stress hormone

  1. The ancient cure for stress and anxiety

    Beat stress, anxiety and more naturally

    Ashwagandha. The name doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, does it?

    But it's a name worth learning to pronounce -- because ashwagandha is a time-tested remedy for stress and anxiety. And if centuries of real-world results aren't enough to impress you, just check out the latest cutting-edge science.

    In a gold-standard study, this ancient Indian remedy helped ease stress and anxiety by just about every possible measure.

    For starters, patients who took ashwagandha supplements for 60 days had 28 percent lower levels of cortisol, the so-called "stress hormone."

    In small amounts, cortisol can actually be helpful. But when you're battling chronic stress and anxiety, you end up overwhelmed by it -- and that's one of the reasons stress can leave you just plain worn out.

    But that didn't happen to the patients given the ashwagandha.

    They took no less than three separate psychological tests that measure stress, anxiety, and overall wellbeing. All three work the same way: The higher the score, the more stressed-out you are.

    And their scores fell on all three.

    In two of the tests -- the General Health Questionnaire-28 and the Depression Anxiety Stress Scale -- the volunteers who took the extract saw their scores plunge by a whopping 72 percent.

    And in a third test, the Perceived Stress Scale, their scores fell by an average of 44 percent, according to the study published in the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine.

    With numbers like that, stress and anxiety doesn't stand a chance.

    But the benefits didn't end there. The volunteers who took the extract also enjoyed better sleep, increased productivity, more relaxation, and even an increase in elusive mental calmness.

    It's like an all-around get-well supplement, and that's still not all ashwagandha can do for you. It's a powerful adaptogen that can help fight fatigue, reduce inflammation, improve memory, and limit the damaging effects of aging.

    It can even help ease jet lag.

    There are so many benefits that it sounds a little hard to believe -- but in many cases, it all comes down to that stress hormone, cortisol. Many of these conditions and more are related to, or even caused by, the hormonal imbalances that strike when your levels of stress hormones shoot up.

    And in today's high-strung world, many people are practically drowning in cortisol.

    It's ironic, then, that the best answer for the stress of modern life is an ancient remedy that's been part of India's Ayurvedic tradition for centuries.

    If you're interested in taking an ashwagandha supplement yourself, don't just choose the first one you see. Check the label for its level of withanolides, the active ingredient found in the root.

    The extract in the newest study contained 5 percent withanolides. That's a good start -- but you can do better. The ashwagandha extracts I recommend are at least 8 percent withanolides.

    And along with taking this ancient remedy for stress and anxiety, I've got two other highly effective stress-beaters that are even older: time with family, and prayer.

    I know they're simple. I know they're basic. And I know in some quarters they're not exactly fashionable.

    But they work -- and you can often feel the effects of these stress-beaters immediately.

  2. Yoga can bring fibro relief

    Score one more for yoga!

    Researchers say light stretching can do what a pharmacy full of drugs often cannot: Bring real relief to women suffering from fibromyalgia, the mystifying and often debilitating pain condition.

    Researchers from York University in Toronto asked 22 women to take 75-minute hatha yoga classes twice a week. After just eight weeks, the women reported less pain than they did at the start of the study.

    They also felt better about their condition, reporting less helplessness and more acceptance, and they were less likely to focus on the worst possible outcomes of the disease.

    Although those responses were based on a questionnaire given before and after the study, there were also noticeable changes on a much more objective level. The researchers say the women had higher levels of the "stress hormone" cortisol after eight weeks of yoga lessons.

    Now, that might sound bad. "Stress hormone" sounds like trouble, and you definitely don't want too much of it hanging around.

    But too little can be even worse, because the stress hormone is needed to help control inflammation and regulate blood pressure. More importantly, it also keeps the immune system in check -- the same immune system that often goes haywire in fibromyalgia patients.

    And not so coincidentally, fibro patients usually have very low levels of cortisol.

    Since the study was small, it'll take more research before anyone can say for sure whether yoga can boost cortisol levels in the long run -- but other studies have been encouraging, at least when it comes to pain relief.

    In one I told you about last year, yoga actually brought as much relief as drugs, with none of the risks. (Read about it here.)

    Now, if you're suffering from fibro, I know you might think the pretzel-like contortions of yoga are the last things your body could handle.

    In reality, the hatha form of yoga used in the new study is one of the most basic -- and the most gentle.

    And in addition to helping to beat pain and regulate your cortisol levels, yoga has been shown to boost physical strength and energy levels, lower blood pressure, and even improve mental health.

    You can often find inexpensive or even free lessons through your local library, park, or senior center -- or even try it on your own with a book or video.

    Happy stretching.

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