Stress is a normal part of life, and the body automatically reacts to it with a "flight-or-fight" response. The adrenal glands release stress hormones that boost strength and energy in reaction to physical stressors and enhance focus and mental clarity during times of emotional upset. Occasional stress is normal and healthy, but chronic stress can take a toll on mental and physical health. While some people rely on prescribed medications for treatment, others prefer more natural ways to reduce stress. Three herbs show promise for fighting stress.
1. Holy Basil
An herb and a member of the mint family, holy basil is found in most tropical regions around the world. Research shows that compounds in holy basil improve the body's response to stress. One animal study examined the effects of holy basil on stress created by continual exposure to noise. Albino rats were pretreated with holy basil extract for seven days and then exposed to noise containing a frequency of 10 kHz and a sound level of 100 dB. While exposure to noise typically generates changes in acetylcholine and acetylcholinesterase activity in several areas of the brain, the treatment with holy basil prevented these changes.
Kava is a root that comes from the islands of the South Pacific. Traditional use involves crushing the root and making it into a tea. The drink offers relaxing or sedating effects but is non-addictive. Kava is also available as a dietary supplement in powder, capsule, or tincture form. When it comes to herbs that reduce stress and anxiety, kava has shown positive results in many studies.
In 2013, an Australian study assessed the effects of kava in 75 people with generalized anxiety disorder. Subjects were given kava or placebo each day for six weeks. Levels of anxiety were measured using the Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale (HAMA). For people with mild to moderate anxiety, kava significantly reduced symptoms as compared to the placebo group. Results were even more significant in the group with moderate to severe anxiety.
Kava should not be combined with alcohol or psychotropic medicines. It has been shown that long-term use of kava can harm the liver, so people should use it for three months or less, and consult with a qualified herbalist or your health care provider for guidance.
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Originating in Europe, chamomile is a plant that belongs to the daisy family. While its dried flowers are used for a variety of physical ailments, chamomile also offers relief from anxiety according to several studies.
Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania examined 35 people diagnosed with anxiety and depression or with a history of anxiety and depression, along with a control group of 22 people without either disorder. For eight weeks, subjects received daily doses of chamomile extract or placebo. Dosages were increased for people who showed less benefit on anxiety scores by one extra tablet daily each week, capping at week five.
Based on the results of several rating scales, 57 percent of the people in the chamomile group experienced significant reductions in anxiety. To date, chamomile has been shown to have no adverse side effects, which makes it one of the best and safest ways to reduce stress.
Chronic stress takes a toll on the body both physically and mentally. Herbs that reduce stress help take the edge off when people are exposed to physical, mental, or emotional stimuli on a regular basis. Before starting a supplementary regimen with any herb, people should always consult with their health care provider.