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Stress Busters: Relaxing Naturally

Valerian: Nature's Valium
Another favorite for the treatment of anxiety is valerian (Valeriana officinalis), sometimes referred to as "Nature's Valium." Derived from the dried rhizomes and roots of this tall plant, which grows on wet soil in many countries, valerian has been used for thousands of years as a folk remedy. As a natural relaxant, it is useful for several disorders, including restlessness, nervousness, insomnia, menstrual problems, and "nervous" stomach. Valerian acts on the brain's GABA receptors to produce a tranquilizing action that is similar to Valium-type drugs, but without the same side effects.

Be forewarned, though – its smell has been likened to old socks! So hold your nose, and here's how to take it. Using standardized extract (0.8 percent valeric acid), the dose is 50-100 mg, two to three times daily for relaxation. For bedtime sedation to promote sleep, take 150-300 mg about 45 minutes before bedtime.

Another word of caution: valerian can interact with alcohol and certain antihistamines, muscle relaxants, psychotropic drugs, and narcotics. Those taking any of these drugs should take valerian only under the supervision of a health-care practitioner.

How it works: Enhances GABA activity.

Positive effects: Reduces anxiety, insomnia, and tension.

Cautions: Potentiates sedative drugs, including muscle relaxants and antihistamines; can interact with alcohol.

Dosage: As a relaxant, 50-100 mg two to three times daily; as a bedtime sedative, 100-300 mg about 45 minutes before bedtime.

The next two plants are traditional sedating herbs that you will often find in combination formulas. Like many subtle flavorings, however, they do add their own special qualities to the mix, and you might like to know something about them.

Hops: Happy Snoozing
Hops (Humulus lupulus) has been used for centuries as a mild sedative and sleeping aid. The herb is primarily used to calm nerves and induce sleep, usually in combination with other herbal sedatives such as passionflower, valerian, and skullcap. Its sedative action works directly on the central nervous system. The dose is around 200 mg per day but varies from formula to formula.

Passionflower: Rest Easy
The mild sedative effect of passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) has been well substantiated in numerous animal and human studies. The herb encourages a deep, restful, and uninterrupted sleep, with no side effects. Passionflower has been commonly used in the treatment of concentration problems in schoolchildren and as a sedative for the elderly. In high doses, passionflower has been found to be mildly hallucinogenic, though we don't recommend trying it for that. Dosage varies with the formula but is generally 100-200 mg per day of the standardized product.

Relaxing Naturally With Amino Acids
GABA: Truly Chilled
We've now heard quite a bit about GABA, the main inhibitory or calming amino acid and neurotransmitter. GABA also acts as a significant mood modulator by regulating the neurotransmitters noradrenaline, dopamine, and serotonin. GABA helps to shift a tense, worried state to relaxation, and a blue mood to a happy one. When your levels of GABA are low, you feel anxious, tense, depressed, and have trouble sleeping. When your levels increase, your breathing and heart rate slow and your muscles relax, making it a welcome addition to any chill-out program.

While you can enhance GABA activity with herbs, as we've seen, you can also take GABA directly in powder or pill form – 100-500 mg two to three times daily, generally mid-morning, mid-afternoon, and, if needed, at bedtime. A review article on GABA by two psychiatrists at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver makes it clear that it is able to move easily from the bloodstream into the brain. In technical terms, inability to cross the blood-brain barrier is often an obstacle to a product's effectiveness. So you can be sure that the GABA you ingest will actually get to its target, the brain.

How it works: Calming neurotransmitter; enhances GABA activity, which counteracts stress hormones.

Positive effect: Reduces anxiety, insomnia, and tension.

Cautions: Can cause nausea and vomiting at high doses.

Dosage: 250-500 mg twice daily after meals.

Taurine: Calming Influence
Taurine is an amino acid that plays a major role in the brain as an "inhibitory" neurotransmitter. Similar in structure and function to GABA, taurine provides a similar antianxiety effect that helps to calm or stabilize an excited brain. Taurine has many other uses as well, including treating migraine, insomnia, agitation, restlessness, irritability, alcoholism, obsessions, depression, and even hypomania/mania – the "high" phase of bipolar disorder or manic depression. People have also reported getting a pleasant high from taking one or two capsules!

By inhibiting the release of adrenaline, taurine also protects us from anxiety and other adverse effects of stress. It even helps control high blood pressure. You may have noticed it as an ingredient in some of the energizing, high-caffeine soft drinks, to soften any overstimulation.

Vegetarians can be at risk for taurine deficiency since taurine is found in animal and fish protein, especially organ meats. A nonessential amino acid, taurine can be manufactured by the body in the liver and brain from the amino acids L-cysteine and L-methionine, plus the cofactor vitamin B6. When there are insufficiencies, though, you are best to supplement directly with taurine. The recommended dose is 100-500 mg twice daily, and higher as needed, between meals for best absorption.


From NATURAL HIGHS: Supplements, Nutrition, and Mind/Body Techniques to Help You Feel Good by Hyla Cass and Patrick Holford. Copyright © Hyla Cass, M.D., and Patrick Holford. Used by arrangement with Avery, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit www.penguin.com. Get a 15% discount with the coupon code FENPARENT.


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