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Supplements for Stress Relief

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Updated May 01, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Although taking supplements can't cure your stress, certain herbal supplements may help boost your body's defense against the harmful effects of stress. In addition to managing your stress with lifestyle changes and relaxation techniques, you may consider taking supplements containing herbs known to act as adaptogens.

Adaptogens as Stress Supplements

Herbs classified as adaptogens are said to strengthen the body's resistance to all kinds of stress. Adaptogens are also thought to act as a general normalizer for the body. However, the use of adaptogenic herbs in supplements for stress has yet to be extensively studied in clinical trials.

Here's a look at several herbs often found in supplements used for stress management:

1) Rhodiola

An herb long used in traditional medicine in Russia and some European countries, rhodiola may help fight fatigue among people dealing with chronic stress. For instance, in a small study published in 2009, scientists found that regular intake of rhodiola reduced fatigue and, in turn, enhanced mental performance in people struggling with stress-induced burnout. Study results showed that the 30 participants taking rhodiola supplements for 28 days had a greater improvement in concentration than those who took a placebo pill for the same amount of time.

2) Ashwaghanda

In ayurveda (the traditional medicine of India), this herb has long been prescribed for its supposedly rejuvenating effects. Although a number of animal-based studies have shown that ashwaghanda offers significant anti-stress and adaptogenic benefits, there is currently a lack of scientific evidence for ashwaghanda's stress-fighting effects in humans.

3) Ginseng

While Panax ginseng (more commonly known as Korean ginseng) is often touted for its anti-stress properties, very few studies have explored its adaptogenic effects in humans. In a 2003 study on rats, however, scientists found that regular intake of Korean ginseng may protect against some of the detrimental effects of chronic stress.

More Ways to Manage Stress Naturally

While taking a supplement may be helpful in coping with stress, identifying your top stress triggers and looking for ways to minimize them should be your first step in tackling stress. In addition to troubleshooting stress-producing problems at work, at home, and in other areas of your life, consider seeking stress relief through mind-body practices like yoga, meditation, tai chi, guided imagery, and biofeedback.

Should You Take a Supplement for Stress?

Since stress is a known risk factor for many serious illnesses (including depression and heart disease) and may contribute to other health conditions (like insomnia and high blood pressure), it's important to work with your doctor in managing long-term stress. If you're considering taking a supplement for stress -- or any other health problem -- make sure to consult your doctor before starting your supplement regimen.

It should be noted that the effects of long-term use of supplements for stress management are unknown.

Sources:

Bhattacharya SK, Muruganandam AV. "Adaptogenic activity of Withania somnifera: an experimental study using a rat model of chronic stress." Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2003 75(3):547-55.

Head KA, Kelly GS. "Nutrients and botanicals for treatment of stress: adrenal fatigue, neurotransmitter imbalance, anxiety, and restless sleep." Altern Med Rev. 2009 14(2):114-40.

Mishra LC, Singh BB, Dagenais S. "Scientific basis for the therapeutic use of Withania somnifera (ashwagandha): a review." Altern Med Rev. 2000 5(4):334-46.

Olsson EM, von Schéele B, Panossian AG. "A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel-group study of the standardised extract shr-5 of the roots of Rhodiola rosea in the treatment of subjects with stress-related fatigue." Planta Med. 2009 75(2):105-12.

Rai D, Bhatia G, Sen T, Palit G. "Anti-stress effects of Ginkgo biloba and Panax ginseng: a comparative study." J Pharmacol Sci. 2003 93(4):458-64.

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