Treat Modern Day Stress and Anxiety With This Ancient Remedy

Dr. Janet Zand

April 3, 2020

If you’re feeling the stress of life right now, you’re not alone. Someone posted this to Facebook the other day:

“The stress from this quarantine has finally caught up with me. I’ve been in bed all day…. We have this little massager that I put on my head and neck for a few hours and I’ve had a heating pad wrapped around my head all day…. You could play the banjo on my neck muscles – that’s how tight everything is on my head, neck, and face.”

A lot of people are suffering from anxiety, stress, and depression right now. All of these take their toll on your skin, particularly your facial skin. Stress makes us age much faster.

So here’s an ancient treatment I’m sharing with patients, friends, and family to help relieve some of the anxiety.

While anxiety may seem to be at its peak right now with the threat of a pandemic, it isn’t a new problem. People have been struggling with – and treating – anxiety for centuries. And many of the solutions they’ve used through the centuries were and are very effective. They typically involve the ingredients people have always had access to – plants.

Most people experience anxiety at some point in their life. Many of them don’t think their anxiety is severe enough to warrant drugs – and it usually doesn’t. But the drugs might help calm their racing thoughts or enable them to fall asleep more easily. Others recognize that they need help but are concerned about side effects. So they’re suffering because they aren’t getting the help they need.

Many people simply aren’t aware that plant-based solutions exist. Those who do seek help often go straight to drugs. After all, that’s what doctors recommend. It’s too bad plants don’t have reps visiting doctor’s offices to sing their praises the way the drugs do.

This Chinese Treatment for Persistent Anxiety Can Help You Sleep

I bet you’ve never found a pen with a “Honokiol” logo in your desk. That’s because honokiol isn’t a drug. It actually comes from the bark of the magnolia tree. While we often associate magnolia with the American South, it’s actually native to China. And Traditional Chinese Medicine uses magnolia bark and flowers for a variety of health conditions.

Magnolia bark contains many “anti” compounds: anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, anti-allergic, antidepressant, and antioxidant. Honokiol is one of these beneficial compounds. If you’re suffering from persistent anxiety or depression, it can help you.

Even if your anxiety comes and goes or you simply have trouble sleeping or dealing with occasional stress, it can help you too.

The Overlooked Cause of Anxiety and Mood Disorders

While we often assume external stressors cause our anxiety, inflammation is actually a significant factor as well. Studies link increases in pro-inflammatory cytokines to mood disorders. These cytokines affect many structures and pathways in the brain, changing how the brain functions.

Studies have found that anti-inflammatory agents can benefit patients with mood disorders. And these studies have specifically looked at honokiol in relation to stress, anxiety, and sleep. Honokiol can cross the blood-cerebrospinal fluid and blood-brain barriers. So it can have significant effects in all three of these domains. Once it reaches the brain, it’s able to help the nerves function better.

Nerve cells called PC12 cells can die due to oxidative stress. Because of honokiol’s antioxidant properties, it’s able to help protect these nerves. Specifically, it activates a protein pathway called Nrf2. That’s not a very memorable name. So researchers also call this pathway “The Guardian of Human Lifespan.” That’s how powerful this protein is. Once activated, it helps regulate antioxidants and keep genes working properly.

It Even Helps Balance Hormones

Studies have also found that honokiol can promote a healthier hormone balance. Some have found that it reduces adrenaline, the hormone that can make you feel a rush and increased heartbeat.

Another such study evaluated a combination of magnolia and phellodendron bark (MP) on stress. They enlisted the help of 56 moderately stressed participants. The participants received either the MP combo or a placebo for four weeks.

Over the course of the study, the researchers evaluated cortisol levels in the participants’ saliva. Those who received the MP experienced an 18% drop. They also reported lower overall stress, tension, depression, anger, fatigue, and confusion. And their overall mood and feelings of vigor improved as well.

The researchers believe this combo was particularly helpful because of its effects on sleep. Sleep loss and anxiety can create a vicious cycle. This cycle ultimately harms immune function, energy levels, weight, and overall health. But honokiol can help.

Honokiol addresses both sides of the sleep/stress equation. It does function as an anxiolytic, meaning it reduces anxiety. And by reducing cortisol and adrenaline, it lowers stress levels that can interfere with sleep. But it also acts as a sedative, which promotes sleep. It works with pathways in the brain to encourage rest.

Helps Boost Another Nutrient That Calms the Brain

If you’ve ever suffered from insomnia, you’re probably familiar with GABA. This neurotransmitter helps calm the brain by soothing excitatory neurons. Think of a small child trying to go to sleep on Christmas Eve. Clearly, excitement can interfere with sleep just as much as anxiety.

Honokiol boosts levels of GABA in the brain to promote sleep. You’ll likely fall asleep faster. And it can help you spend more time in REM and NREM sleep. Nor will it leave you feeling drowsy the next day.

As I’m sure you know, getting a good night’s sleep and feeling less anxious can certainly boost your mood. But that’s not the only way honokiol can improve your mood. It also activates cannabinoid receptors throughout the body.

The endocannabinoid system is getting a lot of attention these days. The debate over legalizing marijuana is contributing. But marijuana isn’t the only plant that can affect this system. And some of the effects of plant compounds like honokiol can be very positive. They include pain relief, lowering of inflammation, and, yes, improving mood.

Another way honokiol improves mood is by boosting levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine. A study in rats even found that combining magnolia bark with ginger could increase serotonin levels enough to have an antidepressant effect. The rats also had better results on a measure of chronic unpredictable mild stress.

Benefits Beyond the Quarantine

All of these benefits mean that honokiol is great for protecting your brain and overall health as you age. I’m sure you know that sleep is vital to brain health, memory, and cognitive functioning.

We’ve been focusing quite a bit on honokiol’s effects on the brain. But the benefits don’t end there. Honokiol can positively affect the rest of your body too – and not just because being in a better mood makes it easier to maintain healthy habits.

Honokiol’s positive effects on leptin improves weight and metabolic health. Some of these metabolic benefits include improving insulin resistance and lowering triglycerides and cholesterol. In combination with ginger, it can also ease digestive woes like bloating, nausea, and diarrhea. It can help stabilize your appetite, so you eat better too.

Helps Reduce Pain Too

Finally, because honokiol is anti-inflammatory, it can reduce pain throughout the body. It can provide relief to sore joints and muscles, ease headaches, and even soothe menstrual cramps. Inflammation contributes to many chronic pain conditions. So it’s no surprise that magnolia bark has been used for centuries to provide relief to a variety of issues.

If you’d like to try out these benefits for yourself, honokiol and magnolia bark supplements are easy to find online. The proper dose usually ranges from 2 to 400 mg. You can talk to a doctor to determine the best amount for you. I generally recommend that my patients start with a low dose and then work their way up as needed.

Honokiol does have sedative effects. Use caution before combining it with any other sedative medication as well as alcohol or herbs or supplements intended to promote sleep. Talk to your doctor if you’re on blood thinners as well. Honokiol can have an anticoagulant effect.

If your doctor isn’t familiar with honokiol or magnolia bark, offer him/her some of the links below. Your health, both mental and physical, is worth it.

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