As if there wasn’t already a stress problem in America, with an estimated 33 percent of adults reporting that they experience extreme stress, per The American Institute of Stress, the global pandemic that we’re currently living in certainly doesn’t make life any easier. Since the onset of the pandemic research published by the UNC Chapel Hill and Harvard Medical School show an estimated 55 percent of U.S. adults reporting stress. But what are some of the best supplements for stress reduction and management?
This is quite problematic. Not only from a societal standpoint, but also when it comes to the health of the nation. Chronic stress can affect your brain, thyroid, blood sugar, make your bones brittle and elevate your “bad” cholesterol, warns naturopathic doctor and clinical nutritionist David Friedman, N.D., D.C.
“Stress is now considered the leading contributing factor to cancer, strokes, accidents, obesity, depression, and the top complaint for an estimated 80 percent of physician office visits,” he says.
Stress is a normal bodily reaction and a defense mechanism to protect us from harm. But the stress we refer to today does quite the opposite. “Prolonged or chronic stress is the new ‘normal’ in terms of human existence and is caused by the constant uncertainty and changes demanded by modern life,” says Amy Neuzil, N.D.. She is a naturopathic doctor, writer, speaker, host of the To Health With That! podcast.
“This stress accumulates as we desperately try to keep up with the rapid-fire changes in expectations. This includes work environments, health status, financial status, and even noise, information, and other stimuli around us. In short, chronic stress is the overwhelm caused by modern life.”
Excess stress is terrible for our bodies. And it and can play a role in making us more vulnerable to a host of diseases. Both acute and chronic — including everything from anxiety and depression to heart disease and stroke. The good news: There are plenty of solutions out there for combatting stress. And many of them don’t require a trip to your doctor’s office. Here, we asked experts to share their best strategies for coping with stress au naturale.
Here are some fo the best strategies and supplements for stress reduction according to experts:
This perennial flowering plant has some pretty powerful mood-balancing benefits as well as increasing your resistance to stress. That’s why Toronto-based naturopathic doctor Olivia Rose, N.D. often recommends it to her patients who are trying to manage their stress. “Rhodiola grows throughout Europe, Asia and North America and is typically used in capsule form,” she says. “When taken regularly, it has been shown to have anti-aging, anti-viral, stress reducing and antioxidant effects.”
B vitamins are incredibly important when it comes to ensuring that the cells in the body are functioning optimally. But they also regulate two hormones that play a key role in emotional stability and stress management. For her patients who are feeling the effects of stress, Dr. Rose recommends a B complex vitamin. Which is a combination of B vitamins including B1, B2 B6 and B12 all in one pill. “B vitamins offer many benefits as they play important roles in mood regulation and cognition,” she says.
“B vitamins are important cofactors in metabolic processes in the body. And are involved with the synthesis of feel good hormones serotonin and dopamine.”
She recommends taking a B complex supplement with food in the morning. As it offers an energy boost and it can uplift your mood during stressful times. Making it a great supplement for stress.
Melatonin, the sleep hormone, is one of Dr. Neuzil’s favorite supplements to counter stress. “It contributes to quality sleep when taken at bedtime, especially if that person has avoided screens for the hour before bed and also antagonizes cortisol, the main long-term stress hormone, helping to decrease levels overnight,” she says. “If that weren’t enough, melatonin also serves as an antioxidant that easily crosses the blood-brain barrier, helping to protect your brain from the higher levels of oxidative stress that can occur during periods of high stress.”
She recommends taking melatonin at bedtime dosing between 3 and 10 mg per night.
This is a category of herbs, which includes holy basil, Panax ginseng, licorice, ashwagandha, and more. They can help modulate stress levels by calming the mind so that you can stay calm, get good sleep, and retain your cognitive function, notes Dr. Neusil. “Licorice, particularly, is known to raise blood pressure slightly. Which is perfect if your blood pressure is low but undesirable if your blood pressure is high,” she says. “Typically you will find these herbs in adaptogen mixtures, rather than as single herbs.” But one note before using these supplements for stress. She recommends checking with your doctor, as these herbs can interact with some medications.
Lion’s Mane mushroom
This mushroom gets its name from its stark resemblance to, you guessed it, the lion. “It is often called the ‘smart mushroom,’ because it’s a potent, jitter-free natural brain enhancer that has been shown to improve cognitive abilities,” says Dr. Friedman. “Eating these mushrooms can help with low energy levels because they increase NGF, or Nerve Growth Factor, activity.”
Unfortunately these mushrooms aren’t easily found at your local grocery store. But you can find them in supplement form.
When it comes to stress, your gut isn’t the first part of your body you think of. However, research has shown that there is a true gut-mind connection that is not in our imagination. “Our emotions, how we react to stress when we’re happy, sad, depressed, all originate within our gut,” notes Dr. Friedman. “A lack of beneficial microorganisms in the gut has been associated with anxiety and depression, but taking a probiotic can help the good bacteria of the gut (microbiome) deal better with stress.”
Among the many strains of probiotics, Lactobacillus (L.) rhamnosus is one that he recommends for dealing with stress and anxiety.
This herb has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine for everything from combating depression and anxiety to improving brain function, memory and concentration, notes Dr. Friedman. “Bacopa monnieri increases the length and branching of nerve cells, also known as dendrites, in the brain, which is linked to learning and memory,” he says. “Another reason bacopa monnieri is so effective is due to active compounds called bacosides, which protect the brain from the ravishing effects of free radicals.”
It’s not a supplement you take. But practicing mindfulness and meditation are simple actionable steps that can help reduce stress on a daily basis. “Mindfulness is a state of awareness; it’s an active process in which you deliberately pay attention to your surroundings. And to yourself in a non-judgemental way,” says Dr. Rose. “It takes practice, however research has shown that overtime mindfulness can improves self regulation, boost self esteem and optimism and more.”
If you’re short on free time, know that you can simply start with just one deep breath for one minute. Then slowly increase this practice to 20 minutes sessions each day.
Jenn Sinrich is a freelance editor, writer and content strategist located in Boston, Massachusetts. She received her BA in journalism from Northeastern University and has more than a decade of experience working for a myriad of female-focused publications including SELF, Parents, Women’s Health, BRIDES, Martha Stewart Weddings and more. When she’s not putting pen to paper (or, really, fingers to keyboard), she’s enjoying the most precious moments in life with her husband and daughter.