Research indicates that chronic stress causes both inflammation and insulin resistance—either of which can make you gain weight.
The good news? Reducing the stress in your life can both improve your well-being and also work wonders on your waistline! Physical exercise, good nutrition, and adequate sleep all conteract the effects of stress; in addition, supplements, medicinal herbs, and kitchen spices have a useful role to play. Here are our top selections.
Herbs and Spices to Fight Stress
Eleuthro (Eleutherococcus senticocsus)
Formerly known as Siberian ginseng, eleuthro is considered an “adaptogen,” an herb that helps balance hormones and the immune system. Herbalist Rosalee de la Foret uses it regularly with her clients. “I find Eleutherococcus to be well suited for people who are just plain worn out,” she says. “I almost always recommend it as a tincture and recommend that people start with low doses and then slowly increase the dosage. Typical results are people feel less frazzled, calmer, and sleep better at night.”
Cinnamon (Cinnamomum spp.)
Cinnamon has a favorable effect on blood sugar. “Recent research indicates cinnamon aids the cells in becoming less insulin resistant and reduces blood sugar levels, increases the natural production of insulin and lowers blood cholesterol as well,” says clinical herbalist Heather Nic an Fhleisdeir. Cinnamon can be cooked in sweet curries, added to fruit salads and smoothies, or sprinkled on chai. Cinnamon extracts are available in supplement form.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa)
Turmeric, a common table spice often used in Indian cooking, possesses anti-inflammatory properties, helping the body heal from muscular injuries and offsetting inflammation from endurance activities. Research suggests it lowers high blood sugar levels as well. Turmeric can be used as a cooking spice or taken in capsule form.
“We call magnesium citrate the ‘magic white powder’ because of how well it makes us (and a number of our clients) sleep,” says nutritional educator Dallas Hartwig, MS, PT, of Whole9. Not only does this mineral help combat insomnia and stress, it also decreases cardiovascular risk. Magnesium citrate is available in both capsule and powder form.
Fish oil is a modern-day panacea. Supplementing with fish oil reduces the stress hormone cortisol, significantly increasing lean muscle mass and decreasing fat. Fish oil not only reduces the stress response but it also helps fight depression and increases brain function. In addition, the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil also lower the risk of heart attack. You can find fish oil in either pill or liquid form. Check to make sure that it has both DHA and EPA.
Tulsi (Ocimum spp.)
Tulsi, or holy basil, has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries. Nutritional educator Dallas Hartwig, MS, PT, often recommends tulsi to his clients. “Tulsi, in either tea or capsule form, is a good choice for daily use during periods of stress,” he says. “Several of tulsi’s active ingredients are anti-inflammatory, augmenting your body’s innate defense against stress.”
“Adaptogens Exert a Stress-protective Effect by Modulation of Expression of Molecular Chaperones” by A. Panossian et al., Phytomedicine, 6/09
“Chromium and Polyphenols from Cinnamon Improve Insulin Sensitivity,” by R. A. Anderson, Proc Nutr Soc, 2/08
“Cinnamon: Potential Role in the Prevention of Insulin Resistance, Metabolic Syndrome and Type 2 Diabetes” by B. Qin et al., J Diabetes Sci Technol, 5/10
“Curcumin Diminishes the Impacts of Hyperglycemia . . . ” by J. Lin and A. Chen, Mol Cell Endocrinol.2/11
“Curcumin Effects on Inflammation and Performance Recovery Following Eccentric Exercise-induced Muscle Damage” by J. M. Davis et al., Am J Physiol, 6/07
“Dietary Magnesium and C-reactive Protein Levels” by D. E. King et al., J Am Coll Nutr, 6/05
“Effects of Supplemental Fish Oil on Resting Metabolic Rate, Body Composition, and Salivary Cortisol in Healthy Adults” by E. E. Noreen et al., J Int Soc Sports Nutr, 10/10
“How Stress Can Make You Gain Weight” by Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, www.jacobteitelbaum.com
“IKK-beta Links Inflammation to Obesity-induced Insulin Resistance” by M. C. Arkan et al., Nat Med, 2/05
“In Vivo Anti-inflammatory Activities of Leaf Extracts of Ocimum lamiifolium in Mice Model” by M. Woldesellassie et al., J Ethnopharmacol, 3/11
Personal Communication: Rosalee de la Floret, LMP; Heather Nic an Fhleisdeir; Dallas Hartwig, BS, 3/11