The effects of stress on your health can be far-reaching. Some of the conditions often associated with stress include
If it's possible to avoid situations that cause you to feel tense, unhappy, or worn down, that's obviously to your benefit. However, it isn't always possible to live a stress-free existence. Work deadlines, family demands, relationship problems, traffic jams, missed appointments, forgotten birthdays, personality conflicts, college exams—all of these things, and many more, can be sources of stress. Furthermore, though most of us associate stress with unpleasant events, even wonderful events in our lives, like weddings, vacations, and holidays, can be genuinely stressful.
Not everyone responds to these situations by getting "stressed out." There are those apparently unflappable folks whose pulse rate wouldn't even go up during an earthquake, and then there are those for whom being five minutes late constitutes reason for a state of total panic. How you manage the stress in your life can determine the impact it will have on you.
There are many different methods of dealing with stress. The basics for good health that we all know (but often forget) help in coping with stress: Eating a balanced diet and getting adequate rest help your body adapt and respond to the events in your life. Ironically, stress can interfere with your ability to take care of yourself in this way. When you're worrying so much you can't sleep, getting adequate rest becomes impossible. Stress can affect your eating habits too. So what else can you do? Exercise, meditation, and biofeedback are all widely accepted stress management tools that might help you break out of a stress-induced downward spiral.
For some people, stressful circumstances can trigger symptoms severe enough to warrant seeking medical attention. Conditions associated with stress, such as
Principal Proposed Natural Treatments
One proposed natural approach to treating the physical consequences of stress involves the use of so-called adaptogens
However, physical exercise is the only indubitable example of an adaptogen. There is no solid evidence that any substance functions in this way. However there is a bit of suggestive evidence for the herb
Most of the evidence cited to indicate that Panax ginseng has adaptogenic effects comes from animal studies involving ginseng extracts injected into the abdomen. Such studies are of questionable relevance to the oral use of ginseng by people; furthermore, the majority of these studies were performed in the former Soviet Union and failed to reach acceptable scientific standards. However, a few potentially meaningful studies in humans have found effects that are at least consistent with the possibility of benefits in stressful situations.
According to a number of animal studies, most of which were poorly designed and reported,
injections into the blood stream or abdomen can increase stamina, improve mental function, protect against radiation, infections, toxins, exhaustion, and stress, and activate white blood cells.
A smaller number of animal studies (again, most of them poorly designed) have looked at the potential benefits of ginseng administered orally, and often reported benefit.
Human studies of
have only indirectly examined its potential benefits as an adaptogen. For example, a
The results showed a significant decline in the frequency of colds and flus in the treated group compared to the placebo group (15 versus 42 cases). Also, antibody levels in response to the vaccination rose higher in the treated group than in the placebo group.
These findings have been taken by some researchers to support their belief that ginseng has an adaptogenic effect. However, the study might instead simply indicate a general form of
Other studies have looked at
The bottom line: It is not clear that Panax ginseng offers general benefits for stress.
For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full
Other Proposed Natural Treatments
Multivitamins Plus Minerals
Surprisingly, a treatment as simple as multivitamin-mineral tablets may be helpful for stress.
In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, 300 men and women were given either a multivitamin-mineral tablet or placebo for 30 days.
Benefits were seen in another double-blind, placebo-controlled trial that enrolled 80 healthy male volunteers.
It's not clear how these nutrients help stress. But, considering that many of us would benefit from general nutritional supplementation in any case, it might be worth trying.
In the 1940s, Dr. Brekhman, the same scientist who first dubbed
an adaptogen, decided that a much less expensive herb,
As with Panax ginseng , many animal studies finding adaptogenic benefits with eleutherococcus have been reported, but most were relatively poorly designed and used injections rather than oral administration of the herb, making the results not particularly relevant to the normal human usage of the herb.
Numerous human trials of eleutherococcus have been reported as well, some involving enormous numbers of participants. However, most of these were not double-blind and many were not even
Again, as with Panax ginseng , a few reasonably well-designed studies in humans have been reported that may have indirect bearing on the herb’s potential adaptogenic properties. For example, in one double-blind trial, participants took either 10 ml of extract of eleutherococcus or placebo 3 times daily for a 4-week period. Blood samples were analyzed to determine changes in immune cells. A statistically significant increase in numbers of cells important to immune functions was observed in the treatment group as compared to the placebo group.
This study has been widely advertised as proving the eleutherococcus strengthens immunity. However, mere changes in immune cell profile do not at all automatically translate into enhanced immunity. (See the
, eleutherococcus has also been studied for potential
For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full
Other Possible Adaptogens
Numerous other herbs are said to be adaptogens as well. These include
One study failed to find greater adaptogenic effects with fish oil as compared to placebo.
Preliminary evidence, including small, double blind trials suggest that the amino acid
In small double-blind studies, theanine, a constituent of
One double-blind study found evidence that a processed form of casein (a protein found in milk) may reduce a variety of stress-related symptoms.
According to another small, double-blind trial, a mixture of soy
In naturopathic medicine,
Many people report that they experience stress relief through the use of alternative therapies such as
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Last reviewed April 2009 by EBSCO CAM Review Board
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