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stress

Stressed out? Try this herbal remedy to de-stress naturally

April is stress awareness month, so what better time to check in with yourself and your loved ones to make sure your lifestyle is sustainable and that you’re managing your stress levels? Although some stress is a natural part of life, we often forget that it doesn’t need to be ongoing.

Stressful situations trigger the body to increase the activity of the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) which activates our fight-or-flight response. This heightens our senses and makes us hyper-alert to keep us safe during times of immediate danger. Naturally, and ideally, once the threat has passed the body should dampen down the SNS and find a balance with the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS), which supports rest and digestion and anything that requires a relaxed and calm state. Sadly, due to the pace and constant stimulus from our modern lifestyles, many people are living with SNS dominance.

Chronic stress can become a catalyst for disease if left for too long. Ongoing stress can manifest in disorders such as anxiety and depression, accelerate the ageing process, trigger reproductive issues for both women and men and interrupt sleep patterns. Unbalanced levels of cortisol from chronic stress can lead to a compromised immune system and regular infections, autoimmune disease, allergies and increased fat stores around the waist (1). Chronic inflammation from long-term stress is implicated in many diseases and when it comes to heart health, researches are suggesting that it could be as important a risk factor as smoking and high blood pressure!

Adaptogens

When your stress levels have gone on for a bit longer than expected and your nervous system needs a bit of support in toning down its overactive response, there are herbs that can help. Herbs classified as adaptogens are used by herbalists to help the body cope with stress to help you feel calm while increasing energy and focus. It is thought the effect is associated with the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, a part of the stress-system that plays a key role in how the body responds to and adapts to stress (2).

Siberian ginseng (Eleuthero) is one of the oldest and most popular adaptogenic herbs prescribed by herbalists today. It has a long history of use in Asian cultures as a tonic to reinforce qi, calm the nerves and support fertility. Research indicates that Eleuthero works with your central nervous and hormonal systems to moderate how your body responds when you feel tense and anxious (3). Other research suggests it also has the ability to protect your brain from the damaging effects of stress (4).

Stress and the gut

Times of intense stress can literally shut down your digestion. Interestingly, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is considered a “gut-brain disorder,” since it is often worsened by stress. Half of IBS sufferers also have difficulties with depression or anxiety (5).

The gut and the brain talk to each other via the gut-brain-axis. This is a bi-directional pathway of communication which means that one can influence the other. For example, science has found that certain bacteria in the gut can have a short term influence on anxiety and calm the nervous system via their effect on the neurotransmitter receptors GABA (6). However, on the other side of the coin, stress can destroy healthy gut bacteria, showing that it’s equally important to look after both!

Perfect combination

Taking Sun Eleuthero together with Sun Chlorella makes for the perfect combination in supporting your nervous system and gut health. The founder of Sun Chlorella had become very ill from a hard military life. His pursuit for healing lead him to Chlorella and Siberian ginseng, which changed his life so dramatically that he gave up his business and dedicated the rest of his life to sharing his findings.

Sun Chlorella is a sustainable fresh water algae that contains fibre, chlorophyll, protein, vitamins and minerals. It acts as a prebiotic food to support gut function and a healthy gut microbiome as well as helping rid the body of toxins. The chlorella plant’s ability to photosynthesise at a rate unlike any other makes it rich in a protein called Chlorella Growth Factor, which is known for its healing properties.

Aside from its benefit as a healing food, chlorella also has many environmental applications from reducing greenhouse gases to cleaning up oil spills. It cleaned up the earth’s atmosphere millions of years ago to make it one that could support life and scientists hope they can use it in a similar way.

The chlorella plant has a tough exterior cell wall which contains the valuable nutrients – but this fibrous exterior makes it difficult to digest. Sun Chlorella is the only company that uses a patented process called the DYNO®-Mill to liberate the nutrients without the use of heat or chemicals to make them available for absorption and assimilation by the body.

References
1. Epel ES, McEwen B, Seeman T, et al. Stress and body shape: stress-induced cortisol secretion is consistently greater among women with central fat. Psychosom Med 2000;62(5):623-632.
2. A Panossian Ge Wikman ,Effects of Adaptogens on the Central Nervous System and the Molecular Mechanisms Associated with Their Stress—Protective Activity, Phytother Res. 2005 Oct;19(10):819-38.
Panossian, A., Wagner, H. (2005). Stimulating effect of adaptogens: an overview with particular reference to their efficacy following single dose administration. Phytotherapy Research, 19(10), 819-838.
3. Farnsworth NR et al. Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus): current status as an adaptogen. In: Wagner H, Hikino H, Farnsworth NR, eds. Economic and medicinal plant research. Vol. 1. London, Academic Press, 1985:217–284; Yance D. Adaptogens In Medical Herbalism. Healing Arts Press. Rochester, VT: 2013; Halstead, BW. Eleutherococcus Senticosus. Oriental Healing Arts Institute. 1984. P. 4
4. Panossian A et al. Adaptogens Stimulate Neuropeptide Y and Hsp72 Expression and Release in Neuroglia Cells. Front Neurosci. 2012; 6: 6. Published online 2012 February 1. Prepublished online 2011 November 12
5. Borre YE, Moloney RD, Clarke G, et al The impact of microbiota on brain and behavior: mechanisms & therapeutic potential. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2014;817:373-403.
6. Bravo JA, Forsythe P, Chew MV, et al. Ingestion of Lactobacillus strain regulates emotional behavior and central GABA receptor expression in a mouse via the vagus nerve. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2011;108(38):16050-16055. [Full text]

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stress

International Stress Awareness Day – Relieving Stress Naturally

Natural Stress Relief

November 1st is International Stress Awareness Day, a campaign aimed at highlighting the importance of stress management and ending the stigma associated with mental health.

Stress is one of the most common illnesses in the UK, costing the country an estimated £10 billion each year. The first signs of stress are usually sleep difficulties, low energy, tense muscles and digestive problems. Long term stress has been linked to a wide range of serious diseases including heart disease, obesity, depression and inflammatory conditions such as arthritis.

Modern lifestyles often mean that stress is unavoidable. Tight work deadlines, juggling work life and family life and financial pressures all increase stress levels. While many of these pressures are unavoidable, it is important to be able to manage our response to stress effectively.

Taking early steps to support your physical and mental wellbeing can prevent stress from becoming a more serious and long term problem. Below are three of the most effective ways to beat stress naturally.

Balance Your Blood Sugar

Stress can cause blood sugar swings because stress hormones create signals to raise blood sugar. This can result in a vicious cycle, leading to poorly controlled blood sugar peaks and dips, sugar cravings, poor energy levels and sleep difficulties.

For this reason, eating in a way that helps manage your blood sugar levels is crucial. Eating a protein-rich breakfast and reducing sugar and caffeine will help to eliminate extreme blood sugar fluctuations.

Also try to base your main meals around blood sugar stabilising whole foods that are rich in soluble fibre, protein and essential fatty acids. These include foods such as oats and barley, beans and lentils, nuts and seeds, vegetables, berries, natural yoghurt and oily fish.

Work Out to Wind Down

It is well known that exercise reduces stress. Studies show that those who exercise suffer from less depression and anxiety (1,2). For those too tired to exercise, it may be worth considering that exercise is also known to reduce levels of fatigue (3,4).

Exercise boosts the levels of certain brain chemicals such as serotonin and norepinephrine, which help to buffer the effects of stress. Exercise also increases the levels of GABA, a neurotransmitter with a potent calming effect on the mind and body. For a lower intensity workout, yoga has been found to be particularly effective in raising levels of stress-relieving GABA (5).

The mood-boosting effects of exercise are both immediate and long-term. Just one exercise session triggers the release of mood-boosting chemicals, while it is thought that in the long term the brain can actually be remodelled with a greater proportion of ‘calming’ neurons to defend against stress (6).

Stress Relieving Supplements

The adrenals, which sit on top of the kidneys, are the chief organs for dealing with stress, producing the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Ongoing stress can make it hard for the adrenals to function properly, leading to unhealthy levels of stress hormones such as cortisol. The result is symptoms such as sleep disruption, weight gain, anxiety disorders and fatigue. One way to protect against the effects of stress is to support the adrenal glands.

The health of the adrenals relies on two key vitamins for healthy function – vitamin C and vitamin B5. The adrenals need these vitamins to manufacture hormones. Studies have found that vitamin C and B5 supplementation lowers excessive cortisol levels and helps adults to feel less ‘stressed’ (7,8).

Another adrenal supportive nutrient is the mineral magnesium. Sometimes referred to as the ‘anti-stress mineral’, magnesium supports our adrenals and also improves quality of sleep. It increases GABA, a ‘calming’ brain chemical, and lowers levels of cortisol (9).

Medical herbalists often use adaptogens to help relieve stress. Adaptogens are believed to help the adrenal system regulate hormones and manage stress. For example, the adaptogen ashwagandha has been found to significantly lower cortisol levels in stressed individuals when taken over a period of 60 days (10). Other popular adaptogens include Siberian ginseng, rhodiola and maca.

References
1. Rethorst CD et al (2009) The antidepressive effects of exercise: a meta-analysis of randomized trials. Sports Med. 39(6):491-511.
2. Wipfli BM (2008) The anxiolytic effects of exercise: a meta-analysis of randomized trials and dose-response analysis. J Sport Exerc Psychol. 30(4):392-410.
3. Resnick et al (2006) Cross-sectional relationship of reported fatigue to obesity, diet, and physical activity: results from the third national health and nutrition examination survey. J Clin Sleep Med. 2(2):163-9.
4. Theorell-Haglöw J et al (2006) What are the important risk factors for daytime sleepiness and fatigue in women? Sleep.29(6):751-7.
5. Streeter CC et al (2010) Effects of Yoga Versus Walking on Mood, Anxiety, and Brain GABA Levels: A Randomized Controlled MRS Study. J Altern Complement Med. 16(11): 1145–1152.
6. Schoenfeld et al . (2013) Physical exercise prevents stress-induced activation of granule neurons and enhances local inhibitory mechanisms in the dentate gyrus. J Neurosci 33(18):7770-7
7. Brody S et al (2002) A randomized controlled trial of high dose ascorbic acid for reduction of blood pressure, cortisol, and subjective responses to psychological stress. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 159(3):319-24.
8. Onuki M, Suzawa A. (2016) Effect of pantethine on the function of the adrenal cortex. 2. Clinical experience using pantethine in cases under steroid hormone treatment. 18:937-940. [Article in Japanese]
9. Möykkynen T et al Neuroreport. 2001 Magnesium potentiation of the function of native and recombinant GABA(A) receptors. 12(10):2175-9.
10. K. Chandrasekhar et al (2012) A Prospective, Randomized Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study of Safety and Efficacy of a High-Concentration Full-Spectrum Extract of Ashwagandha Root in Reducing Stress and Anxiety in Adults. Indian J Psychol Med. 34(3): 255–262.

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