The Science of Calm
Q. We know we are all stressed, but how does it really affect your health?
A. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), there are at least three different types of stress, all of which carry physical and mental health risks:
1. Routine stress related to the pressures of work, family and other daily responsibilities.
2. Stress brought about by a sudden negative change, such as losing a job, divorce, or illness.
3. Traumatic stress experienced in an event like a major accident, war, assault, or a natural disaster where one may be seriously hurt or in danger of being killed.
The NIMH tells us that while the individual responds to each of the types of stress in similar ways, different people may react in different ways. For example, some people experience mainly digestive symptoms, while others may have headaches, sleeplessness, depressed mood, anger and irritability. People under chronic stress are prone to more frequent and severe viral infections, such as the flu or common cold, and vaccines, such as the flu shot, are less effective for them. Over time, continued strain on your body from routine stress may lead to serious chronic health problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, anxiety disorder, and other conditions, such as hormonal depletion, exhaustion, and adrenal fatigue.
Q. What types of ingredients are beneficial for stress relief? How do they work within the body?
A. Adaptogenic herbs – traditionally referred to as tonics or rejuvenators – have been used extensively in ancient healing practices. The term adaptogen was first coined by Dr. Nikolai Lazarev in 1947 to describe a plant that helps you adapt to stressful circumstances. Later, the widely accepted definition of an adaptogen came to be a plant that meets these three criteria:
1. Produces a nonspecific response; for instance, an increase in the power of resistance against multiple (physical, chemical or biological) stressors
2. Has a normalizing influence irrespective of the direction of change from physiological norms caused by the stressor. (This is the principle of a medicinal substance that is “two-directional”)
3. Is innocuous and does not influence normal body functions more than required.
Adaptogenic herbal blends such as ashwagandha, Siberian eleuthero root, passion flower, rhodiola rosea, holy basil and lemon balm, plus amino acid derivatives like L-theanine help the body and mind adapt and cope with occasional stressors while promoting an overall sense of relaxation. While there are many mechanisms of action in which these ingredients work, we will focus on these primary methods:
Neurotransmitter Support: Ingredients such as ashwagandha and passion flower provide GABA-like activity [GABA or gamma-amino-butyric acid is one of several neurotransmitters, which are responsible for sending chemical signals in the brain] by binding to GABA receptors to inhibit nerve cells from over-firing to produce a calming effect. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that is influential in the mediation of mood by inhibiting physiological responses to an anxiety-producing stimulus. Furthermore, L-theanine has been shown in research to increase the concentration and release of several neurotransmitters, including GABA, as well as serotonin and dopamine – both of which are also influential in the mediation of mood. Additionally, rhodiola rosea helps to inhibit the activity of enzymes responsible for monoamine degradation and facilitation of neurotransmitter support within the brain. Lastly, lemon balm extract has been clinically shown to inhibit the breakdown of dopamine in the brain as well as improve alertness and focus by reducing anxiety and modulating the neurotransmitter acetylcholine.
Adrenal Support: Ingredients such as Siberian eleuthero root have demonstrated efficacy in the research to support adrenal function when challenged by stress by decreasing adrenal hypertrophy and subsequent depletion of adrenal vitamin C levels. Ashwagandha also works to restore receptor sensitivity on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis to the effects of cortisol and adrenal hormones. Furthermore, holy basil helps to decrease adrenal stress hormones, corticosterone in particular, which is involved in regulation of energy, immune reactions, and stress responses.
Q. What other attributes should I be looking for in a stress relief formula?
A. Whole food-based formulas that use sustainably harvested or wildcrafted herbal extracts and is vegan, free of most allergens (e.g., soybeans and wheat), non-GMO, kosher-certified are important for those who are looking for a truly natural solution to address issues like stress and relaxation. Additionally, formulas with scientifically relevant/meaningful quantities, like Bluebonnet’s Targeted Choice® Stress Relief Vegetable Capsules, of each complementary ingredient supported by science to:
- Serve as an adaptogen by helping the body cope with and/or revitalize from emotional and physical stress ♦
- Improve cognitive performance and memory ♦
- Promote overall balance in the body as it relates to managing stress ♦
- Support an overall sense of relaxation ♦