after the oral administration of theanine (50–200 mg), signifying relaxation without causing drowsiness.6
In another study, theanine was given to participants taking a mental arithmetic task. The results showed that when the participants took L-theanine their heart rate was reduced, as well as salivary immunoglobulin, resulting in an anti-stress effect.7
It’s hard to get off the merry-go-round of stress. But with a few lifestyle changes, including the addition of relaxing herbs to your health regimen, you can regain control of your mood, outlook and life.
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This article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Always consult with a physician before embarking on a dietary supplement program.
American Psychological Association. “Stress in America Findings,” released November 9, 2010.
Kuribara H, Stavinoha WB, Maruyama Y. Honokiol, a putative anxiolytic agent extracted from magnolia bark, has no diazepam-like side effects in mice. J Pharm Pharmacol.1999 Jan;51(1):97-103.
Kuribara H, Stavinoha WB, Maruyama Y. Behavioral pharmacological characteristics of honokiol, an anxiolytic agent present in extracts of Magnolia bark, evaluated by an elevated plus-maze test in mice.J Pharm Pharmacol.1998 Jul;50(7):819-26.
Krenn L. Passion Flower (Passiflora incarnata L.)--a reliable herbal sedative]Wien Med Wochenschr.2002;152(15-16):404-6. (In German)
Movafegh A, Alizadeh R, Hajimohamadi F, Esfehani F Nejatfar M. Preoperative oral Passiflora incarnata reduces anxiety in ambulatory surgery patients: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study.Anesth Analg.2008 Jun;106(6):1728-32.
Lekh Raj JunejaDjong-Chi Chu, Tsutomu Okubo, Yukiko Nagato and Hidehiko Yokogoshi. L-theanine—a unique amino acid of green tea and its relaxation effect in humans. Trends in Food Science & Technology. Volume 10, Issues 6-7. June 1999, Pages 199-204.
Kimura K, Ozeki M, Juneja LR, Ohira H. L-Theanine reduces psychological and physiological stress responses.Biol Psychol.2007 Jan;74(1):39-45. Epub 2006 Aug 22.