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Natural therapies for stress

By Shaun Holt

Stress is defined as a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances.

It seems that most of us are stressed these days. A bit of stress at the right time is useful. For example, if you are being chased down the street by muggers, the stress that this causes triggers a surge in adrenaline and a “fight or flight” response from the body. Your blood pressure rises, respiratory rate increases, heart rate increases, muscles tense etc etc. In this situation these short-term effects are useful as they can help you physically perform better and help you to run away faster and escape danger.

However long-term, ongoing stress, resulting from things such as worries about health issues, family issues, employment problems etc, results in these physical effects being present all or most of the time. Over time, this can take a huge toll on the body, contributing to high blood pressure, blocked arteries, lack of sleep and brain changes that can lead to anxiety, depression, and addiction.

Because reducing stress is so important, I promote any natural therapy that can help. People are often surprised that I recommend therapies such as aromatherapy, music therapy, yoga and relaxation. But these have all been shown to reduce stress, which is arguably one of the most important things we need to do to be healthy.

Some supplements can also help, including:

B Vitamins. Many people take B vitamins to reduce stress. A promising study found that increasing vitamin B intake could potentially reduce work-related stress. In this three month trial, participants were given a course of either high dose vitamin B supplements or a placebo, participants taking vitamin B experienced an almost 20% improvement in stress levels.

Kava Kava. This is derived from the kava plant and has been historically used among Pacific Island cultures as a relaxing drink and in cultural ceremonies. Studies concluded that kava significantly lowers anxiety and stress. However care must be taken as it has been implicated in a number of cases of liver failure.

Passionflower. This is a plant from North and South America for sleep disorders, nervous tension, and stress. There have not been many clinical studies to test it, but those that have been done are generally positive.

Valerian Root. This dietary supplement has a long history of use for the treatment of anxiety. It has been well studied and reduced stress in healthy volunteers who were placed in stressful social conditions. Valerian is considered safe if used appropriately and for short-term periods but some people can feel sluggish in the morning after taking valerian, and it is best not to drive after taking valerian.

Lemon Balm. A few small studies have found lemon balm can help with calmness and reduce anxiety. For example, in a study a dose of 1600mg of dried lemon balm was associated with increased self-reported calmness for up to six hours after ingestion. Based on this and other small studies, lemon balm appears to have a positive effect on stress, with few if any side effects.