It’s fair to say that many of us, especially towards the end of the year (when we are all in a rush to get everything done before Christmas), experience stress.
Stress is a normal part of life for many of us as it allows us to react to situations, meet deadlines etc. (think of the fight or flight response), however when it becomes prolonged, it can reap havoc on the body, causing issues such as sleep problems, fatigue, slumps in energy levels, weight issues, cravings, anxiety and hormone imbalances to name a few.
Dietary and lifestyle factors such as eating a well-balanced diet, being active and getting enough sleep are essential when it comes to managing stress and reducing cortisol levels. All of these assists with reducing the inflammation caused by stress, however, if you want to take that a step further, several herbs may help reduce stress as well. Here are some of the key ones that are also fairly easy to find.
BLUENESSE® is one of the newest scientific breakthroughs when it comes to cortisol lowering ingredients and it comes from a lemon balm extract (Melissa officinalis). The interest in this ingredient stems from preliminary research from Germany which has indicated that Bluenesse may help provide beneficial physiological effects for mental health while simultaneously having calming and improved alertness effects. There have been two pilot studies conducted on humans which have shown promising results for the use of Bluenesse in maintaining and improving mental focus while reducing the effects of physiological stress.
The first pilot study showed Bluenesse is absorbed within 60 minutes and participants reported beneficial effects 1 hour after intake. The second study contained a larger cohort and also had some promising results. In this study, stress was induced by a multitasking activity. Participants also consumed a beverage and a fruit bar which contained 300 mg and 600 mg of the lemon balm extract. Study results demonstrated an intake of 300 mg lemon balm extract per day showed the strongest effects. One hour after consumption beneficial effects could be seen relating to improvements in alertness, working memory and word recall, as well as a reduction of cortisol levels which we know is elevated during periods of stress.
While research is only in its infancy and it is still an emerging area, the preliminary research is promising and indicates Bluenesse may aid in reducing stress-induced cortisol levels and may also support mental focus and cognitive function. Brands such as Body Science have been experimenting with this ingredient for the fitness market.
Lavender I’m sure many of you have heard to smell lavender before bed if you can’t sleep, so it won’t be a surprise that it’s a great herb for relieving stress as it helps to reduce irritability and promotes a sense of calmness. It is generally recommended to consume this as a tea or essential oil.
Turmeric This one may surprise you, but I have included turmeric because it is one of the best ingredients for overall health and wellbeing. It is also excellent for combatting inflammation and often when we are overly stressed, our bodies become inflamed, which is something that should be addressed. Turmeric contains high levels of antioxidants, which are beneficial for blood flow to the brain and are important for heart health. Tumeric is versatile and can be consumed in a tablet form (curcumin) or as a spice in cooking. To optimize the absorption of turmeric, it is best combined with an oil such as extra virgin olive oil and also black pepper.
Chamomile Another popular herb (usually taken in the form of a tea) that is great for reducing stress. Chamomile has been used for centuries to ease the mind and calm frazzled nerves. It can have a mild sedating response in some people and therefore is a good herb to have if you’re struggling to fall asleep. In fact, in an 8-week study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, 57 patients who struggled with anxiety found that pharmaceutical-grade chamomile extracts (220mg daily) led to modest improvements compared with placebos.
Signs and symptoms that you’re stressed The main signs and symptoms include:
- Low energy and fatigue
- Insomnia and sleeping problems
- Upset stomach
- Chest pain and rapid heartbeat
- Illnesses (especially repetitive episodes) such as colds and infections
- Loss of sexual desire
- Irritability and difficulty concentrating
- Weight issues – usually weight gain or inability to lose weight
- Hormone imbalances
- Anxiety and in severe cases, sometimes depression
Jessica Spendlove from Health and Performance Collective Current Athletic Performance Dietitian for GWS Giants, Cronulla Sharks and Giants Netball