Nutrition Industry Executive Magazine | Stay Calm: How to Relax

Stay Calm!

Posted on October 9, 2018 by NIE Magazine

More Americans of all ages are chasing the dream—literally. Here’s how to help them relax, calm down and get their 40 winks.

Sleep & Relaxation

Nocturnal animals often seen wandering about in daylight are typically rabid. Diurnal humans (not on graveyard shift) who meander about in night might feel rabid because sleep is elusive. The more stressed we are, the less we sleep and the more wired we feel. And in this state, most of us who are sleep deprived need to fulfill daily obligations, such as driving to and from work, where we need to perform.

In fact, according to the Institute of Medicine (2005), more than 70 million Americans are affected by sleep disorders. Here’s why living with insomnia can be harmful—the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that drowsy driving was responsible for 72,000 crashes, 44,000 injuries and 800 deaths in 2013.

But poor sleep affects more than just motor skills, there’s a vicious circle of stress begetting high tension and insomnia, and insomnia and tension (low-level chronic anxiety) begetting more stress. Despite the fact that the economy and job numbers have improved, there’s more ways to entertain ourselves than ever, and more connectivity with friends than ever, more Americans are anxious and stressed out than ever.

It helps a marketing department to understand the current climate of stress when formulating and supporting a product to induce natural relaxation and better sleep—social media and related marketing, when hitting on the pulse of what the audience is experiencing will make them feel connected to a brand and a product.

“Uncertainties with the economy, job insecurity, novel (and transitional) politics, changing behavioral norms, increasing social polarization, and a general sense that ‘winter is coming’ factor into stress development,” said Paul Clayton, PhD, chief scientific advisor to California-based Gencor Pacific. “Add to this the coffee culture, multimedia information overload and wide-spread poor nutrition, and it is a wonder that anyone sleeps normally at all!”

Biologically, pointed out Bruce Abedon, PhD, vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs, Vermont-based NutraGenesis, unabating stress influences the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which can lead to an elevation in the level of cortisol, a stress hormone, during waking hours. Elevated cortisol levels in the evening can affect the ability to both fall asleep and stay asleep.

And, in a twist of irony (as well as something we can truly all relate to), two-thirds of American adults (approximately 66 percent), say the cost of health insurance is a stressor for themselves, their loved ones or in general, when asked about specific health issues that cause them stress, cited Brian Appell, marketing manager, activation, for New Jersey-based OmniActive Health Technologies. Further, this stressor affects Americans at all income levels. In addition, more than six in 10 adults (63 percent) cite uncertainty about the future, both with their own health and that of others, as a source of stress. Insurance costs and looming uncertainty about the future are just two of the numerous causes of stress surrounding health, according to the American Psychological Association’s report, “Stress in America: Uncertainty About Health Care,” based on data from the annual Stress in America survey, conducted online by The Harris Poll.

“Regardless of what they are actually stressing about, most people (54 percent) say they are often stressed in general, according to a 2017 survey conducted by the National Business Group on Health,” Appell added.

Digital overload is another sleep thief, pointed out Michael Chernyak, president, CK Nutraceuticals, Ontario, Canada. Constant interaction on social media, website commenting, posting for likes, and keeping up with celebrities and other things we love on smartphones, laptops, tablets and desktops continually cause stress and tension, or feeling wired. “It is difficult to properly recharge every day when we’re constantly connected and ‘switched on,’” he noted, “particularly in the evenings when it’s most important to wind down.”

Parris M. Kidd, PhD, chief science officer and director of quality, BrainMD Health of California, related that there is a significant body of research detailing how tension, nervousness, anxiety and sleeplessness as consequences of stress are related to socioeconomic, personal, work and political circumstances. Further, sleep problems can happen to anyone at any age, and are thus not a normal characteristic of aging.

“Among young adults, high social media use, including tweeting, increases risk for sleep problems,” he stated. “Across the lifespan, perceived stress and anxiety are confirmed risk factors for problems with sleep. Frayed or frazzled nerves are a common hazard of modern living.”

Constant brain “chatter” is a cause of delayed sleep onset—where the mind is still active, prohibiting the ability to fall asleep. This can occur even in people who do not consume stimulants prior to bedtime or who don’t “un-plug” about a half hour before turning off the light. This constant yammering can cause a heightened state of anxiety, particularly when we start to actually listen to an inner voice prognosticating our doom; and to silence that horrible harbinger, many take prescriptions.

Ban the Benzos!

Beyond lifestyle changes and/or counseling to help address underlying thought (cognitive) behaviors and patterns that cause or exacerbate stress, all which take time—people often need help ASAP, and turn to their doctors to please write a prescription for any of a number of benzodiazepines. These are typically Valium (diazepam), Ativan (lorazepam) and Xanax (alprazolam). In 2012, for example, more than 49 million prescriptions were written for Xanax. Benzos may pull double-duty by promoting relaxation (banishing the anxiety) and also helping summon sleep quickly.

In his article, “How Many People Take Benzodiazepines?” published on May 6, 2015 in Psychology Today, Eugene Rubin, MD, PhD, writes, “Benzodiazepines also can be beneficial in helping a person fall asleep or stay asleep when used for short periods of time. If a person is in the midst of short-term stress and is having difficulty sleeping, a brief course of a benzodiazepine may help with both the anxiety and insomnia. SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) are not indicated for the treatment of insomnia.”

Rubin also pointed out that the class of benzodiazepines can exert side effects that in some people may be significant, especially if used for extended duration. One side effect is that it can be habit forming or addictive.

There’s good news, though. “A number of natural ingredients are showing great promise in providing relaxation and sleep support,” Chernyak asserted. Ashwagandha, he said, is an example, as its adaptogenic effects are well-documented and the research continues to build. He pointed to a currently ongoing global study involving 1,000 subjects with multiple sites (including India, the U.S., Australia, Philippines, Poland and South Africa). The team is using KSM-66 ashwagandha. Another trending ingredient in the relaxation and mood support category is saffron, he added, noting, “I see saffron becoming a go-to ingredient for dietary supplement formulators in the coming months.”

Appell said that stress and sleep solutions that don’t leave users “drugged” or “knocked out” are the priority for sleepless and anxious consumers now more than ever. And while natural ingredients like melatonin, chamomile and valerian have become mainstays in this market, he expressed, “there are some newer options to consider. The combination of lutein/zeaxanthin isomers is one of those options, for example.”

He elaborated that until recently, these prominent macular carotenoids have been taken primarily to support vision healthy eyes. But macular carotenoids are also found abundantly in the brain where they work to induce a healthy stress response. Appell cited the LAMA II (Lutein, Vision and Mental Acuity II) study published in 2017 in Nutritional Neuroscience, which set out to determine the extent to which Lutemax 2020 (lutein, RR-zeaxanthin and RS-zeaxanthin) could relieve psychological stress.

In this study, 58 healthy young adults ingested either Lutemax 2020 in two different doses (10/2 mg lutein/zeaxanthin or 20/4 mg lutein/zeaxanthin) or placebo for one year. During the study, researchers measured blood cortisol, psychological stress and mood at baseline, six month and a year. They found that supplementation with Lutemax 2020 for six months significantly increased serum carotenoid levels, as well as MPOD (macular pigment optical density), which is a strong indication of the body’s supply of lutein and zeaxanthin, including in the brain. Appell reported that the Lutemax 2020 groups had significantly lower serum cortisol levels. And overall, researchers found that both supplementation groups also experienced an improvement in psychological stress as well as physical and emotional health compared to placebo.

The growing scientific portfolio revealing the health-promoting effects of endocannabinoid signaling, such as its role in modulating levels of consciousness and sleep stability (amongst other things), has stimulated intensifying product development with compounds such as palmitoylethanolamide (PEA), the atypical endocannabinoid, reported Clayton. “It is early days but the feedback from users consistently features comments about improved relaxation and sleep,” he commented. “This makes good sense, given that it acts at a number of well characterized receptors which occur in brain areas involved in sleep regulation.

He added that the product has a “very interesting spectrum of side effects” such as anti-inflammatory and analgesic activity, which makes it suitable for those whose sleep is disrupted by pain. Gencor offers a palmitoylethanolamide product in the market called Levagen, which is featured in several natural sleep formulas.

NutraGenesis’ patented Sensoril ashwagandha root and leaf extract has been found to help reduce stress and help improve sleep in human clinical trial testing, according to Abedon. To achieve these health benefits, Sensoril extract combines actives of ashwagandha roots and leaves. “Ashwagandha leaves have greater bioactive content than roots, so the novel inclusion of an extract of leaves in Sensoril extract helps provide the highest level of glycowithanolide bioactive components in the industry (standardized to ≥ 10 percent),” he commented.

Sensoril was tested in a 60-day randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial which demonstrated that it significantly reduced stress and enhanced sleep after 30 and 60 days at the recommended dose of 125 mg once or twice daily. In the same trial, subjects taking Sensoril at those doses were also found to have significant reductions in the level of serum cortisol by the end of the trial. The placebo group remained little changed over the course of the study for any of these variables.

Amy McKelvey, CEO and founder of California-based her vital way, and product formulator has chosen California-based Ethical Naturals’ GRAS (generally recognized as safe)-affirmed AlphaWave L-theanine (an active component of green tea) as an essential component in her formulas.

According to McKelvey, L-theanine works via two different pathways. First it promotes the production of alpha waves in the brain, creating a state of deep calm and mental alertness; similar to meditation. “This calm and focused state quiets the noise and muzzles the chatter, which allows for a more productive, gratifying state of being,” she described. “Secondly, L-theanine seems to have a role in the formation of GABA (gamma-amino butrylic acid) an inhibitory neurotransmitter that regulates brain excitability as well. By using the brain’s innate calming mechanisms for quieting the brain it’s not surprising that L-theanine is also immune enhancing.”

AlphaWave was studied in 2017 for promotion of relaxation via reducing stress. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study with 20 individuals revealed the stress reduction effects of the supplement versus placebo. The participants were subjected to alpha brainwave testing by EEG seven times over a 120-minute period. After the initial alpha test and a stress test, each subject consumed either 200 mg of AlphaWave L-theanine or placebo. Two further stress tests were then given during the following 90 minutes, and each participant’s heart rate was measured three times over the 135-minute period following consumption.

According to the company, results of the study showed that AlphaWave L-theanine supplementation produced significant changes over time as compared to placebo on all the variable outcomes. For example, AlphaWave showed a positive effect over time on the tonic alpha power, which measures relaxed wakefulness, compared to placebo, which had negative effects. The AlphaWave group also reported reduced fatigue. In addition, AlphaWave significantly reduced the heart rate compared with placebo; this was a further indication of the stress reduction effect of AlphaWave L-theanine.

This category is one of the most relevant across the board—men and women, teens and elderly and all in between, that there has been “considerable expansion of the range of nutrients and herbals clinically tested to counter stress and/or improve relaxation and sleep,” Kidd observed.

He identified four supplements as strong contenders to help a wide range of individuals achieve more restful sleep and calmness throughout the day.

Standardized saffron (Crocus sativus) extract is what he called a major advance for anxiety and relaxation. Clinical trials increasingly document saffron’s benefits for mood, stress, anxiety, relaxation, memory, even libido. Saffron’s benefits are comparable to imipramine (Tofranil), to the SSRIs fluvoxamine (Luvox), and citalopram (Celexa) as well as donezepil (Aricept) for cognition.

Pure GABA is known to help induce mental relaxation but not act as a sedative. “Studies indicate its effects could occur either directly by crossing the blood-brain barrier, or indirectly, by affecting the intestinal nerve networks or by traveling along the vagus nerve from the gut to the brain,” he explained. “Pure GABA is chemically identical to the brain’s main calming GABA neurotransmitter.”

Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum) has been the subject of more than 100 studies within the past decade. Clinical trials found standardized tulsi leaf extracts improved stress and anxiety as well as mood and cognition.

A probiotic combination of two strains of Lactobacillus helveticus and Bifidobacterium longum “improve coping with stress and anxiousness while also improving digestion,” said Kidd. “BrainMD was able to make this very same unique combination available to consumers, at the same daily intake used in the three clinical trials.”

In tandem, he added, standardized lemon balm leaf extract (Melissa officinalis) has a calming effect and seems to work very closely with the brain’s GABA neurotransmitter system. It has consistently elevated calmness and eased anxiousness in clinical trials. It can also be used in combination with standardized valerian root extract for calming and inducing sleep in children.

The Insomnia Conundrum

A Datamonitor 2014 consumer survey showed that consumers ranked “insomnia” in fourth place as a prominent health issue, behind “stress,” “tiredness” and “fatigue.” They are all intertwined. The survey also yielded that the most prominent demographic that was worried about sleep was middle-aged women. Previous data from Euromonitor International indicated that the US sleep-assist category was predicted to reach approximately $732 million this year.

The need for Americans to chill out on all fronts is likely going to become greater. As McKelvey expressed, “Americans are experiencing enormous imbalance that of course disrupts our ability to release and surrender into sleep, among other issues. Unfortunately, it’s a vicious cycle, and until balance is addressed on many fronts, our health issues will continue to play out in this way and we will continue to feel frayed and spent.” NIE