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The Survival Doctor: Natural remedies can help you cope with holiday stress

By: James Hubbard Special to The Gazette
December 17, 2013 Updated: December 17, 2013 at 8:55 am
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photo - The Survival Doctor James Hubbard
The Survival Doctor James Hubbard 

What do holidays have in common with natural disasters and survival? For one thing, stress.

From your mind's perspective, stress is stress no matter if it's due to excitement over your family's arrival or worries about finances or illness. Your muscles tense and your heart speeds up, preparing your body for danger - fight or flight. But this is meant to be very short-term.

If it continues, you will wear down. Soon, you can't sleep, you're exhausted and your temper grows short. In addition, stress can weaken your immune system and increase body inflammation (which causes a plethora of health problems).

You likely know that exercising, cutting back on sugar and caffeine, and simply saying no to too many Christmas parties can help combat stress. And science has shown that some herbs and supplements can help, too.

Always check with your doctor and pharmacist before taking supplements. And don't mix them with alcohol. Also be wary with children as some supplements aren't appropriate for them. With those precautions, here are some of nature's anxiety relievers.

1. Fish oil (omega-3 supplements). In a study published by Brain, Behavior, and Immunity half of 68 medical students took 2,500 mg of fish oil daily and the other half took a placebo. Blood was drawn from all at various times, including right before a key exam. The half that took the fish oil had 20 percent less known stress-producing chemicals in their blood.

2. German chamomile (Matricaria recutita) capsules. A 2009 study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology divided 57 people into two groups. One group was given a placebo while the other took a 220 mg capsule of German chamomile. After a week, they could take two capsules daily if they wanted, and so on, up to five capsules a day. After eight weeks, the group taking the chamomile reported significantly less anxiety. Whether chamomile tea works as well was not part of the study.

3. Magnesium and B vitamins. Blood samples of those suffering from anxiety often show low B vitamin and magnesium levels, so it's theorized that taking these supplements might help.

4. Valerian root. Some studies show that valerian can help you sleep. The safety of regular use for more than six weeks hasn't been established. The dose is to take 200 mg three or four times a day.

5. Passionflower. A small study showed that 45 drops per day helped relieve anxiety as well as prescription sedatives, and with fewer side effects. Other studies have shown an effective dosage of 10 to 30 drops three times a day. Drinking a cup of passionflower tea at bedtime has been shown to help you sleep. But passionflower's safety in any form - especially when taking it long term - is unclear.

Two other commonly used purported stress remedies have mixed study results.

1. Lavender oil. Never take it by mouth. Occasionally, it can irritate if put on the skin. Don't apply it to adolescents since there has been evidence of breast enlargement in young boys. (It apparently can trigger your body to increase its production of estrogen.)

2. St. John's wort. This can interact with many prescription medications, such as blood thinners and antidepressants, to name a few.

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Hubbard is a family doctor who teaches how to survive during disasters or any time you can't get expert medical help at TheSurvivalDoctor.com.

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