According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, 1 in 5 Canadians will personally experience a mental health issue such as anxiety or depression in any given year. By the age of 40, half of Canadians will have, or have had, a mental illness and this crosses all ages, education levels, incomes and cultures. Nearly half of Canadians report suffering from anxiety. Natural solutions for anxiety, stress and depression are abound, and can be a great first step in helping Canadians manage their mental health when drugs are not yet needed or necessary. The following is a brief look at three popular natural treatments for stress and/or stress related issues.

GABA for Anxiety and Related Insomnia. GABA, by definition, is both an amino acid and a neurotransmitter. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers in our central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) that have profound effects on our moods, our sleep-wake cycles, and more. GABA stands out as our primary inhibitory neurotransmitter, and as such, it is associated with a state of calm and relaxation. When GABA goes up, we wind down.  As GABA drops, we become more anxious and unsettled. At extremes, very low GABA levels would enter us into a state of seizures. Studies suggest that major depressive disorders can been associated with an “altered GABA-mediated response”. Human studies suggest that an oral dose of GABA of 100 mg is associated with an increase in the ratio of alpha waves in the brain. Alpha waves are present during a relaxed state. Clinically, people find GABA helpful for states of stress and/or stress related insomnia. NOW® GABA helps promote relaxation and eases nervous tension and anxiety.

NOW® 5-HTP 100 mg for Mood. 5-HTP is a compound that gets converted into serotonin in the brain, which in turn gets converted to melatonin. Serotonin is one of the principal neurotransmitters attributed to feelings of happiness. Serotonin also boosts social behaviour, improves memory, and regulates appetite, digestion, sleep, sexual desire and function. Melatonin is a hormone vital to a good night’s sleep. Most traditional anti-depressant drugs such as SSRIs (Prozac being a common one) target serotonin.  However, not everyone can tolerate these drugs due to side effects. Stress related overeating and obesity is not uncommon. 5-HTP has been shown in randomized controlled trials to suppress appetite resulting in less food intake. 5-HTP has been clinically validated to relieve symptoms of fibromyalgia, and to reduce the severity of headaches and migraines.

NOW® Ashwagandha 400 mg. Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is an herb with a long tradition of use in Ayurvedic medicine from India.   The name Ashwagandha in Sanskrit translates as “horse smell” as it is thought to confer the strength and virility of a horse. It is best known as an “adaptogen” which includes substances thought to allow us to adapt to or better tolerate stress. Studies show that Ashwagandha has notable anxiety reducing effects. It also appears to significantly reduce other stress-related experiences such as fatigue and temporary cognitive impairment.  Moreover, Ashwagandha has been observed to reduce cortisol, a hormone, which can spike excessively when we are stressed.

Dr. Thalia Charney, MA

Nutrition and Health Education Manager, NOW FOODS 

Thalia Charney is an author, educator and speaker and the Nutrition and Health Education Manager for the NOW® Brand in Canada.  Thalia brings a wealth of experience from her many years as a health coach and nutrition expert as well as her insights gained from having authored Canada’s most comprehensive book on navigating food products: The Confident Food Shopper: The Guide to Food Labels and Fables.

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