Principal Proposed Natural Treatments
Other Proposed Natural Treatments
- Adrenal Extracts
- Alternative Therapies ( Biofeedback , Guided Imagery , Hypnotherapy , Massage , Relaxation Therapy , Tai Chi , Yoga )
- Bach Flower Remedies
- Eleutherococcus senticosus
- Lysine Plus Arginine
- Multivitamin/Mineral Supplements
- Theanine from Black Tea
The effects of stress on your health can be far-reaching. Some of the conditions often associated with stress include insomnia , high blood pressure , tension headaches , anxiety , depression , decreased mental function , and drug or alcohol abuse . Stress is known to cause changes in the body's chemistry, altering the balance of hormones in our systems in ways that can lower our resistance to disease. As a result, we can become more susceptible to colds and flus , and other types of illness. Too much stress sometimes brings on outbreaks of cold sores or genital herpes for people who carry these viruses in their systems. Other chronic diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome , asthma , inflammatory bowel disease , and rheumatoid arthritis may also flare up during times of stress.
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 insomnia , anxiety , depression , and panic attacks , may become severe enough to require medications.
Principal Proposed Natural Treatments
One proposed natural approach to treating the physical consequences of stress involves the use of so-called adaptogens . The term "adaptogen" refers to a hypothetical treatment described as follows: An adaptogen helps the body adapt to stresses of various kinds, whether heat, cold, exertion, trauma, sleep deprivation, toxic exposure, radiation, infection, or psychological stress. Furthermore, an adaptogen should cause no side effects, be effective in treating a wide variety of illnesses, and help return an organism toward balance no matter what may have gone wrong.
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 Panax ginseng , which is discussed in the next section.
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.
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 immune support unrelated to stress.
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 Ginseng article.
Other Proposed Natural Treatments
Multivitamins Plus Minerals
Surprisingly, a treatment as simple as multivitamin-mineral tablets may be helpful for stress.
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 Panax ginseng an adaptogen, decided that a much less expensive herb, Eleutherococcus senticosus , is also an adaptogen. A thorny bush that grows much more rapidly than true ginseng, this plant later received the misleading name of "Siberian" or "Russian ginseng." Its chemical makeup, however, is completely unrelated to that of Panax ginseng .
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 controlled , making the results nearly meaningless. (For information on why double-blind, placebo-controlled studies are essential to establish the effectiveness of a treatment, see Why Does This Database Rely on Double-blind Studies? )
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.
For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full Eleutherococcus article.
Other Possible Adaptogens
Numerous other herbs are said to be adaptogens as well. These include ashwagandha , astragalus , maitake , reishi , shiitake, suma , and schisandra . However, there is little to no real evidence as yet that they have adaptogenic effects.
In naturopathic medicine, adrenal extract are often recommended for treatment of stress, but there is no evidence that this treatment is effective.
- Reviewer: EBSCO CAM Review Board
- Review Date: 09/2014 -
- Update Date: 09/18/2014 -