The holidays are in full swing, which means the stress that comes along with this time of year may be starting to take its toll, possibly in the form of anxiety or insomnia. Excess stress can result in elevated levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol. When cortisol levels start to creep up, these symptoms are often the first to appear. As levels stay elevated, weight gain, insulin resistance, depression, headaches, and digestive issues can also occur, just to name a few. Unfortunately, commonly prescribed medications for anxiety, in the class of drugs known as benzodiazepines, such as diazepam (Valium®) and alprazolam (Xanax®) are associated with dependency and other concerning side effects. Thankfully there are natural alternatives backed by science that are safe and effective at promoting sleep and easing the effects of stress and anxiety. One of these options is Magnolia Bark Extract, which has been used in Chinese medicine since at least 100 A.D.
Magnolia bark (Magnolia officinalis) has traditionally been used in various ailments and conditions, such as menstrual cramps, abdominal pain and other digestive issues, asthma, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and various infections. This is due to its extensive list of properties, as identified by herbal medicine classifications. These include:
- emmenagogue (stimulates menstrual flow)
- tonic (restore tone, invigorate systems/organs)
More recently, however, studies have shown promise in using it for anxiety and sleep-related problems as well. Given the laundry list of side effects associated with benzodiazepines, this is encouraging. Just a few additional examples of these include forgetfulness, muscle weakness, slurred speech, blurred vision, sadness, or even seizures. Magnolia bark extract has been shown to work in a similar manner without the extensive side effects. One of these mechanisms is the binding of the compounds to GABA receptors. GABA (gamma-amino-butyric-acid) is a neurotransmitter that promotes calm and relaxation. So naturally, it is an important target in the treatment of stress related ailments, including sleep.
The superior safety of magnolia bark compared to its pharmaceutical counterparts may be partly explained by the fact that it has been shown to achieve similar efficacy at a much lower dose. Two compounds within magnolia bark have been isolated as the main constituents responsible for its medicinal properties – magnolol, from the cortex of magnolia, and honokiol, from the bark and cones. While the bulk of the research on Magnolia bark extract has been conducted in animals, a 2013 article published in the Journal of International Social Sports Nutrition showed that a combination of Magnolia bark extract and Phellodendron bark extract lowered cortisol and perceived stress in 56 individuals who reported being under chronic, moderate stress. It also reduced fatigue and increased energy.
Magnolia bark extract appears to be both safe and effective. However, it should not be used by those who are pregnant or nursing. Typical recommended dosages vary between 250 and 500 mg. Vertigo has been reported in higher dosages. HPA balance by Holtraceuticals includes 400 mg of Magnolia bark extract, as well as Ashwaganda, L-Theanine, and Phosphatidylserine – all substances that help protect the body from the damaging effects of stress and support good sleep. If you need something to “take the edge off” this holiday season and want to be proactive about protecting your health through any stressful period in your life, Magnolia bark extract or a combination formula may be just what you are looking for. Talk to your healthcare provider before starting a supplement regimen, especially if you have a health condition or take other medications or supplements.