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Chill Out:

Not all stress is bad. Getting ready to go on vacation and falling in love could be described as stressful, but they are also enjoyable experiences that enrich our lives. Chronic stress, on the other hand, whether it is from chronic pain or a stressful job, can have a strong negative impact on our overall health and happiness. Luckily, there are a number of healthy natural options for relieving stress in our increasingly demanding and fast-paced world.

On the tranquil islands of Vanuatu and Fiji in the south Pacific, islanders still are relaxing the way their ancestors have for centuries—with a beverage made from the root of Piper Methysticum, the Kava Kava plant. According to herbalist Ed Smith in his Therapeutic Herb Manual, “For 3,000 years South Pacific cultures have used Kava as a mild tranquilizer to relax the mind and clarify the thought processes, soothe the temperament and induce a mild euphoria with feelings of peace and harmony. It is usually taken with a group to enhance sociability and evoke feelings of empathy and camaraderie, and is often used to settle disputes and facilitate reconciliation.” Smith goes on to mention that Kava is useful as a sedative, anti-anxiety herb, muscle relaxant, antispasmodic, and analgesic. Kava Kava is available in tincture or capsule forms at the Willy Street Co-op, as well as in a blend made by Yogi Tea called Kava Stress Relief. I like to drink the tea or take five to ten drops of the tincture in a little water if I’m having a stressful day, as a way to mellow out without feeling sedated as I sometimes do if I take larger doses. (Do not take Kava if you are driving or operating heavy machinery.) Be sure to ask a health care professional before using Kava, especially if you have or have had liver problems, frequently use alcoholic beverages, or take any medication. Kava is not for use with alcoholic beverages. Carefully research this herb and follow all warnings on the product label before consuming.

Another often overlooked supplement that supports healthy relaxation is Magnesium. This nutrient is the second-most abundant mineral in the body (after calcium), and is often deficient in our diets. According to Prescription for Nutritional Healing by Phyllis A. Balch, CNC, “Magnesium...assists in calcium and potassium uptake. A deficiency of magnesium interferes with the transmission of nerve and muscle impulses, causing irritability and nervousness. Supplementing the diet with magnesium can help prevent depression, dizziness, muscle weakness and twitching, and premenstrual syndrome (PMS), and also aids in maintaining the body’s proper pH balance and normal body temperature.” Some foods that are rich in magnesium include most dried seaweeds, beans, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and chlorophyll-rich foods. In his book Healing with Whole Foods, author Paul Pitchford states that, “while calcium contracts muscles, magnesium relaxes them.” Supplemental magnesium is available at the Co-op in capsules, tablets, and powders. It is a good idea to start slow when taking magnesium—too much can cause loose stools.

Ashwagandha (Withania Somnifera) is one of my favorite herbs and often an excellent choice for someone who is feeling depleted from a long period of stress. Ashwagandha is considered by Ayurveda (the traditional medicine system of India) to be a rasayana, or rejuvenating herb. According to David Winston and Steven Maimes in their book Adaptogens, “Ashwagandha is very effective for anxiety, fatigue, cloudy thinking, stress-induced insomnia, and neurasthenia (nervous exhaustion). [It also] has significant benefit for hyper- or hypo-immune function.” They also state that this herb has, “adaptogenic, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, immune amphoteric [helps to normalize function, whether it be hyper- or hypo-immune function], anti-tumor, nervine, anti-spasmodic, mild astringent, and diuretic” properties. The authors also note that, “it enhances endocrine function, especially helping to re-regulate the thyroid, testes, and adrenal glands.”

There are a couple other stress-relief remedies in our Health and Wellness department that can be very helpful, including the ever-popular Stress Relief bulk tincture by Simplers. This tincture can be mixed with a little water and taken on an as-needed basis, or for a period of weeks to help support and renew the nervous system. Because it is sold in bulk, this tincture is much cheaper than typical pre-bottled extracts (we have bottles in a variety of sizes, free with the purchase). The Simplers Stress Relief blend includes Bach Flower Rescue Remedy, which the Co-op also sells on its own, and that many people rely upon to ease tension in stressful situations (there is even a Rescue Remedy for Pets). Two homeopathic remedies by Similisan that are also popular are the Anxiety Relief and the Stress & Tension Relief. These remedies are in a globule form that is dissolved in the mouth (with homeopathics it is important to take them in a clean mouth—i.e., without strong flavors in the mouth—not after eating, smoking, brushing teeth, etc.).

Some of the best stress relief techniques are not herbs or supplements at all, but lifestyle changes like getting more exercise, more sleep, and using mindfulness techniques to keep yourself in the present moment. Jon Kabat-Zinn has written some excellent books on mindfulness, including the classic, Wherever You Go, There You Are. My favorite way to relieve stress is to lie in the grass under some trees or by a lake; that is usually sufficient to clear my mind and put my bodyinto the pace of nature. I hope this article has been helpful to you, and may your summer by joyful and stress-free!

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010, will be the last time that diapers are part of the Wellness Wednesday promotion. Diapers will be moving out of the Wellness Aisle to Aisle Five with the paper products. We have decided to move them to be more in line with our industry’s categorization and organization of products. Diapers will also be housed with paper products at our new Middleton location when it opens in the fall.

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