Sep 4, 2013
Sleep and Stress
This past weekend in Salt Lake City, Utah, MonaVie launched into the massive categories of sleep and stress. With upwards of 70%–80% of the North American population experiencing “enough” chronic stress to result in stress-related physical ailments and sleeplessness, the potential market for natural stress/sleep solutions is gigantic.
As a Nutritional Biochemist and Exercise Physiologist, I’ve studied both the "mood state" effects of stress (depression, fatigue, mental confusion) as well as the biochemical/hormonal changes (testosterone/cortisol/glucose) and the weight effects (increased abdominal fat accumulation). The bad news is that stress and sleep deprivation adversely influence so many aspects of our physical and mental wellness—but the good news is that there are some very effective natural solutions available.
I’ve been researching, formulating, writing, and speaking about these topics for more than a decade. I’ve written several books and articles on these topics and been the lead researcher on several studies, including two recent scientific publications about Tongkat ali and Relora. All of these publications deal with how chronic stress can reduce a parameter that we call "Vigor" (a combination of physical energy, mental acuity, and emotional well-being).
Any type of stress, but especially the low-grade, chronic stress that we experience at work and in our stressful "too-busy" lives, leads to both behavioral changes (less exercise, eating more "comfort foods", drinking, smoking, etc.) and biochemical changes (higher levels of stress hormones like cortisol), which can suppress the immune system, increase blood pressure and cholesterol, elevate appetite, increase fat gain (especially in the abdominal region as belly fat), reduce sex drive, and lead to memory and emotional problems.
For many years, I ran a community lifestyle program in Utah that taught people about the link between stress and health (especially fatigue, weight gain, and depression). Some of the "standard" recommendations to combat stress apply, such as being physically active, eating balanced meals, getting enough sleep, etc. But, we also educate people about the "top five" ways to resist the detrimental health effects of stress:
1. Have an "outlet" (a hobby or some diversion outside of work).
2. Do whatever you can to make the sources of your stress more "predictable" or learn to develop more "control" over those stressors. This means to identify patterns related to when your stressors might appear.
3. Hang out with friends and avoid social isolation. Tough times are always easier when you're around other people.
4. Learn to tell the difference between "big" issues and "little" issues.
5. Look on the bright side (really). As simplistic as it sounds, the fact that you can look to "what is improving" in a given situation can help to psychologically buffer the stress in others areas.
We also looked at (and measured) a wide range of "natural therapies" for controlling stress and improving emotional well-being. Some of the most effective are natural herbal therapies that include magnolia bark, tongkat ali, ashwagandha, pine bark, chamomile,fennel, lemon balm, amla, and others.
Based on my experience and the research we’ve conducted, I feel that the "top-5" most effective "anti-stress" herbs include:
· Tongkat ali (from Malaysia) to help alleviate the exhaustion/fatigue that comes from chronic stress. It works by normalizing testosterone levels, which are typically suppressed by stress.
· Magnolia bark (from China) to help alleviate the tension/irritability that comes with stress. It works by normalizing cortisol levels, which are elevated by stress.
· Ashwagandha (from Tibet) to help our bodies to adapt and better handle stress. It works by normalizing levels of epinephrine/norepinephrine, which become unbalanced by stress.
· Pine bark (from New Zealand) to help our brains to recover faster from stressful events. It works by improving cranial blood flow and calming brain neuron excitability.
· Indian Gooseberry (also called Amla, from India) to help our bodies counteract the oxidizing effects of stress that lead to cellular damage. It works as both an antioxidant and blood flow enhancer.
If you’re interested, here are some video clips from recent appearances on The Dr. Oz Show, Good Day Utah, and Fox & Friends where I talk about natural options for alleviating stress, burnout, exhaustion, and insomnia:
Dr. Oz Show—Curing Exhaustion (Stress/Burnout) with Tongkat Ali
Dr. Oz Show—Flat Belly Plan: Control Stress & Cortisol with Magnolia/Phellodendron (Relora)
Good Day Utah—Natural Options for Sleep
Fox & Friends—Eating for Sleep and Relaxation
About the Author: Shawn Talbott is MonaVie's Chief Science & Innovation Officer. He holds a PhD in Nutritional Biochemistry (Rutgers) and a MS in Exercise Science (UMass). He trains for iron-distance triathlons and ultra-marathons in Utah and is always sure to keep himself in biochemical balance with low stress and high vigor.