Feeling stressed? Overwhelmed? Have too much to do on your “to-do” list? It may feel normal by now, but stress puts your health at great risk: it boosts blood pressure, causes weight gain (or unhealthy loss), zaps libido, exhausts the immune system, and causes cognitive impairments that affect our jobs and leisure time. Under chronic stress, we lose refreshing sleep, diminish our chances for career advancement through unfounded anxieties, put our heart, arteries, and brain at risk of permanent damage, and miss out on the beauty and joy of being alive. For many reasons, people feel overwhelmed by daily stress. In this chronic state, the ability to overcome even basic challenges gets more compromised every day. Part of this is due to the “fuse-shortening” effect of stress on our systems: the more stress you deal with, the more your adrenal glands react, the more cortisol that surges through your system, and the more difficult you find it to recharge and refresh enough to keep perspective. The big things that we can’t control will always be a part of our lives. But de-stressing is critically important – it’s not negotiable.
Lemon Balm—Nature’s De-Stressor
Lemon balm, also known as Melissa because of its official name, Melissa officinalis L., has been cultivated for over 2,000 years. In the Middle Ages, monks grew the plant as a treatment for wounds, stomach disorders, and anxiety. But for those who need to lower their stress levels, lemon balm works extremely well to reduce tension and prevent insomnia.
A clinically studied lemon balm showed amazing benefits. In just two weeks, volunteers between the ages of 18 and 70 taking lemon balm extract twice daily saw their stress levels drop significantly.
Most people have heard of the calming qualities of chamomile tea. But chamomile, a flowering plant from the aster family, can provide even better, and more consistent, stress-relieving power as a concentrated extract. In fact, clinical studies have shown that for people with severe stress and anxiety issues, chamomile extracts deliver dramatically noticeable relief. In one case, participants even had lower weight and blood pressure, most likely because they weren’t feeling so stressed. Even short-term studies show a difference that researchers have compared to conventional treatment for its effectiveness. And best of all, whether you have chronic stress, or just occasional bouts of worry, chamomile soothes your nerves.
Aside from the ability to reduce stress, chamomile flowers, a rich source of terpene compounds, are known for having anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. The chamomile flower extract I recommend is a supercritical CO2 extract. It uses carbon dioxide in a liquid form, which is odorless, tasteless, and non-toxic. It works at extremely low temperatures to preserve sensitive plant constituents, making it a very effective way to provide concentrated compounds from herbal medicines.
Holy Basil—Another Natural Stress-Stopper
Holy basil (Ocimum sanctum) is another wonderful botanical for stress relief, and one that I recommend with lemon balm for a well-rounded approach. An Australian review of the herb mentions that, according to Ayurvedic tradition, holy basil was known as “the Queen of Herbs” and “The Incomparable One” and was considered an “elixir of life.”
Like lemon balm, holy basil contains a number of natural compounds that alleviate stress, normalize blood sugar and corticosterone levels, and moderate adrenal reactions. This may explain why the herb helps stop that “on alert” feeling and keeps you from feeling exhausted at the same time. Research has shown that phenolics and flavonoids in holy basil inhibit damage in the brain produced by noise exposure. Other laboratory studies have shown that holy basil also reduces oxidative damage from physical and muscular stresses as well as cognitive stresses.
Chronic stress weakens your immune system, your heart, and ultimately, your resolve. Dealing with daily stress is critical. We need to constructively manage stress to be the best parents, spouses, and friends that we’re capable of being and to reach our full potential. I believe that by practicing stress reduction in our lives and supplementing those efforts with these amazing botanicals, saying goodbye to stress and its adverse effects is a very achievable goal.
Michael K. Chase, MS
Dietetics and Nutrition
DISCLAIMER: The information provided in this handout is for educational purposes only, and should not be construed as personal medical advice or instruction. No action should be taken based solely on the contents of this information. Individuals should consult appropriate health professionals on any matter relating to their health and well-being. The statements made in this informational document have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Any product discussed is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.