These days, stress has become a regular fixture in our daily lexicon, so we’ve created a go-to list of supplements for reducing stress naturally.
With 44 percent of Americans reporting that their stress levels have increased over the past five years, and three out of four Americans saying they have experienced at least one stress symptom in the past month, according to the American Psychological Association, it’s no surprise that “Stressed!” has become the common response to “How are you?”
“I think that we live with way more stress than we have lived with in a very long time,” says Dr. Jennifer Tufenkian, N.D., founder of Enjoy Full Health clinic in Portland, Ore. “We work more as working parents, we have environmental stress and 24/7 demands to stay on top of the news and social media, and we are parenting more intensively than we have in other generations. There also is financial stress—how much you have to work to cover basic living expenses is massive. There are a lot of stressors in our lives, and it is a big piece that leads to chronic disease for a lot of people. Learning how to manage our stress is really beneficial.”
It is in fact critical to long-term health. Stress ultimately can affect our relationships and our ability to sleep, and lead to depression. It can cause digestive issues, an increased risk of heart disease, and can ultimately suppress immune-system function.
Usually people know they are stressed, but Tufenkian says a good indicator is if you are walking into the office at the start of the day and you’re already overwhelmed.
“Another sign that someone needs help is if they look at me and say, ‘I can’t get through a day without my caffeine. There is no way I can do this.’ Then I know there is an issue,” she says.
When working with patients who are experiencing stress, Tufenkian first looks at lifestyle fixes that can reduce stress naturally, such as exercise, diet and sleep. Only after those issues have been addressed will she consider supplementation options. “If someone has already worked on exercise, breathing or meditation and addressed those things, and it is still affecting their relationship, mood and energy, I will suggest supplementation,” she says.
Stress, says Tufenkian, is a big term, and there are a number of things that can cause it. It can be hormonal, or there could be underlying health issues. Our stress response is often referred to as adrenal fatigue, but the correct term, Tufenkian says, is hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis dysregulation. The HPA axis influences how we respond to stress, by releasing cortisol and other hormones. HPA axis dysregulation is when the body is no longer able to produce normal amounts of cortisol.
Our stress response can be stuck on overload, in a high-alert emergency state, where cortisol levels get really high. If this is prolonged, we end up with low cortisol levels and fatigue.
“High alert leaves us wired and tired and feeling like we drank a lot of bad coffee, or low cortisol leaves us feeling really draggy,” she explains.
To help patients get back on track, Tufenkian has certain supplements she offers patients to naturally reduce stress. Consult with a specialist for the right dose, or follow product directions. Here is her go-to list.
This class of herbs, which has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda, helps the body restore and maintain healthy homeostasis and adapt to stress.
“They are a wonderful class of botanicals. If you have high stress, they bring you down to normal; or if you are down, they will bring you up,” Tufenkian says. “There are a lot of nice combination formulas. I look for the root cause of the stress and try to address that. One combination might influence a person’s healing more than another.”
Of the adaptogens, ashwagandha is particularly popular and helpful for feeling more balanced and improving energy in those who suffer from chronic stress. Rhodiola is another adaptogen thought to improve focus and concentration and fend off stress. A study published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine also outlined this herb’s ability to take the edge off symptoms brought on by severe depression without any side effects. Licorice root is helpful, particularly if a patient has low cortisol, is fatigued, and is suffering from adrenal exhaustion or HPA Axis Dysregulation. Licorice root can help by limiting the body’s breakdown of cortisol, so it has a chance to rebuild its cortisol reserves.
Vitamins B and C, and Magnesium
“A lot of people are very deficient in vitamin C, magnesium and the B vitamins that are essential for managing stress,” Tufenkian says. “Often taking the B-complex alone will help to boost people’s energy.”
Studies have shown that vitamin B can naturally ease stress by promoting the release of dopamine, which regulates our emotional responses. Magnesium has also been shown to calm the brain.
Yerba Maté, Green Tea and Herbal Teas
“If your HPA axis is off-kilter, caffeine is not your friend. It feels like it is in the short term, but in the long term it makes it worse, overstressing the system and making it off-balance,” Tufenkian says. To wean people off caffeine, she suggests yerba maté or green tea to make the transition a bit less bumpy. “They still have caffeine in them, but they are better options [than coffee].”
Ultimately, she encourages patients to substitute coffee with decaf and to then take the step toward herbal teas, such as chamomile, which calms the digestive and nervous systems.
Kali Phos Cell Salts
This homeopathic remedy, which typically comes in tablets that you dissolve under your tongue, is nontoxic and safe to give to young children and babies, Tufenkian says. “If you are too wired to sleep, Kali Phos will calm you down.” Derived from potassium phosphate, these salts can overcome mineral imbalances in the body to offer relief for stress and nervous tension.
“Essential oils are really powerful for lowering stress, as they go straight to the limbic brain from the olfactory center,” Tufenkian says. The limbic brain is the part of the brain that manages emotional stimulation and memory. When choosing your scent, Tufenkian says lavender is a classic for stress, and wild orange and bergamot both help with anxiety.