Tag Archives: nervous system

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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May is M.E. Awareness Month: Part 1

May is M.E. Awareness Month, a campaign aimed at promoting a greater understanding of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis and the impact it has on the lives of sufferers. This year the campaign culminates in an international conference hosted by the charity ‘Invest in ME’ to be held in London at the end of the month (1).

Part 1 will look at the most common symptoms of M.E. along with common myths and misconceptions about this poorly understood disease.

What is M.E.?

Vitamin B12 may help with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis
Vitamin B12 may help with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis

Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (M.E.) or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) affects several of the body’s systems, including the immune and nervous system. The result is chronic exhaustion, cognitive problems, nausea, headaches and persistent aches and pains.

In Beating Chronic Fatigue, Dr Kristine Downing-Orr describes CFS as “the body’s inability to recover following a biological or psychological trigger” (2). Essentially the body’s very healing mechanisms break down, leaving sufferers in a state of chronic ill health.

It is thought that 250,000 people in the UK have this illness, with women between the ages of 25-50 being most commonly affected (3). However, men, women and children of all ages can develop ME/CFS.

Myths and Misconceptions

Myth 1. Chronic Fatigue is all in the mind
ME is a genuine medical illness recognised by the World Health Organisation as a neurological disease. Sufferers of CFS/ME show abnormalities in both the immune system and nervous system. It is not a psychological condition. It is not depression. Nor is it ‘attention seeking’ or a ‘cry for help’.

Myth 2. Chronic Fatigue is caused by the Epstein Barr Virus.
It is true that some cases of CFS/ME develop after an infection. However, the cause of CFS/ME is still unknown. Other theories link the disease to hormone imbalance, immune problems or psychological trauma. It is quite possible that sufferers are genetically predisposed to the disease, leaving them vulnerable if they are exposed to ‘triggers’ such as infection or stress.

Myth 3. Counselling or Cognitive Behaviour Therapy can ‘reverse’ CFS/ME
Psychological interventions can indeed help CFS sufferers to cope with their symptoms. However, this type of approach cannot ‘cure’ the illness (4).

Myth 4. Exercise can cure CFS/ME
Unfortunately exercise will not cure CFS/ME. Well meaning healthcare providers can sometimes recommend exercise for CFS/ME patients using guidelines intended for healthy people. In fact, increasing physical activity can worsen symptoms for sufferers. However, if undertaken in the right way, carefully monitored exercise programmes can be helpful for patients (5).

Myth 5. CFS/ME is difficult to diagnose
This is untrue. There are clear NICE guidelines regarding the diagnosis of CFS/ME. More recently, the Canadian criteria is being recognised as the standard diagnostic tool, and reflects the growing understanding of CFS/ME as a biological illness. This includes the following symptoms: Muscle fatigue or malaise following exertion; poor quality sleep; soreness and aches affecting different parts of the body; brain disturbances such as sensory problems or feelings of confusion (6).

Creating a greater awareness and dispelling myths about CFS/ME is essential. After all, effective treatment and management of CFS/ME depends on a clear understanding of the disease. In Part 2 we will look at some natural approaches to managing symptoms. This includes dietary recommendations and vitamin, mineral and herbal supplements designed to provide the body with the resources it needs to support healing and recovery.

References

1. 8th Invest in ME International ME (ME/CFS) Conference 2013. More information at http://www.investinme.org/IiME%20Conference%202013/IIMEC8%20Home.html Accessed 25/04/13.

2. Beating Chronic Fatigue: Your Step-by-Step Guide to Complete Recovery. Dr Kristina Downing-Orr. London: Piatkus. 2010.

3. Action for M.E. http://www.actionforme.org.uk/get-informed/about-me/who-does-it-affect Accessed 25/04/13.

4. Van Hoof, E. (2004). Cognitive behavioral therapy as cure-all for CFS. Journal of Chronic Fatigue  Syndrome, 11, 43-47.

5. Edmonds, M., McGuire, H., & Price, J. (2004). Exercise therapy for chronic fatigue syndrome. The Cochrane Library, Issue 3, 1-22.

6. Carruthers, B.M., Jain, A.K., DeMeirleir, K.L., Peterson, D.L., Klimas, N.G., Lerner, A.M., Bested, A.C., Flor-Henry, P., Joshi, P., Powles, A.C.P., Sherkey, J.A., & van de Sande, M.I. (2003). Myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome: Clinical working case definition, diagnostic and treatments protocols. Journal of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, 11, 7-115.

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