You may have discovered as you travel this weary road of life that you’re not sleeping quite as well as you did as when you were younger. Gone are the glory days when you fell asleep listening to a bedtime story and then, suddenly, it’s morning! What happened? “Why,” you ask (and probably too often), […]
GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid)
Popularly referred to as the body’s natural tranquilizer, GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is an amino acid produced in the brain. It acts as a Neurotransmitter–a chemical that fosters communication between nerve cells–and helps to keep stress-related nerve impulses at bay.
For centuries, the tall perennial herb with pinkish flowers known as valerian (Valeriana officinalis) has been enlisted to help restless insomniacs get a sound night’s sleep. Today this mild, nonaddictive sedative is quite popular both as a sleep aid and as an anxiety fighter, particularly in Germany, France, Belgium, and the United Kingdom. And in recent years its popularity has grown enormously in the United States as well.
St. John’s Wort
St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum), a common shrub-like perennial, bears bright yellow flowers that contain numerous therapeutic substances when dried. Europeans have used the herb for centuries to calm jangled nerves and heal wounds, among other ills. And so it’s not surprising that North Americans have recently embraced its use as a treatment for depression and conditions associated with it.
Melatonin is a hormone manufactured and released into the bloodstream by the pebble-size pineal gland nestled deep within the human brain. Surprisingly, scientists only became aware of melatonin’s presence in 1958. Children tend to excrete large amounts of this hormone, while older adults produce relatively little. But individual levels of melatonin vary widely. About 1% of the population naturally has quite low levels, while another 1% has levels 500 times above the average.
A member of the pepper family, kava (or kava-kava) is a natural tranquilizer that soothes jangled nerves and eases anxiety with few of the mind-dulling effects of prescription relaxants. Its Latin name, Piper methysticum, means “intoxicating pepper,” and indeed, on the South Pacific islands where it is grown, kava is made into a traditional beverage that is drunk at ceremonies and on social occasions–as alcohol is in other societies–to relax people and induce a sense of well-being.
One of the safest medicinal herbs, chamomile is a soothing, gentle relaxant that has been shown to work for a variety of complaints from stress to menstrual cramps. This herb has a satisfying, applelike aroma and flavor (the name chamomile is derived from the Greek kamai melon, meaning ground apple), and it’s most often taken as a delicious, mild therapeutic tea. Concentrated extracts of chamomile are also added to healing creams and lotions or packaged as pills and tinctures.
These two important minerals are often combined into one convenient product. Such combinations are a practical way to prevent or treat myriad ailments, from back pain and perimenopause to PMS and endometriosis. While there is little to distinguish one calcium/magnesium product from another, it’s smart to take a combination that includes different forms of the key minerals (such as calcium citrate, carbonate, and malate; and magnesium citrate, aspartate, and glycinate) as insurance that at least one will get absorbed into your system and do its work.
Nature’s Apothecary: Valerian for Calm and Better Sleep
Using the herb valerian medicinally goes back to ancient Greece. By the 19th century, valerian was regularly found in pharmacies as a medication for both anxiety and insomnia, essentially the Valium of those days.