Twin Epidemics – Chronic Stress and Insomnia

Dr. Shawn Talbott (Ph.D., CNS, LDN, FACSM, FACN, FAIS) has gone from triathlon struggler to gut-brain guru! With a Ph.D. in Nutritional Biochemistry, he's on a mission to boost everyday human performance through the power of natural solutions and the gut-brain axis.

This past weekend in Salt Lake City, MonaVie launched into the massive categories of sleep and stress. With upwards of 70-80% of the North American population experiencing “enough” chronic stress to result in stress-related physical ailments and sleeplessness, the potential market for natural stress/sleep solutions is gigantic.


As a Nutritional Biochemist and Exercise Physiologist, I’ve studied both the “mood state” effects of stress (depression, fatigue, mental confusion) as well as the biochemical/hormonal changes (testosterone/cortisol/glucose) and the weight effects (increased abdominal fat accumulation). The bad news is that stress and sleep deprivation adversely influence so many aspects of our physical and mental wellness – but the good news is that there are some very effective natural solutions available.


I’ve been researching, formulating, writing, and speaking about these topics for more than a decade. I’ve written several books and articles on these topics and the lead researcher on several studies, including two recent scientific publications about Tongkat ali and Relora). All of these publications deal with how chronic stress can reduce a parameter that we call “Vigor” (a combination of physical energy, mental acuity, and emotional well-being).


Any type of stress, but especially the low-grade, chronic stress that we experience at work and in our stressful “too-busy” lives, leads to both behavioral changes (less exercise, eating more “comfort foods”, drinking, smoking, etc) and biochemical changes (higher levels of stress hormones like cortisol), which can suppress the immune system, increase blood pressure and cholesterol, elevate appetite, increase fat gain – especially in the abdominal region (belly fat), reduce sex drive, lead to memory and emotional problems, etc).


For many years, I ran a community lifestyle program in Utah that taught people about the link between stress and health (especially fatigue, weight gain, and depression). Some of the “standard” recommendations to combat stress apply – such as being physically active, eating balanced meals, getting enough sleep, etc. But, we also educate people about the “top five” ways to resist the detrimental health effects of stress:


1. Have an “outlet” (a hobby or some diversion outside of work)…


2. Do whatever you can to make the sources of your stress more “predictable” or learn to develop more “control” over those stressors – this means to identify patterns related to when your stressors might appear…


3. Hang out with friends (avoid social isolation) – tough times are always easier when you’re around other people…


4. Learn to tell the difference between “big” issues and “little” issues…


5. Look on the bright side (really) – as simplistic as it sounds, the fact that you can look to “what is improving” in a given situation can help to psychologically buffer the stress in others areas…


We also looked at (and measured) a wide range of “natural therapies” for controlling stress and improving emotional well-being. Some of the most effective are natural herbal therapies that include magnolia bark, tongkat ali, ashwagandha, pine bark, chamomile, fennel, lemon balm, amla, and others.


Based on my experience and the research we’ve conducted, I feel that the “top-5” most effective “anti-stress” herbs include:


  • Tongkat ali (from Malaysia) – to help alleviate the exhaustion/fatigue that comes from chronic stress – it works by normalizing testosterone levels, which are typically suppressed by stress.


  • Magnolia bark (from China) – to help alleviate the tension/irritability that comes with stress – it works by normalizing cortisol levels, which are elevated by stress.


  • Ashwagandha (from Tibet) – to help our bodies to adapt and better handle stress – it works by normalizing levels of epinephrine/norepinephrine, which become unbalanced by stress.


  • Pine bark (from New Zealand) – to help our brains to recover faster from stressful events – it works by improving cranial blood flow and calming brain neuron excitability.


  • Indian Gooseberry (also called Amla – from India) – to help our bodies counteract the oxidizing effects of stress that lead to cellular damage – it works as both an antioxidant and blood flow enhancer.


If you’re interested, here are some video clips from recent appearances on The Dr. Oz Show, Good Day Utah, and Fox & Friends where I talk about natural options for alleviating stress, burnout, exhaustion, and insomnia:


Dr. Oz Show – Curing Exhaustion (Stress/Burnout) with Tongkat Ali


Dr. Oz Show – Flat Belly Plan – Control Stress & Cortisol with Magnolia/Phellodendron (Relora)


Good Day Utah – Natural Options for Sleep


Fox & Friends – Eating for Sleep and Relaxation



About the Author: Shawn Talbott holds a PhD in Nutritional Biochemistry (Rutgers) and a MS in Exercise Science (UMass). He trains for iron-distance triathlons and ultra-marathons in Utah – and is always sure to keep himself in biochemical balance and high vigor.


Shawn M. Talbott, Ph.D., CNS, LDN, FACN, FACSM, FAIS

Nutritional Biochemist and Author


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My books related to stress, cortisol, vigor, and Feeling Your Best:

?    Vigor Diet – The New Science of Feeling Your Best

?    The Secret of Vigor – How to Overcome Burnout, Restore Biochemical Balance, and Reclaim Your Natural Energy

?    Killer at Large – Why Obesity is America’s Greatest Threat – an award-winning documentary film exploring the causes and solutions underlying the American obesity epidemic. FREE versions at

?    The Cortisol Connection – Why Stress Makes You Fat and Ruins Your Health (Hunter House) – FREE text at

?    The Cortisol Connection Diet – The Breakthrough Program to Control Stress and Lose Weight (Hunter House) – FREE text at

?    Cortisol Control and the Beauty Connection – The All-Natural Inside-Out Approach to Reversing Wrinkles, Preventing Acne, And Improving Skin Tone (Hunter House) – FREE text at

?    Natural Solutions for Pain-Free Living – Lasting Relief for Flexible Joints, Strong Bones and Ache-Free Muscles (Chronicle Publishers – Currant Books) –

?    The Immune Miracle – The All-Natural Approach for Better Health, Increased Energy and Improved Mood (GLH Nutrition, 2012)

?    The Health Professionals Guide to Dietary Supplements (Lippincott, Williams & Wilkens)

?    A Guide to Understanding Dietary Supplements – an Outstanding Academic Text of 2004 (Haworth Press)


About the Author

Exercise physiologist (MS, UMass Amherst) and Nutritional Biochemist (PhD, Rutgers) who studies how lifestyle influences our biochemistry, psychology and behavior - which kind of makes me a "Psycho-Nutritionist"?!?!

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