Stress, inflammation, and chronic disease: new links

Sure, we all know that stress, tension and the anger that sometimes accompany them don't make us feel too good. A study from researchers at Duke, using data obtained by the Air Force, reveals just how linked these aspects of life are to crucial markers of cardiovascular inflammation. Elements (part of the complement family of proteins) in the blood that are involved in regulating inflammation in the heart and blood vessels seem to get overproduced by significant factors in men who feel more anger, hostility, and depression. This puts them at elevated risk for diseases such as heart attacks, strokes, and diabetes. To my knowledge this is one of the only pieces of research identifying a direct link between these emotional states and the cardiovascular system. It looked at over 300 men through the course of 10 years.
In another bit of research, scientists at the University of Grenada followed 45 patients who suffer from Lupus, a chronic autoimmune disease characterized by body-wide inflammation and fatigue (amongst many other symptoms). Relaxation and stress-management techniques made significant impacts on the day-to-day symptoms and levels of inflammation these patients experienced, leading to the conclusion that stress has a profound effect on increasing inflammation in chronic disease, and that managing this stress has wonderful benefits that are free from side effects.

This is not news to herbalists: I have always maintained that chronic inflammation is involved in most all states of imbalance, and that stress (without physical exertion) always aggravates it. Those who love plants have always added gentle tonics to most recommended treatment plans, and this makes good sense: address the disease, sure -- but manage the stress response as well!
Generally, the herbs used fall into two broad categories:
1. The "adaptogens", with somewhat of an "adrenal-tonic" effect:
Holy Basil
Licorice (caution in hypertension)
Siberian Ginseng a.k.a. Eleuthero (caution in hypertension)
American Ginseng
2. The "nervine tonics", non-sedating yet calmative:
Oats ("milky", unripe oat tops or oatstraw)
Scullcap a.k.a. Skullcap
Lemon Balm
St. John's Wort (consult an herbalist before using)
Lemon Verbena

Not surprisingly, there's some good therapeutic crossover between these two categories in terms of controlling stress and relieving inflammation, fatigue, and lack of focus. But let's not forget my favorite medicine for stress, anger, hostility and depression: good, regular, aerobic exercise. It's what we're built for, and the reason we secrete stress hormones to begin with!

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