With stress and anxiety on the rise, consumers are turning toward the natural sector to help them relax.
To say that Americans are stressed out is putting it mildly. According to research from the American Institute of Stress (AIS) and the American Psychological Association (APA), in 2014, 77 percent of people regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress, 73 percent say that they regularly experience psychological symptoms caused by stress, while 48 percent of those surveyed claim that their stress has increased over the past five years. The poll also listed the top seven causes of stress in the U.S. At the top of the list was job pressure, followed by money, health, relationships, poor nutrition, media overload and sleep deprivation.
Further, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of American (ADAA), seven out of 10 adults in the U.S. say they experience stress or anxiety daily, while one-third have experienced persistent stress or excessive anxiety, or that they have had a panic attack. Additionally, seven out of 10 of those adults said that they have trouble sleeping. The ADAA also noted that anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older (18 percent of U.S. population).
“Stress and anxiety are common to life, at any point,” said Donna Noonan, president of New Jersey-based Mushroom Wisdom Inc. “Things that are beyond our control—such as sad or tragic life events—result in stress responses that can produce anxiety that did not exist prior. Acute or chronic anxiety also exacerbates stress. Within this maelstrom, low mood and poor sleep can occur as well.”
And while stress and anxiety often go hand-in-hand, there is a difference between the two. According to the ADAA, stress is a response to a threat in a situation, while anxiety is a reaction to the stress. Further, the ADAA reported that chronic stress can affect a person’s health, causing symptoms from headaches, high blood pressure, and chest pain to heart palpitations, skin rashes and loss of sleep.
Everyone is somehow affected by stress. Whether it be children dealing with trouble at school, recent college grads worrying about finding a job and paying off student loans or adults concerned about how to find time to fit in everything they need to accomplish, at times, stress can get the better of all of us.
“Stress affects people of all age groups and professions; it practically concerns all of us. Importantly we recognize now that stress does much more harm to an organism than just causing an unpleasant feeling of oppression and anxiety,” said Vladimir Badmaev, MD, PhD, CEO of New York-based American Medical Holdings. “The relation between psychological stress and physical health can be exemplified by the functioning of the immune (defense) system. There is substantial evidence that stress profoundly affects the immune system. It takes its toll on the body’s defenses against disease, which is especially evident when the system is challenged as in the case of infection with the flu virus.”
And while everyone gets stressed out from time to time, it seems as though teens are adopting the stress habits of adults. According to the APA’s most recent “Stress in America” poll, many teens also reported feeling overwhelmed (31 percent) and depressed or sad (30 percent) as a result of stress. Further, more than one-third of teens reported feeling tired (36 percent) and nearly one-quarter of teens (23 percent) reported skipping a meal due to stress.
“Sadly, one of the fastest growing groups whose health is affected by stress are children and young adults,” said Badmaev. “Stress-related problems in children can manifest in an unusual way, e.g. complaints of abdominal pain, urinary frequency, headaches or truancy. These symptoms can be easily mistaken for medical problems and treated without addressing the real cause of the problem.”
Being “stressed out” from time to time is normal, and according to the University of Maryland Medical Center, some amount of stress is even healthy. However, chronic stress is a different story—especially if left untreated, can cause a number of changes in the body’s systems including increased blood pressure and heart rate, as well as altered immune function.
According to David Winston RH(AHG), president Herbalist & Alchemist, Inc. in New Jersey, Americans are “some of the most anxious, stressed-out and sleep deprived people in the world,” he said. “Chronic stress increases cortisol levels which increases feelings of anxiety, interferes with sleep, decreases immune function and promotes hypertension, inflammation, obesity, insulin resistance, tissue growth (skin tags, fibroids, BPH, cancer, etc.) and depression.”
Because of all these reasons—and more—the market for stress and anxiety supplements is on the rise. “Americans appear to continually be dealing with a variety of stress-inducing situations, via more pronounced multi-tasking along with added responsibilities and activities,” said Mitch Skop, senior vice president of new product development for Pharmachem Laboratories Inc., in New Jersey. “As a result, many feel overwhelmed and harried, which gives rise to feelings of anxiety. With this in mind, the market is absolutely ripe.”
“Our sales in the category have exceeded our projections. We believe that there are three factors that are contributing to this growth,” added Dan Lifton, CEO of New York-based Quality of Life Labs. “First of all, the market segment is expanding as the overall use of nutritional supplements to address everyday needs is becoming more pervasive among the general public. Secondly, the consumer need for natural products to manage stress is expanding as the pressures of the workplace and family life continue to build. Finally, there is growing public awareness about the impact of stress on the overall physical health as the media coverage of this topic continues to proliferate.”
Consumers are often looking for natural alternatives to combat their stress and anxiety, in fear that they may become too reliant on prescription medication. And there are a number of natural products that can help relieve the body of stress that may include magnesium, L-theanin, adaptogens and herbal anxiolytics, among others.
According to Winston, calming adaptogens include reishi, ashwagandha and schisandra, while herbal anxiolytics include bacopa, motherwort, blue vervain, fresh oat, chamomile, Chinese polygala, skullcap and linden flower. “Adaptogens, which help re-regulate the HPA axis, nervous system and immune system, are growing in popularity,” he said. “These herbs are essential as they help to reduce the effects of emotional, physical or environmental stress on the body and mind.”
Herbalist & Alchemist offers Tension Relief, which is a formula that Winston created more than 30 years ago and has used clinically for three decades. According to Winston, Tension Relief contains motherwort, milky oat, bacopa, blue vervain and Chinese polygala. “It can be used for occasional or chronic anxiety, especially generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). It is non-habit forming and can also be useful for pre-menstrual tension, and anxiety due to cognitive decline,” he explained.
“The primary product that we provide is the very long used traditional remedy, reishi,” said Mark J. Kaylor, Mushroom Wisdom’s vice president of education. “Traditional Chinese Medicine has utilized the reishi mushroom for not only relief from stress and anxiety, but for a wide range of emotional issues and concerns. Among its many actions and benefits, reishi is regarded as a Shen [spirit] and central nervous system tonic, supporting and strengthening the emotional center of the body all the while nourishing the nervous system as well.”
Adaptrin from American Medical Holdings is a botanical and mineral formula whose origins lie in the principles of Tibetan medicine. According to Badmaev, Adaptrin is designed to nutritionally support the healthy cardiovascular and immune systems affected by stress, especially effects of long-standing stress. “Based on the long-standing tradition of nutritional use and published studies, Adaptrin lowers stress levels, sharpens memory, overall energy and alertness, sleep patterns; and promotes an increased general subjective sense of well-being.”1
One of Washington-based Natural Factors’ best-selling lines is Stress-Relax, which is formulated to provide natural solutions for stress. According to the company, top-selling products in the Stress-Relax line include Tranquil Sleep, Pharma GABA (gamma amino butyric acid) and Suntheanine L-Theanine. Tranquil Sleep is a unique combination of 5-HTP, melatonin and Suntheanine L-theanine that exerts a gentle yet powerfully synergistic effect that helps promote restful sleep. Pharma GABA is a superior source of GABA that promotes relaxation and mental focus. And Suntheanine is a purified form of L-theanine, an amino acid found in tea leaves such as green tea (Camellia sinensis). According to the company, it only takes 30 to 40 minutes after ingesting Suntheanine L-Theanine to help promote an alert yet relaxed mental and emotional state that can last for eight to 12 hours.
While tablets and capsules remain among the most popular forms of delivery, manufacturers are offering alternatives that are sparking interest from consumers. “America is still a pill-popping nation of consumers, and we do not expect that to change any category,” said Lifton. “However, since stress management is perceived as more of a lifestyle than a medical category, consumers are much more open to functional foods and beverages that address that consumer need.”
Set to launch at Expo West, Quality of Life’s functional chocolate product for stress management will feature the Relesse lemon balm extract also contained in Serenelle. Serenelle contains three highly proprietary researched ingredients: Relesse—a fast-acting proprietary lemon balm extract, ashwagandha-based Sensoril, a clinically validated form of GABA called PharmaGaba and L-theanine.
“We believe that chocolate is an excellent delivery system in the category because consumers already consume chocolate to deal with stress,” Lifton explained. “By launching a healthier dark chocolate with natural non-sugar sweeteners, while providing a stress reduction benefit, we believe that we will fulfill a large and growing consumer need.”
Pharmachem Laboratories’ ingredient, Lactium is a hydrolysate of milk proteins that contain a bioactive peptide with relaxing properties, which regulate stress naturally. Lactium may be incorporated in supplements and functional foods, and has been the subject of several research studies, according to the company.
Holly Prugar, supplement manager/buyer for The Mustard Seed in Watertown, NY noted that her customers tend to prefer capsules, liquids of powders, and that Natural Calm from Natural Vitality, is one of the store’s top-selling stress and anxiety supplements. “Natural Calm is a product that makes a difference right away,” she said. “Customers are excited to try the product once staff members explain the many benefits of magnesium.”
According to Ken Whitman, president of Natural Vitality, magnesium is intimately connected with energy transportation and storage in the body. “With enough magnesium, you have access to the body’s natural energy production. This is a calm energy, not a spike of nervous energy,” he said.
“Natural Calm offers a variable dose, which is important with magnesium. It is a very bioavailable form and goes into solution with water. It is easier to add or subtract the amount you’re going to take than with capsules or pills,” Whitman continued. “The body’s needs for magnesium vary. In times of stress (physical, mental or emotional), you often require more magnesium. This is also true when there are items in your diet that deplete magnesium, such as a high-calcium diet, alcohol, caffeine and various prescription drugs.”
According to Trisha Sugarek MacDonald, BS, MS, director of research and development/national educator for Bluebonnet Nutrition Corporation in Texas, chewable forms offer better flavor, greater ease of administration, increased compliance and most importantly, enhanced digestibility when compared to capsules or caplets. “The absorption rate is much faster with a chewable formula,” she explained. “In fact, capsules and caplets typically take between 30 to 45 minutes to break down—the disintegration/dissolution time set by the U.S. Pharmacopeia—whereas liquids and chewables are assimilated in little to no time at all. Consumers who have difficulty swallowing are also looking for an easier way to bridge the nutrient gaps in their diets, and naturally delicious chewable or liquid dosage forms lead to improved compliance.”
Bluebonnet offers a number of products to help support emotional stress, including the company’s EarthSweet Chewables CellularActive Methylfolate Tablets, which are unique in the marketplace because Bluebonnet offers Quatrefolic, a patented, branded and clinically tested form of L-methylfolate in a chewable tablet that is naturally delicious and is in a base of natural fruit extracts. EarthSweet Chewables CellularActive Methylfolate Tablets are available in three potencies (400, 800 and 1000 mcg) and is kosher-certified, gluten and soy free and are 100 percent vegan.
Support & Education
While science points to how stress can affect a person’s overall health, Mushroom Wisdom’s Kaylor, said he still believes that the category hasn’t lived up to its full potential just yet. “The stunning aspect to me of the stress and anxiety category is how underutilized and realized the category is. Numerous statistics demonstrate how prevalent stress is in our culture and how it is likely the largest single contributor to disease and ill health while the numbers and concern over anxiety is also on the rise,” he said. “You would think that because of this the stress and anxiety sections would be huge and frequently visited but for some reasons the natural products customer has not caught on to the potential support and relief that these remedies may offer. This makes the potential huge and yet at this time not fully realized.”
This is where manufacturers and retailers need to work together to educate customers. Retailer Prugar noted that The Mustard Seed’s staff is very knowledgeable, as they participated in regular trainings and read relevant literature. In turn, the staff passes this knowledge on to the customers. Recently, the store offered a seminar on stress and anxiety with a local acupuncturist, and Prugar hopes to offer more seminars in the future. “Education is vital. We also like to hand out samples,” she said. “The samples give customers the opportunity to try products and experience a difference for themselves.” Prugar also praised her “top-notch” suppliers. “Our reps make sure that we have the support materials that we need to help our customers. Many of our companies also provide training,” she said. “Training opportunities help us better help our customers.”
Natural Vitality supports its retail partners with co-ops, literature, free samples, posters, shelf talkers and direct support from its representatives, while Natural Factors offers high-impact store materials such as endcap signs, brochures, posters and shelf talkers. And in addition to offering literature and marketing materials, Quality of Life Labs recently launched an iPad app to help retailers learn about products and use them in store to educate consumers. “The app is available in the Apple App store as ‘QOL Product Guide’, and we invite retailers to call us to receive their own personal password,” said Lifton.
While there is little to no chance that stress and anxiety will ever completely go away, educating people on how to cope with stressors through healthy living and dietary supplementation can only help the situation. “As continued education is a fundamental belief and policy of ours, in this case, we would encourage retailers to bring in experts in stress and anxiety and how to deal with this naturally through dietary supplements, foods and lifestyle habits,” concluded Mushroom Wisdom’s Noonan. “Partner with local yoga or massage therapists to mutually recommend one another. Nobody is immune to stress, therefore, a truly wholistic approach to managing stress and anxiety will have marvelous results.” VR
1 Badmaev, V. Tibetan Medicine: An Effective Botanical Supplement for Peripheral Vascular Circulation. J Cardiovasc Dis Diagn 2013, 1:3. www.adaptrin.com media download.
For More Information:
American Medical Holdings, (347) 439-6237
Bluebonnet Nutrition Corporation, (800) 580-8866
Herbalist & Alchemist, Inc., (908) 689-9020
Mushroom Wisdom, (800) 747-7418
Natural Factors, (800) 663-8900; (360) 243-3500
Natural Vitality, (800) 446-7462
Pharmachem Laboratories Inc., (800) 526-0609
Quality of Life Labs, (877) 937-2422