If you haven’t been directly impacted by illness or unemployment due to the COVID-19 crisis, it’s likely the panic and uncertainty accompanying worldwide shutdowns during these unprecedented times have left you feeling uneasy. No matter the source, dose, or duration, stress has been scientifically proven to reduce all aspects of immunity, leaving the body vulnerable to infection and an overall lower quality of life. While immune-boosting supplements like vitamin C can help ward off infection, it doesn’t address the most common root of lowered immunity: Stress.
Are there other supplements that can assist us in combating chronic stress and anxiety? Here are three dependable, natural supplements that can help you cope in turbulent times.
Withania somnifera, the scientific name for ashwagandha, is an adaptogenic nightshade cultivated in the dry regions of India and surrounding countries, and it is best known as an Āyurvedic staple due to its wide range of medicinal applications. Āyurveda is one of the oldest, whole-body healing systems. It’s East Indian origins date back to 3300 BCE, with classical texts offering remedies for age-old ailments, like anxiety, that are still being used today in modern and alternative medicine.
How does ashwagandha relieve stress and anxiety? Ashwagandha has GABA-mimicking properties that help form dendrites, the extensions on nerve cells that receive electrical neuron signals between cell bodies. In short, it helps your nerve cells communicate more effectively by being able to receive information. Healthy neuronal communication greatly influences our behavior by balancing dopamine levels, a neurotransmitter that affects mood.
Ashwagandha directly reduces stress by reducing the stress hormone, cortisol. A 2012 double-blind, placebo-controlled study noted significantly lowered cortisol in the ashwagandha group and concluded, “a high-concentration full-spectrum ashwagandha root extract safely and effectively improves an individual’s resistance toward stress.” There were also significantly lowered Depression Anxiety Stress Scale (DASS) scores and Perceived Stress Scale (PSS) scores at the completion of 60 days of treatment with 300 mg ashwagandha root, compared to the placebo group.
Optimized Ashwagandha is the highest-concentration root extract on the world market today, using a first-of-its-kind extraction process, void of alcohol and chemical solvents. With 14 years of development and product refinement, Ixoreal Biomed created KSM-66® Ashwagandha, which has been clinically proven to reduce stress and anxiety.
Dosage – For stress and anxiety, 250-500 mg extract is recommended to boost neurotransmitters and your mood. Each capsule of Optimized Ashwagandha has 500 mg Ashwagandha (Root) KSM-66®.
Contraindications – Ashwagandha should not be used during pregnancy or while nursing.
Side Effects – Ashwagandha has no known side effects and been granted GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) is an amino acid naturally produced by our bodies that works as a neurotransmitter. It is the nervous system’s main inhibitory chemical messenger, contributing to functions like vision, motor control, and anxiety regulation.
How does GABA relieve stress and anxiety? With stress, anxiety and fear, messages in our brain can become overactive. GABA works to inhibit certain brain signals that cause over-firing. As hyperactivity in the nervous system decreases, a calming effect is felt and anxiety is reduced, lending to better coping of stressful events. One study showed a reduction in EEG (electrical brain activity), including alpha and beta band brain waves, after taking a 100-mg GABA supplement previous to performing a mental task. “That is to say, that GABA might have alleviated the stress induced by the mental tasks.”
With most studies on GABA being on a small and short-term scale; larger, long-term studies are needed to get a full scope of how GABA supplements offer stress and anxiety-reducing health benefits. While there may not be many direct studies on supplemental GABA, ashwagandha and l-theanine studies seem to show GABA producing activity in the brain that leads to a similar state of calm.
GABA (750 mg):
- Quiets the brain by calming neurotransmitter overactivity
- Helps alleviate stress by inhibiting nerve cells from over firing
- Keeps stress-related messages from reaching motor centers of the brain
Dosage – Each capsule has 750 mg of GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid) and it is recommended to take 1 capsule 1 to 2 times daily as needed, preferably with juice or water on an empty stomach.
Contraindications – If you are pregnant, may become pregnant, or breastfeeding, consult your healthcare professional before using this product.
3. L-Theanine Calm-Plex
L-theanine is another amino acid, except instead of being produced naturally by the body, it is most commonly found in tea leaves, both black and green.
How does L-theanine relieve stress and anxiety? L-theanine soothes our bodies of stress in two major ways.
- It resembles glutamate, the body’s #1 excitatory neurotransmitter, however L-theanine produces the opposite effect when it binds to glutamate receptors. It actually blocks excitatory stimuli at the reception site and produces an inhibitory effect by stimulating GABA, thereby decreasing anxiety.
- L-theanine also works to reduce stress by directly boosting alpha brain waves, giving alert relaxation similar to a deep meditation. This relaxation effect differs from other natural anti-anxiety supplements, such as valerian root, that promote sleep by causing drowsiness.
L-Theanine Calm-Plex is a unique formula that combines L-theanine, GABA and 5-HTP to support mood and promote alert relaxation. The addition of 5-HTP adds a boost to serotonin levels, which plays a key role in healthy cognitive function. The Suntheanine® brand has 46 international patents and is the purest form of L-theanine available on the market, promoting relaxation and relief of:
- PMS in women
Dosage – While there are no general safety dosage guidelines for L-theanine, there have been no reports of overdosing or side effects. One study found 200 mg has been shown to increase alpha wave brain activity within 30-40 minutes.
Contraindications – Consult your doctor if taking prescription medication. Do not administer L-Theanine to infants. This product should not be taken with prescription antidepressants, weight control drugs, or other serotonin modifying agents.
Drug Interactions – While some lab and animal studies have determined L-theanine reduces the side effects and boosts efficiency of chemotherapy drugs, the component epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) reduces activity of the chemotherapy drug Bortezomib.
While stress can be unavoidable as we go up and down the roller coaster of life, there are lifestyle choices we can make and supplemental aids that help to stabilize how we feel and react to ever-changing events. Ashwagandha, GABA and L-theanine may offer you the sense of relief and calmness you’ve been needing to enjoy the ride.
Jenny Menzel is a Certified Health Coach and branding specialist for various alternative healthcare practices, and volunteers her design skills to the annual grassroots campaign, the Lyme Disease Challenge. Jenny was diagnosed with Lyme in 2010 after 8 years of undiagnosed chronic pain and fatigue, and continues to improve by employing multiple alternative therapies, including Āyurveda, Chinese Medicine and Bee Venom Therapy.