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Herbal remedies for stress

Herbal remedies for stress
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In today’s world, there’s no shortage of daily stressors, big and small, that can make you feel overwhelmed. There are many ways to manage daily stress, including meditation, a healthy diet, good sleep, and spending time with loved ones. You also may want to consider adding some herbal supplements to your diet, suggests chronic disease specialist Dr Susan Blum.

Using the right herbs, particularly adaptogens, can make a significant difference in your daily life, she says. Adaptogens are a class of herbs that help support the body as it responds to stressors, particularly by bolstering the adrenal glands. “There’s no avoiding stress but herbs can help your body deal with it more effectively,” she explains.

The right herbal remedies can be effective. But it’s important to remember that just because something is considered ‘herbal’ or ‘natural’ doesn’t mean it’s safe, Dr Blum cautions. The key is to exercise caution and talk to your doctor before starting any supplements. That’s especially important if you are on any prescription medications or have a pre-existing health condition like diabetes or heart disease, she says. If you experience any signs of an allergic reaction, including hives, chest pain, or difficulty breathing, get immediate medical help.

Panax ginseng

Panax ginseng
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Panax ginseng, also known as Korean ginseng, is an adaptogen, says dietitian Lindsey Toth. “I like to say this herb is ‘namaste all day’ for its power to help you de-stress,” she says. “It also helps the body fight stress by helping to improve your mood and increase your immune function. Plus it supports sexual health which can help reduce stress in a different way.” Ginseng may help regulate the immune response and hormonal changes due to stress, reduce inflammation, and alleviate the anxiety and depression caused by stress, according to research published in the Journal of Ginseng Research.

Warnings: ginseng has been shown to interact with other medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, particularly those for heart disease or high blood pressure, she says.

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Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha
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Ashwagandha is another adaptogen, one that’s been used in India for thousands of years to reduce several types of stress, says Dr Lily Kiswani. “It helps reduce stress on the body by lowering stress hormones and increasing the immune system. But it works on the mental side as well, by reducing depression and anxiety,” she explains. People given 600mg a day of high-concentration full-spectrum ashwagandha root extract for two months showed a significant reduction in scores on stress-assessment scales and had lower levels of cortisol (the “stress” hormone) in their blood, in a small study published in the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine.

A larger study, published in PLoS One found that people given ashwagandha for eight weeks, as part of a naturopathic intervention, improved in scores of concentration, fatigue, social functioning, vitality, and overall quality of life compared to the control group that received only traditional psychotherapy.

Warnings: avoid this if you take medication to suppress your immune system or benzodiazepines, she says.

Chamomile

Chamomile
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Chamomile is a plant known for its anti-inflammatory and relaxing properties. It may also help settle a nervous tummy. “It’s particularly helpful for people who suffer GI side effects from stress, like irritable bowel syndrome, diarrhoea, and irregular bowel movements,” says Dr Yalda Shokoohinia. “It can also help improve sleep which in turn reduces stress.” People who took 1500 mg of chamomile a day showed significantly lower levels of anxiety and stress, according to a study published in Phytomedicine.

Warnings: because of some sedative and sleepiness effects, chamomile isn’t recommended if you’re working with hazardous machines or driving. Use chamomile with caution if you’re taking anticoagulants, and avoid if you are going to have surgery, she says.

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Passionflower

Passionflower
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Passionflower is a herb shown to boost the levels of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) which works in the brain to promote relaxation, says nutritionist Mary Ellen Valverde. “It has been shown to ease anxiety and stress as well as enhance calmness.”

People suffering from anxiety who were given passionflower extract for one month reported lower feelings of anxiety and stress and improved sleep, in a small study published in the Journal of Clinical Pharmacy Therapeutics. She adds that dried passionflower can be added to water to make tea or taken as liquid extracts, capsules, or tablets.

Warnings: because it is a mild sedative you should avoid taking it with other sedatives, she says.

Rhodiola rosea

Rhodiola rosea
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Rhodiola rosea is another herb used to reduce stress and boost cognition. “It helps the body adapt to stress and has been shown to reduce stress, lower anxiety, fight fatigue, and boost mood,” Valverde says.  It is the main adaptogen approved by the Committee on Herbal Medicinal Products for stress and influences the release of stress hormones while boosting energy, according to a review published in the International Journal of Psychiatry in Clinical Practice. It helps treat stress symptoms and can prevent chronic stress and stress-related complications, the researchers added.

Warnings: rhodiola may interact with blood pressure and blood-thinning medications.

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Banaba leaf

Banaba leaf
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Banaba is a species of myrtle tree that grows in the tropics of Southeast Asia. Leaves from the tree have been found to slow the body’s production of cortisol, the stress hormone that causes the ‘fight or flight’ feeling, according to a study published in Life Sciences. “The active ingredient in banaba leaf is corosolic acid, which slows the body from turning inactive cortisol to active cortisol,” says dietitian Mikka Knapp. “Dampening cortisol plays a key role in combating feelings of stress and anxiety.”

Warnings: banaba may decrease blood pressure and blood sugar and should not be taken with those classes of medications.

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Lemon balm

Lemon balm
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“Lemon balm has been used for over 2000 years as a natural stress reducer,” Knapp says. “It increases brain levels of GABA, a neurotransmitter known for producing a feel of calm. This provides a gentle soothing effect and makes managing stress easier.” Young adults given lemon balm showed measurable improvements in mood, stress levels, and cognitive performance, according to a study published in Nutrients.

Warnings: because lemon balm has sedative effects, use caution before combining it with other sedative drugs or alcohol.

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Valerian

Valerian
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Valerian comes from the root of a flowering plant and has been used for centuries as a natural sleep aid. This is due to its ability to reduce anxiety and insomnia associated with stress, says Dr Dimitar Marinov. “It appears to work by inhibiting the break down of GABA, producing an effect similar to anxiolytic drugs like Xanax,” he explains. One study, published in Phytomedicine, found that mice given valerian root showed less anxiety while completing a maze.

Warnings: most people experience very few side effects – the primary one being drowsiness – he says.

5-HTP

5-HTP
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Despite the medical-sounding name, 5-HTP comes from the seeds of an African plant, Griffonia simplicifolia. It works as a precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin, increasing levels of the ‘feel good’ chemical in your brain, says naturopathic doctor Gabrielle Francis. “It also reduces the stress hormone, cortisol, and actively calms anxiety,” she says. Taking 5-HTP helped prevent panic attacks in people who had been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, according to a study published in Psychiatry Research.

Warnings: 5-HTP can interfere with other medications that work on neurotransmitters, including antidepressants, and should be taken under a doctor’s care.

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– The Reader’s Digest team