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Herbal stress relief? Try a walk instead Add to ...

If stress is making a third or fourth glass of wine look appealing, then self-medicating with a drugstore product may seem like a healthy alternative.

There’s no shortage of products with catchy names that promise to calm the nerves. Whoever came up with Chill Pills – herbal and B-vitamin capsules produced by New Roots Herbal – deserves a gold medal in marketing. Then there’s Stress Shield, Relax-All, Ex-Stress and more than 2,000 other supplements for stress at Amazon.com.

One of the newest products, Profect, is a “shot” of fruit-flavoured protein (25 grams) that its maker, Protica, claims “can help relieve the side effects of stress.”

Stress relief in one gulp is nice in theory – especially if you don’t have a boiled egg or some nuts handy. The trouble is, the human stress response is a little more complicated than that.

While there is some evidence that specific nutrients and botanicals may have a positive effect on stress, studies “haven’t necessarily shown that giving these to everybody will confer a benefit,” says Devon Christie, a doctor at Connect Health Centre for Integrative Medicine in Vancouver.

Herbs may interfere with prescription drugs or cause nasty side effects, she points out. Panax ginseng, one of several herbs believed to reduce the stress hormone cortisol, may cause hypertension, diarrhea and vaginal bleeding, she says.

Dr. Christie cautions against taking “stress aids” unless a health-care practitioner recommends them as part of a stress-reduction plan. “The dilemma is that people want to pop a pill and continue with their current lifestyle,” she says.

Dial-down strategy

Save cash on supplements and go for a brisk walk instead. Even with 10 minutes of exercise, “you’re releasing the hormones in your body that are associated with stress relief and those endorphins, the feel-good chemicals,” Dr. Christie says.

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