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Stress and Adaptogenic Herbs

Stress and Adaptogenic Herbs 0

 

Stress. It is a term 21st century citizens can define well and it is a concept shaping the philosophies and approaches of modern health and wellness. Quite simply, it is something neither patients nor healthcare providers can ignore.  

Stress is a product of our modern lifestyles that often operate on time constraints that leave individuals feeling short on sleep, healthy meals, time alone, time with family, and of course…energy. Success is often measured by productivity, and productivity is matched with speed. Unfortunately, this lightning speed lifestyle takes a toll on our health and can be a root cause of many chronic health conditions.  

STRESS DEFINED 

Stress is currently defined by Merriam-Webster as “a state of mental tension and worry caused by problems in your life, work, etc.” Prior to the 15th century, stress was strictly an academic term of physics used to describe pressure on objects and eventually used to define physiological hardship and adversity. The 19th century saw the definition and context of stress morph into our modern day understanding, which is now known as chronic stress. 

STRESS AND CHRONIC PAIN CONDITIONS 

Chronic stress not only impacts our general well-being, but both physical and emotional stress can trigger and exacerbate many chronic pain and fatigue syndromes, including fibromyalgia. Prolonged stress confuses the central nervous system and widens the body’s ability to perceive pain. As the central nervous system begins misinterpreting an array of harmless stimuli as painful or threatening, the perception of widespread pain engulfs your body. 

As society continues to move toward a George Jetson prototype rather than aspiring to move back to the Little House on the Prairie, it will increasingly rely on tools that will provide support for the demands and stresses of a fast-paced life.  

ADAPTOGENS DEFINED 

Adaptogens evolved in the wake of our newborn understanding of psychological stress. First used in 1969 by herbalists, an adaptogen is defined as “a nontoxic substance and especially a plant extract that is held to increase the body's ability to resist the damaging effects of stress and promote or restore normal physiological functioning.” (Merriam-Webster) Fascinating! The classes of therapeutic herbs and supplements are derived from emerging health conundrums of which chronic stress is at the forefront. This makes adaptogens increasingly important to understand since they may serve as strong supporters of optimal health when stress perpetually exists. 

ASHWAGANDHA 

Ashwagandha (Withania somniferais a revered herbal adaptogen with deep roots in Indian Ayurvedic medicine. Historically, it was used to strengthen, revitalize, and impart vigor. Today, these same qualities are reinstating the popularity of this herb and especially as researchers are fine-tuning our understanding of how this unique herb acts as an adaptogen, supporting strong health during stressful times. A study on the efficacy of Ashwagandha in the treatment of anxiety (a primary sign of the stress response) concluded that intervention with Ashwagandha “resulted in greater score improvements (significantly in most cases) than placebo in outcomes on anxiety or stress scales.” In another study, Ashwagandha not only reduced perceived stress and anxiety, but improved sleep, depression, and social interaction, and improved quality of life. 

One way Ashwagandha works its wonders is by supporting the health of the adrenal glands. These glands sit perched upon the kidneys and although small in size, their influence upon various hormones and physiological responses is great. These glands are the heart of the stress response and act immediately when stressors arise by releasing a hormone known as cortisol. While cortisol may be life-saving when we are running from danger, it is also destructive to the immune system and other organ systems when it persists in circulation. Chronic stress causes cortisol to persist and eventually robs us of health and vitality. Ashwagandha’s success as an adaptogen can be partly attributed to its ability to clinically reduce the serum levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol. 

RHODIOLA ROSEA 

Rhodiola rosea is another popular adaptogenic botanical in North America. It has long been recognized and revered in Russia, Europe and Asia as a botanical that encourages mental, physical and emotional resiliency. 

One of the most common uses of rhodiola is for improving mental and physical fatigue. Numerous studies have been conducted to this end. A recent systematic review on the adaptogenic effects of Rholdiola rosea concluded that it, “may have beneficial effects on physical performance, mental performance, and certain mental health conditions. Another study saw improvement in all stress symptoms, disability, functional impairment and an overall therapeutic effect within 3 days of the study. During this 4-week study, the efficacy of those positive health effects grew.  

As with other adaptogens, Rhodiola rosea acts upon the central nervous system to enhance the actions of neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine, dopamine and serotonin. It also makes the blood brain barrier more permeable to neurotransmitter precursors, so adequate neurotransmitters can be produced naturally. Neurotransmitters influence our ability to think, analyze, evaluate, calculate and plan, as well as our attention, memory, and learning functions.  As Rhodiola rosea gently stimulates brain function, it can play an important role in appropriately managing chronic mental and physical stress.  

Rhodiola rosea also supports the limbic system, which includes the hippocampus, amygdala and hypothalamus. This system responds to norepinephrine, serotonin and dopamine and consequently contributes to positive outcomes in emotion, memory, mood, pleasure, energy and drive. The limbic system also communicates with the adrenal glands to help balance cortisol levels in response to stress. Rhodiola’s support of the limbic system and adrenal glands can build strength and resiliency, improving the health of all body systems and contributing to a general sense of wellness. This is one example of the close-knit relationship between all body systems.  

As chronic stress continues to destroy quality of life and health, adaptogens such as Ashwagandha and Rhodiola rosea may be imperative in the battle to gain control over foundational health issues and chronic pain and fatigue syndromes that mark an era not too eager to slow down and adopt a less stressful lifestyle. 

 

  1. Pratte, M. A., Nanavati, K. B., Young, V., & Morley, C. P. (2014). An alternative treatment for anxiety: A systematic review of human trial results reported for the ayurvedic herb ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine20(12), 901–908.  
  2. Chandrasekhar, K., Kapoor, J., & Anishetty, S. (2012). A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adultsIndian Journal of Psychological Medicine34(3), 255–262.  
  3. Kalani A, Bahtiyar G, & Sacerdote A. (2012). Ashwagandha root in the treatment of non-classical adrenal hyperplasiaBJU Case ReportsSep 17;2012. pii: bcr2012006989. 
  4. Hung SK, Perry R, Ernst E. (2011). The effectiveness and efficacy of Rhodiola rosea L.: a systematic review of randomized clinical trials. Phytomedicine18(4):235-44. doi: 10.1016/j.phymed.2010.08.014. 
  5. Edwards D, Heufelder A, Zimmermann A. (2012). Therapeutic effects and safety of Rhodiola rosea extract WS® 1375 in subjects with life-stress symptoms--results of an open-label study. Phytotherapy Research26(8):1220-5. doi: 10.1002/ptr.3712. 
  6. Brown, RP, Gerbarg, PL & Ramazanov, Z. (2002). Rhodiola rosea: a phytomedical overviewAmerican Botanical Council: HerbalGram. 56:40-52 
Autumn Allergies – Please Pass the Tissues

Autumn Allergies – Please Pass the Tissues 0

As the cooler weather blows in, it is not uncommon to throw open the windows to air out the home, while simultaneously enjoying crisp cool nights. Unfortunately, for many, coexisting with nature and the fresh air only spawns misery in the form of sneezing, congestion, itchy and watery eyes. Just like spring all over again.

The warm summer months served as a prime growing season for various weeds, which, in full maturity, utilize the cool and breezy fall weather to shed and spread their pollen. Ragweed pollen is among the most common culprits for triggering fall allergies. Releasing pollen from August to November, ragweed is native to a vast majority of American soil, making it virtually impossible to escape.

Similarly, as the fall season progresses, piles of damp leaves and morning dew provide a perfect breeding ground for mold to flourish and release allergenic spores. Mold may not only assault allergy sufferers from outdoors, but can be equally troublesome indoors when the furnace is turned on for the first time, releasing a mass of mold spores that have been hiding among the dirty crevices of the furnace ducts.

QUERCETIN

Supporting the body in its fight against fall allergens becomes the focus of many individuals. Many helpful botanicals can serve this role; however, quercetin excels in this battle. Quercetin is known as a bioflavonoid and is prevalent within apples, onions, grapefruit, red wine, and black and green teas. It is particularly useful in supporting the mucus membranes during exposure to various fall allergens. Mucous membranes are a significant part of our respiratory system and help to protect the delicate cells of the respiratory tract from invaders. Pollen and mold spores are deemed unwelcome invaders that trigger a cascade of events intended to eliminate or neutralize the invaders. This series of events often results in a runny, itchy nose, sneezing, watery eyes and nasal congestion. Quercetin has been relied upon for centuries to help the mucus membranes respond appropriately to allergens by acting as a mediator and helping the body’s natural defense system interact with the allergens in a healthy way. Specifically, quercetin focuses on aiding the white blood cells responsible for transmitting messages and releasing chemicals in response to allergens. Histamine is one chemical released by white blood cells during allergen exposure, and it is responsible for the plethora of annoying signs that follow. Quercetin helps white blood cells react to allergens with a healthy histamine response. It is also useful in supporting the respiratory tract, so it can maintain clear air passage during allergen exposure. So as the weather turns cooler, quercetin may be something to look forward to just as much as pumpkins and scarecrows.

MOLD AND VITAMIN D

Mold allergies are particularly complicated. In apparently healthy individuals, seasonal mold spores may not be any more bothersome than weed pollen, but in other individuals, mold exposure can create chaos in the respiratory tract.

Aspergillus fumigatus is the most frequently encountered fungus both in the home and outdoors. The cells of the respiratory tract act as the fist line of defense, explaining why their health is so important during exposure to mold. Vitamin D can play a significant role in supporting the respiratory tract so it can respond to mold spores in a healthy way. Researchers have discovered that mold spores have the unique ability to identify and claim possession of vitamin D receptors in the airway. Therefore, maintaining adequate vitamin D levels is important so that empty vitamin D receptors are not available for mold spores to possess. Additionally, adequate vitamin D can help the body maintain a healthy inflammatory response to mold exposure. Unfortunately, vitamin D deficiencies are notorious among individuals and replenishing a less-than-optimal vitamin D level can take time. Therefore, it is advantageous to try to attain optimal vitamin D levels prior to the fall season in order to offer the body full support against allergens.

Many botanicals and nutrients can support the health of mucus membranes and the respiratory tract during allergy season. However, quercetin and vitamin D, in addition to a healthy diet that includes plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, are foundational in maintaining healthy responses to these seasonal invaders.

Sources

Hattori et al. (2013). Quercetin inhibits transcriptional up-regulation of histamine H1 receptor via suppressing protein kinase C-δ/extracellular signal-regulated kinase/poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase-1 signaling pathway in HeLa cells. International Immunopharmacology. 15(2):232-9. doi. 10.1016/j.intimp.2012.12.030.

Weng et al. (2012) Quercetin is more effective than cromolyn in blocking human mast cell cytokine release and inhibits contact dermatitis and photosensitivity in humans. PLoS ONE. 7(3): e33805. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0033805

Sakai-Kashiwabara, M. and Asano, K. (2013). Inhibitory action of quercetin on eosinophil activation in vitro. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Article ID 127105, 7 pages, 2013. doi:10.1155/2013/127105

Joskova, M., Franova, S., and Sadlonova, V. (2011). Acute bronchodilator effect of quercetin in experimental allergic asthma. Bratislavske Lekarske Listy. 112(1):9-12.

Li et al. (2015). Activation of vitamin D regulates response of human bronchial epithelial cells to Aspergillus fumigatus in an autocrine fashion. Mediators of Inflammation, 2015, 208491. http://doi.org/10.1155/2015/208491

LED Light Risks

LED Light Risks 0

Incandescent lighting has served to illuminate the spaces of mankind since Thomas Edison first patented the lightbulb in the late 19th century. After nearly 130 years of service, this faithful lighting technology has suddenly been forced into retirement to make way for the newer, energy-efficient light-emitting diodes (LED) lights. Other forms of lighting have been introduced, including fluorescent and halogen, but none has had the authority to erase incandescent as LED has done.

While this new lighting technology brightly illuminates our homes with their alien-like glow, the energy industry is celebrating a victory.  LEDs use 75% less energy than incandescent lighting and could have the greatest potential impact on energy savings in the United States.  LED lights are manufactured to eliminate virtually all heat-producing infrared light. Instead, they function on an excess of cool blue light which has been coupled with a yellow phosphor to create the white LED light that falsely emulates natural outdoor light. The lack of heat explains their energy savings since 90% of the energy utilization of incandescent lighting is due to heat production from infrared light.

The energy efficiency of LED lighting cannot be disputed, but perhaps, a more serious outcome of this new technology is being overlooked and would give adequate grounds for debate. Namely, the health impact of LED lighting on humans and sleep disturbances, particularly.

In the past, human exposure to blue light has been limited to the light radiating from the screens of electronic devices, but the use of LED bulbs for domestic lightening has suddenly plunged us into a pool of blue light from the moment we awake to the time we retire.

Many studies have warned against the long-term use of blue light because of its ability to damage cells of the retina (rods and cones) and negatively impact our circadian rhythm. Intense light significantly increases the temperature of the retina and generates a significant amount of free radicals which damage retinal cells. The injuries are cumulative, leading to death of retinal cells and inflammation in the eyes.

The cells of the retina communicate with various organ systems of the body to inform them of the presence and intensity of light. The body can then make decisions regarding which hormones it should produce to either keep us awake and alert, or relaxed for sleep. As the cells of the retina are slowly damaged by LED lighting, our body’s ability to maintain a healthy sleep/wake cycle becomes compromised.

Melatonin is a hormone the body produces to prepare us to sleep. As the cells of our retina communicate light intensity, the body can decide when it is time to start producing melatonin. Blue light tells the body to stay awake and alert, and suppresses the production of melatonin. As we begin to turn on the LED lights in our homes at night, our body is confused as blue light pours into our eyes. Melatonin is suppressed and our circadian rhythm is disrupted. As a result, we have trouble sleeping. One study found a significant, dose-dependent suppression of melatonin with exposure to LED lighting.

The duration of exposure to blue light creates cumulative damage, which is why domestic LED lighting has posed more health risks than intermittent exposure to electronic devices. Disruptions in the circadian rhythm are associated with increased incidence of diabetes, obesity, heart disease, cognitive and affective impairment, premature aging, some types of cancer, and many chronic pain and fatigue syndromes which could lead to significant concerns related to the constant use of domestic LEDs. During the day, exposure to blue light stimulates alertness, but problems brew when blue light becomes the primary source of illumination at night.

LED lights not only pose problems to our circadian rhythm through exposure to blue light, but also through the magnetic fields that radiate from them. Electromagnetic fields (EMF) are invisible energy or electrical fields that span our entire environment and interact with the energy fields present in our bodies and in physical objects around us. Parents, doctors, and general consumers have been increasingly concerned about the possibility of long term health effects from exposure to EMF radiation. The strongest sources of EMF radiation include our electronic devices such as cell phones, computers, tablets, plasma televisions, routers and modems, utility “smart” meters, and remotes.

Melatonin secretion from the pineal gland is very sensitive to the influences from electric, magnetic and electromagnetic field. A study of 50 electronic equipment service technicians, exposed to various levels of EMF radiation, found significantly decreased levels of melatonin. Although LED lighting does not pose the same threat or possess the same degree of EMF radiation as electronic devices, the influence of EMF radiation, coupled with LED lightening can create a disaster for the circadian rhythm and quality of sleep. Using electronic devices such as a cell phone or tablet at night is particularly concerning since they shine blue light and radiate EMF waves.

The importance of quality and predictable rest and sleep can’t be overstated, especially for those with chronic pain and fatigue syndromes. Our circadian rhythm is set by the natural light-dark cycles and when the blue light and EMF radiation of LED lighting threatens that natural cycle, our health becomes compromised. Many modern-day diseases, including fibromyalgia, have been associated with sleep disturbances.

Sadly, the incandescent light bulbs are quickly being depleted from the market, leaving conscious consumers with very few options for safe lighting. Halogen lighting, a close relative of incandescent, may be the only option for light bulbs. If we understand the risks of LED lights we can be more aware of how often we use them.

Resources: 

  1. US Department of Energy. LED Lighting. Retrieved July 24, 2017, from https://energy.gov/energysaver/led-lighting
  2. Tosini, G., Ferguson, I., & Tsubota, K. (2016). Effects of blue light on the circadian system and eye physiology. Molecular Vision, 22, 61–72.
  3. Shang, et al. (2017). Light-emitting-diode induced retinal damage and its wavelength dependency in vivo. International Journal of Ophthalmology, 10(2), 191–202. http://doi.org/10.18240/ijo.2017.02.03
  4. Walsh, C., Prendergast, R., Sheridan, J., & Murphy, B. (2013). Blue light from light-emitting diodes directed at a single eye elicits a dose-dependent suppression of melatonin in horses. The Veterinary Journal, 196(2), 231-235. doi:10.1016/j.tvjl.2012.09.003
  5. Bonmati-Carrion, et al. (2014). Protecting the Melatonin Rhythm through Circadian Healthy Light Exposure. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 15(12), 23448–23500. http://doi.org/10.3390/ijms151223448
  6. Lewczuk, B., Redlarski, G., Żak, A., Ziółkowska, N., Przybylska-Gornowicz, B., & Krawczuk, M. (2014). Influence of Electric, Magnetic, and Electromagnetic Fields on the Circadian System: Current Stage of Knowledge. BioMed Research International, 2014, 169459. http://doi.org/10.1155/2014/169459

Heart-Protective Hawthorn

Heart-Protective Hawthorn 0

Keeping your heart healthy is not much different from keeping the rest of you healthy. The key things are stress management, appropriate exercise, and a nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory diet—one that is high in brightly colored, low-glycemic vegetables, complete proteins from good quality sources, natural fats, and low in refined carbohydrates and industrial oils (like cottonseed, safflower, and corn)As with most organs and body systems, though, if you’re especially concerned with heart health, there are nutrients that can be helpful in levels above those you would typically consume from foods. One plant whose extracts have been shown to be particularly beneficial for cardiovascular health is hawthorn.   

The heart can become diseased or damaged for many reasons, and some of the symptoms—like chest pain (known in medical terms as angina), shortness of breath upon exertion, high blood pressure, and fatigue—can be the result of the heart struggling to pump enough blood to the rest of the body, or the blood vessels being too narrow or stiff to accommodate adequate blood flow. Hawthorn (Crataegus oxyacantha) has been shown to improve both of these issues; it can help the heart muscle contract more strongly, leading to a more forceful push of blood through the body, and it also helps dilate the blood vessels, which allows the proper amount of blood to flow through them. A strong heart muscle and healthy blood vessels allow the rest of the body to receive the oxygen carried in the blood. When your heart is struggling to pump effectively or the vessels can’t hold as much blood as they should, your cells receive less oxygen, which is why fatigue and shortness of breath are common effects of heart disease. Hawthorn has also been shown to be mildly effective for high blood pressure because it helps with the dilation of blood vessels. 

The history and benefits of hawthorn 

For centuries hawthorn has been used to support healthy heart function, particularly in Europe, where legends of the healing properties of this medicinal herb date back to the 13th century. It seems only fitting that this botanical is heart-protective, as the hawthorn tree is considered to be a tree of love.  Hawthorn is related to the rose family, and is noted for its long thorns and bright red, apple-like berries. It is used in tinctures, teas and capsules to promote heart heath, but the fresh berries are also used for culinary purposes in pies, jams, wines, vinegars and syrups.  

Hawthorn leaves, berries, and flowers are high in antioxidants, which can protect heart tissue and blood vessels from oxidative damage caused by free radicals. The vitamin C and citrin bioflavonoid content of hawthorn help stabilize the collagen that makes up the structure of the blood vessels. Hawthorn also has a beneficial effect on blood lipids, which are often used as markers for heart health. Animal studies have shown hawthorn extracts to mildly limit increases in total cholesterol, LDL, and triglycerides in rats fed a diet designed to raise those indicators.  

In a study of heart attacks in rats, pre-treatment with hawthorn extract reduced levels of enzymes used to indicate the degree of damage the heart has suffered. So hawthorn may strengthen the heart and decrease the amount of tissue damage that results if a cardiac event does occur. 

The foundation of a cardio-protective diet is based around reducing the intake of refined carbohydrates and industrially produced vegetable oils. Hawthorn extract can be a beneficial addition for supporting heart function and works best when coupled with other healthy lifestyle practices, such as a healthy exercise routine, stress reduction and a nutrient rich, anti-inflammatory diet 

Alzheimer's Disease: Type 3 Diabetes?

Alzheimer's Disease: Type 3 Diabetes? 0

As if obesity, type-2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome weren’t enough, evidence indicates we can now add Alzheimer’s disease (AD) to the list of conditions resulting, in part, from a mismatch between our biological makeup and our modern diet and lifestyle. It is no coincidence that we are witnessing a skyrocketing increase in the incidence of AD, which parallels those of the other chronic health issues of our time. Many of these have some of their roots in carbohydrate intolerance—that is, the body’s loss of the ability to properly handle certain amounts or types of carbohydrate foods. In fact, the connections between glucose (carbohydrate), insulin dysregulation and Alzheimer’s disease are so strong that many researchers commonly refer to AD as “type 3 diabetes.”  

The blood-brain-barrier is a powerful border that separates the brain from the rest of the body, and carefully regulates the entry of fuels and nutrients into the brain. However, it is not capable of protecting the brain from the negative effects of an onslaught of refined carbohydrates, damaged vegetable oils, and nutritionally empty processed foods. The brain is an intensely energy-hungry organ. Accounting for only about 2% of body weight, the brain uses around 20% of the body’s glucose and oxygen, so anything that impairs its ability to metabolize glucose would have serious consequences for cognitive function, memory, and behavior. 

Although the outward manifestations of AD—such as memory loss, confusion, and disturbing behavioral changes—are easy to observe, there are underlying contributing factors at a cellular level which can be measured and quantified. One of the earliest and most significant biochemical changes in the AD brain is a decrease in the rate at which the brain uses glucose, called the cerebral metabolic rate of glucose (CMRglu). PET scans show that AD patients have as much as a 45% reduction in CMRglu compared to healthy people of the same age.  Considering the brain’s need for a constant supply of glucose, some researchers see this decline in the brain’s ability to use glucose as the predominant and most profound abnormality in the condition. In fact, AD can be seen as the end result after a significant number of brain cells (neurons) have “starved to death” due to their inability to use their primary fuel source.   

Interestingly, the decline in CMRglu can be observed in people at risk for AD (based on family history or genotype) as early as their 30s or 40s, long before overt signs of AD have manifested. Thus, the decreased CMRglu can be seen as a kind of “canary in the coal mine”—an early warning sign that something is going awry in the brain. The extent of the reduction in CMRglu is tied to AD severity. A study that measured CMRglu in people age50-80 showed that reduced CMRglu at the time of testing predicted progression from normal cognitive function to AD, with the greatest reductions correlating with the quickest development of full-blown AD. In other words, the lower the brain’s ability to use glucose, the more quickly someone is likely to develop AD, and the more severe the condition is likely to be. 

What’s interesting to note is that at the time of testing, even though the younger subjects already had a decreased CMRglu, they were all cognitively normalThis means the brain might be able to compensate for years before damage is so widespread that overt, outward symptoms of AD become obvious. The normal forgetfulness and foibles we associate with “just getting older”—Where did I leave my keys? Don’t I have an appointment somewhere this week?—might be the earliest signs that the brain is struggling to fuel itself. 

Considering the connections between Alzheimer’s disease and problems with glucose handling, the term “type 3 diabetes” is quite insightful. 

 Sources 

  1. de la Monte SM, Wands JR. Alzheimer's disease is type 3 diabetes-evidence reviewed. J Diabetes Sci Technol. 2008 Nov;2(6):1101-13. 
  2. Hoyer S1, Nitsch R, Oesterreich K. Predominant abnormality in cerebral glucose utilization in late-onset dementia of the Alzheimer type: a cross-sectional comparison against advanced late-onset and incipient early-onset cases. J Neural Transm Park Dis Dement Sect. 1991;3(1):1-14. 
  3. Reiman EM et al. Functional brain abnormalities in young adults at genetic risk for late-onset Alzheimer's dementiaProc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2004 Jan 6;101(1):284-9. 
  4. Mosconi L et al. Hippocampal hypometabolism predicts cognitive decline from normal agingNeurobiol Aging. 2008 May;29(5):676-92. 

When Life Gives You Lemons, Take Lemon Balm

When Life Gives You Lemons, Take Lemon Balm 0

In the 21st century, the hallmarks of American childhood no longer revolve around apple pie, homemade meals, and songs like “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” Instead, children’s lives are characterized by the consumption of fast food, innovative technology and a plethora of after-school activities. They are more familiar with the family van than the family room. An inescapable reality exists in which America is morphing into a society branded by speed and productivity.  However, despite the accomplishments achieved through fast-paced lifestyles, we cannot ignore the inner turmoil that occurs as our bodies strive to maintain optimal health and wellness during periods of chronic stress.  

Perhaps, one of the greatest pieces of evidence of this lifestyle change can be witnessed in the physician’s office. Panic attacks, anxiety, depression, insomnia, fatigue and associated conditions are on the rise. Antidepressants, antipsychotics, sleep aids and narcotics are common drugs seen in most American homes. It appears that the 21st century American could benefit from something akin to the fictitious “chill pill.” While many facetiously throw around references to such a pill in the famous cliché, others are aware that such a remedy may actually exist in the form of the ancient herb, lemon balm (Melissa officinalis). 

Lemon balm has a history of promoting relaxation and a calm demeanor.  Back in the 15th century, the famous Swiss physician Paracelsus dubbed lemon balm the “elixir of life,” because it promoted health and longevity.  English herbalist, John Gerard, even believed that lemon balm was a comforting herb, helping to drive away sadness.  The citrus flavor of lemon balm’s essential oil made it a popular choice for flavoring drinks, freshening rooms and polishing furniture. Its most ancient use as a bee attractant made it indispensable to beekeepers. When planted near beehives, lemon balm would ensure the busy bees stayed close to home. 

Modern science attributes lemon balm’s calming, sedative-like properties to the herb’s ability to support the brain’s neurotransmitters – chemical hormones responsible for influencing our moods and circadian rhythms (the body’s 24 hour biological clock). When we are under chronic stress, certain neurotransmitters are awakened in the brain and act to stimulate us, keeping us alert and active. Sometimes, an abundance of these neurotransmitters can lead to anxiety, panicand depression, and can interrupt our sleep patterns. When our stress-induced neurotransmitters increase, our bodies attempt to balance the scales by producing more calming neurotransmitters. These chemical hormones are responsible for relaxing our muscles, eliciting overall calmness, and improving our sleep habits. Lemon balm acts to support healthy production of the calming neurotransmitters and therefore, helps to balance the stimulatory neurotransmitters that govern our stressful lifestyles. 

Lemon balm may also owe its success to the fact that it supports the body’s ability to manage pain appropriately. Many times chronic pain can be a trigger for anxiety, depression and other mental disturbances, and it can also provide a legitimate reason for insomnia. Chronic, stress-induced pain may start with something as simple as a sports injury or bad posture we assume when we bend over a computer desk for long periods of time. Regardless of how chronic pain originates, lemon balm may help promote a healthy pain response that is not overly aggressive.  

Stress not only affects our mood and sleep, and creates tense, painful musclesbut it also triggers various digestive problems. Whether an individual is struggling with stress-induced irritable bowel syndrome or the intake of too much fast food, the digestive system is not alone in feeling the effects of our fast-paced lifestyles. Lemon balm comes to the rescue yet again, helping to support a healthy digestive response when we may not be treating our digestive system so kindly. 

Although we may dream of being able to hit the pause button on life, reality pushes us forward, demanding more of our time, attention, and ultimately, our health.  However, lemon balm can act as a buffer against everyday stressors, aiding our body in its effort to keep our moods elevated, our sleep restoredour muscles relaxedand our pain managed. Ultimatelythis ancient and effective herb, aids us in our ability to simply take a deep breath and chill.