Stress… seems like it’s everywhere we turn these days, right? In a way, this is absolutely true. Be that physical stress or psychological stress, there is no doubt that it takes a major toll on our well-being and health.
Trying to make the most muscle gains possible? You’ll have an uphill battle if you have your plate full with stress. But don’t worry, help is in sight. There are effective ways you can take the reins on stress and regain control over this beast.
A storied herb with evidence of therapeutic benefit dating back to the first century B.C, during the Han Dynasty. There are many different varieties of ginseng as well, including Korean (red) ginseng, American Ginseng, Indian ginseng and even Siberian ginseng (though not a true ginseng).
Regardless of their diverse relationship, what links most of them together is their universal action on stress- more specifically, modulating the effects of high cortisol secretion of multiple body systems.
For instance, while sexual dysfunction is not something that is openly discussed by men, quite a large number of (young) men experience issues in the bedroom, brought on by triggers related to high cortisol levels.
Reviews of multiple studies yield mixed results, but overall draw a consensus that ginseng (Panax “Korean” ginseng in this case) improves sexual performance and virility in the majority of men that consume it.
Among the positives drawn from the review of studies include improved erection quality[i], and beneficial effects of hormonal balance, evidenced by improved levels of testosterone, luteinizing hormone, and a reduction in prolactin levels, a common culprit of hormone-induced ED.
Another significant benefit is improved penile blood flow[ii], in a manner similar to the way prescription ED medication (such as Viagra) work, but without the negatives!
Magnesium is not one of those “sexy” supplements that are heavily marketed to you but remains a mineral that is critical to your health and well-being. Ask yourself this question- are you honestly getting enough sleep?
If you feel overwhelmed with stress, there is a high probability that you are also sleep deficient. Turns out stress feeds into more insomnia, while insomnia also worsens your stress burden. Thus, these two form a self-propagating cycle of ill health.
Taking a magnesium supplement, as the elemental vitamin or ZMA- an ingenious chelated complex with zinc can help mitigate the harmful effects of insomnia before things get too serious.
One of the main ways magnesium helps to combat stress is its ability to reduce the secretion of Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH)[iii]; a hormone that subsequently causes your adrenal glands to increase production of adrenalin (epinephrine) and cortisol, the original stress hormones.
In addition to this, magnesium deficiency does increase one’s subjective feelings of anxiety and stress, which play into the hands of sleep deprivation. You can now probably understand why magnesium is referred to as the “original chill pill”.
Another adaptogen that is extremely popular in ayurvedic medical texts, it is possibly one of the best cortisol modulating agents we have at our disposal. Unlike many other possible stress-reducing herbs that are shrouded in uncertainty, Ashwagandha actually has a great degree of promise, as it has been shown to have notable anxiety and stress-reducing properties[iv], even though it is necessary for more studies to be conducted.
In addition to its ability to help you take the load off, it also has a mild action on increasing testosterone levels and power output[v]; both highly advantages for strength athletes.
If there is one supplement you should be taking to get control of stress and anxiety, while supporting your athletic endeavours, it would have to be Ashwagandha by a longshot.
St. John’s Wort
St. Johns’ Wort is one herb that can help you in several ways, but most notably has an effect on reducing stress-induced anxiety, and has even been shown to be roughly as effective as prescription medication that assists with depression management[vi].
In addition to these already significant benefits, St. John’s Wort may even help to bolster an aspect stress is often forgotten to affect- cognitive function[vii]. While only done on rodents, you probably know too well the effects of acute stress on your working memory, so it couldn’t hurt that there’s more promise in this miraculous herb yet.
The Supporting Cast
There is an entire world to adaptogens, meaning that we have basically only mentioned the most popular. There are others including MACA, horny goat weed and Astragalus to name a few, while others yet such as cacao (yes, chocolate!) and vitamin B-12 are things you may overlook.
Stress, or more correctly, the stress hormone cortisol, is an integral part of our lives and is hard-wired into our DNA for survival. Given, we aren’t running away from dinosaurs much these days, but it is that same hormone coupled with neurotransmitters such as epinephrine which allow us to get things done under pressure.
Don’t make stress rule your life- take the adaptogens we have referenced above, and ensure that you top up with magnesium if you feel your sleep quality dropping. That, and a holistic lifestyle that assists with stress management (meditation is extremely beneficial), and you’ll be back on your way making gains and smashing goals.
[i] Kim TH, Jeon SH, Hahn EJ, et al. Effects of tissue-cultured mountain ginseng (Panax ginseng CA Meyer) extract on male patients with erectile dysfunction. Asian J Androl. 2009;11(3):356–361. doi:10.1038/aja.2008.32
[ii] McKay, Douglas. (2004). Nutrients and botanicals for erectile dysfunction: Examining the evidence. Alternative medicine review : a journal of clinical therapeutic. 9. 4-16.
[iii] H. Murck (2002) Magnesium and Affective Disorders, Nutritional Neuroscience, 5:6, 375-389, DOI: 10.1080/1028415021000039194
[iv] Chandrasekhar K, Kapoor J, Anishetty S. A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults. Indian J Psychol Med. 2012;34(3):255–262. doi:10.4103/0253-7176.106022
[v] Sandhu JS, Shah B, Shenoy S, Chauhan S, Lavekar GS, Padhi MM. Effects of Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) and Terminalia arjuna (Arjuna) on physical performance and cardiorespiratory endurance in healthy young adults. Int J Ayurveda Res. 2010;1(3):144–149. doi:10.4103/0974-7788.72485
[vi] Qin Xiang Ng, Nandini Venkatanarayanan, Collin Yih Xian Ho,Clinical use of Hypericum perforatum (St John's wort) in depression: A meta-analysis,Journal of Affective Disorders,Volume 210,2017,Pages 211-221,ISSN 0165-0327,https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2016.12.048.
[vii] Trofimiuk E, Holownia A, Braszko JJ. St. John's wort may relieve negative
effects of stress on spatial working memory by changing synaptic plasticity.
Naunyn Schmiedebergs Arch Pharmacol. 2011 Apr;383(4):415-22. doi: