Supplements for Balancing Stress Hormones

Want to feel better than you’ve ever felt?

Here’s another excerpt from my 10th book, The Secret of Vigor – How to Overcome Burnout, Restore Biochemical Balance and Reclaim Your Natural Energy

I started posting these excerpts at the very start of this year – because some of the most popular New Year’s resolutions every year are:
*Lose Weight
*Get in Shape
*Reduce Stress
*Get Healthier
*Win the Lottery

Even though it’s the heart of summer now, the Secret of Vigor can help you with 4 out of 5 of the most popular resolution goals (which tend to be “year-round” goals for many of us as well).

I’m almost done with the posts – into the last chapter now and hard at work on my next book, Deadly Antioxidants, which will be released in March 2015.

Please stay tuned for each of the last few installments – or if you simply can’t wait, then you can certainly get a copy at or at your favorite library or bookstore.

Supplements for Balancing Stress Hormones
Even though I have saved the “stress” supplements for last, in some ways this aspect can be considered of primary importance to control because of its intimate interactions with the remaining three of the Four Pillars of Health (managing oxidation, controlling inflammation, and stabilizing glucose). Of particular note is to keep in mind that many of the supplements that are effective primarily for balancing stress hormones are also effective as secondary controllers of blood sugar (and thus glycation), free radicals (and thus oxidation), and cytokines (and thus inflammation).

Branched-Chain Amino Acids
The group of amino acids referred to as the “branched-chain amino acids” (BCAAs) comprises three essential amino acids: valine, leucine, and isoleucine. Supplemental levels have been shown to increase endurance, reduce fatigue, improve mental performance, increase energy levels, prevent immune-system suppression, and counteract muscle catabolism following intense exercise.
In numerous studies of athletes, BCAAs have been shown to maintain blood levels of glutamine, an amino acid used as fuel by immune-system cells. During intense exercise and stress, glutamine levels typically fall dramatically, removing the primary fuel source for immune cells and leading to a general suppression of immune-system activity (and an increased risk of infections) following the exercise. By supplementing with glutamine, BCAAs, or both, a person can maintain blood levels of glutamine and thereby avoid suppression of immune-cell activity due to a lack of fuel.
In related studies, BCAA supplements have been shown to help counteract the rise in cortisol and the drop in testosterone that is often seen in endurance athletes undergoing stressful training. In these studies, intense exercise was used as a model for high stress, so the increased cortisol levels and the reduced testosterone levels represented exactly what happens in the average person when they experience a stressful situation at work, at home, or while standing in line at the grocery store.

Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is an herb from India that is sometimes called “Indian ginseng”—not because it is part of the ginseng family but to suggest energy-promoting and antistress benefits that are similar to the ones attributed to the more well-known Asian and Siberian ginsengs. Traditional use of ashwagandha in Indian (Ayurvedic) medicine is to “balance life forces” during stress and aging, similar to the use of cordyceps in restoring “Qi” (pronounced “chee” and equivalent to the modern description of “vigor”) in traditional Chinese medicine and the modern use of many of these “adaptogenic” supplements for restoring vigor. Withanolides are thought to contribute to the calming effects of ashwagandha during periods of stress and may account for the use of ashwagandha as a general tonic during stressful situations (where it is calming and fatigue fighting) and as a treatment for insomnia (where it promotes relaxation).

Beta-sitosterol is one of hundreds of plant-derived “sterol” compounds that are known to influence cortisol exposure, immune function, and inflammation in the body. Plant oils contain the highest concentration of phytosterols, so nuts and seeds contain fairly high levels, and all fruits and vegetables generally contain some amount of phytosterols. Perhaps the best way to obtain beta-sitosterol is to eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds (which obviously brings numerous other benefits as well), but beta-sitosterol is available in supplement form as well.

Beta-sitosterol is known to modulate immune function, inflammation, and pain levels through its effects on controlling the production of inflammatory cytokines, and much of this immune/inflammation control appears to be related to an improved interaction of immune cells (which produce inflammatory cytokines) with the adrenal glands (where cortisol is produced). In terms of immune function, beta-sitosterol has been shown to normalize the function of T-helper lymphocytes and natural killer cells following stressful events (such as marathon running), which normally suppress immune-system function. In addition to alleviating much of the postexercise immune suppression that occurs following endurance competitions, beta-sitosterol has also been shown to normalize the ratio of catabolic stress hormones (cortisol) to anabolic (rebuilding) hormones, such as testosterone and DHEA.

Citrus Peel
Citrus peel (Citrus sinensis) contains a unique class of flavonoids, known as polymethoxylated flavones (PMFs)—specifically, tangeritin, sinensetin, and nobilitin. The PMFs represent a class of “superflavonoids,” extracted from citrus peels, that exhibit approximately threefold potency compared to other flavonoids. PMFs are just what they sound like—flavonoid compounds with extra “methoxy” groups compared to “regular” flavones. Like all flavonoids, the PMFs deliver potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity, but the PMF version is about three times more potent in its ability to restore biochemical balance (and it reduces cortisol levels by about 20 to 30 percent).

Our research group was the first in the world to use PMFs from citrus-peel extract for restoring biochemical balance while also promoting blood-sugar control and weight loss. As part of several research trials, we provided supplements of PMFs (with eurycoma root extract, green-tea catechins, and theanine) to a group of moderately overweight subjects. The PMFs reduced cortisol levels by 20 percent, body weight by 5 percent, body fat by 6 percent, and waist circumference by 8 percent over a period of six weeks. A longer, twelve-week study showed even better results, with additional beneficial effects on reducing cholesterol (by 20 percent), boosting vigor (by 25 percent), reducing fatigue (by 48 percent), and maintaining normal testosterone levels and resting metabolic rate.

Cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis) is a Chinese mushroom that has been used for centuries to reduce fatigue, increase stamina, improve lung function, and restore “Qi.” Traditionally, it was harvested in the spring at elevations above fourteen thousand feet, restricting its availability to the privileged (the emperor and his court). Several studies of cordyceps have shown improvements in lung function, suggesting that athletes may benefit from an increased ability to take up and use oxygen. A handful of studies conducted in Chinese subjects have shown increases in libido (sex drive) and restoration of testosterone levels (from low to normal) following cordyceps supplementation. During stressful events, cortisol levels rise while testosterone levels drop (leading to problems with biochemical balance). Using cordyceps as a way to normalize these suppressed testosterone levels can help modulate the cortisol-to-testosterone ratio within a lower (and healthier) range. At least two chemical constituents—cordycepin (deoxyadenosine) and cordycepic acid (mannitol)—have been identified as the active compounds in improving energy and stamina. Animal studies have shown that feeding with cordyceps increases the level of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) in the liver by 45 to 55 percent, a beneficial effect for boosting energy state and potential for physical and mental performance. Furthermore, mice fed cordyceps and subjected to an extreme low-oxygen environment were able to utilize oxygen more efficiently (30 to 50 percent increase), better tolerate acidosis and hypoxia (lack of oxygen), and live two to three times longer than a control group. In a number of Chinese clinical studies, primarily in elderly patients with fatigue, cordyceps-treated patients reported significant improvements in their levels of fatigue, ability to tolerate cold temperatures, memory and cognitive capacity, and sex drive. Patients with respiratory diseases also reported feeling physically stronger. Recently, a small study presented at the American College of Sports Medicine annual meeting showed that cordyceps significantly increased maximal oxygen uptake and anaerobic threshold, which may lead to improved exercise capacity and resistance to fatigue.

Eurycoma longifolia, a Malaysian root often called “Malaysian ginseng” for its energy-boosting effects, affords a natural way to bring suboptimal testosterone levels back to within normal ranges. It is also probably the best first-line therapy (before trying synthetic options, such as DHEA supplements or topical/injected testosterone) for anybody suffering from chronic stress. In traditional Malaysian medicine, eurycoma is used as an anti-aging remedy because of its positive effects on energy levels and mental outlook (which are most likely the result of improved biochemical balance and vigor).

Eurycoma contains a group of small peptides (short protein chains), referred to as “eurypeptides,” that are known to have effects in improving energy status and sex drive. The “testosterone-boosting” effects of eurycoma appear not to have anything to do with stimulating testosterone synthesis, but rather appear to increase the release rate of “free” testosterone from sex hormone–binding globulin (SHBG). In this way, eurycoma is not so much a testosterone “booster” as a “maintainer” of normal testosterone levels (testosterone that your body has already produced and needs to release to become active). This means that eurycoma is particularly beneficial for individuals with suboptimal testosterone levels, disrupted biochemical balance, and low vigor, including those who are dieting for weight loss, middle-aged individuals (because testosterone drops after age thirty), stressed-out folks, sleep-deprived people, and serious athletes who may be at risk for overtraining.

The vast majority of what we know about eurycoma comes from rodent studies, test-tube binding evaluations, and a handful of open-label human-feeding trials. The test-tube binding studies have shown that eurycoma peptides and related compounds do help release more of the “free” form of testosterone from its binding proteins. The rodent studies have yielded more than a dozen reports of increased energy levels, improved hormonal profiles, and enhanced sex drive. The limited number of human-feeding trials have demonstrated a clear subjective indication of reduced fatigue and heightened energy and mood, as well as a greater sense of well-being in the subjects consuming eurycoma.

Fortunately, a range of specific feeding studies in athletes, dieters, and in stressed and sleep-deprived subjects—who are all under chronic stress and are perhaps the key customers for eurycoma-based products—have been conducted. These studies in “overstressed” subjects used a specific eurycoma root extract prepared with a patented water-extraction and freeze-drying process (developed in collaboration between the government of Malaysia and MIT, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology). In some studies, the patented eurycoma root extract is used alone, and in others, it is blended and balanced with other supplements, such as theanine, citrus PMFs, and green-tea catechins. Overall, these studies found a maintenance of normal testosterone and biochemical balance in supplemented subjects, including dieters (compared to a typical drop in testosterone among nonsupplemented dieters) and cyclists (compared to a typical drop in testosterone in nonsupplemented riders).

For a dieter, it would be expected for cortisol (a catabolic hormone) to rise and testosterone (an anabolic hormone) to drop following several weeks of dieting stress. This change in biochemical balance (cortisol up and testosterone down) is an important cause of the familiar “plateau” that many dieters hit (when weight loss stops) after six to eight weeks on a weight-loss regimen. By maintaining normal testosterone levels, a dieter could expect to also maintain their muscle mass and metabolic rate (versus a drop in both subsequent to lower testosterone levels) and thus continue to lose weight without hitting the dreaded weight-loss plateau.

For an athlete, the same rise in cortisol and drop in testosterone is an early signal of overtraining, a syndrome characterized by reduced performance, increased injury rates, suppressed immune-system activity, increased appetite, moodiness, and weight gain. Obviously, maintenance of normal testosterone levels could prevent some of these overtraining symptoms, as well as help the athlete recover faster and more effectively from daily training bouts.

Ginseng is perhaps the best known of the “adaptogens” (herbs to help the body “adapt” to the biochemical imbalances caused by chronic stress). Several strains of ginseng are available—including Panax (“true”) ginseng (also called Korean, or Asian, ginseng), American ginseng, and Siberian ginseng (not a true ginseng; see the next paragraph for more information)—and each type contains some of the same compounds but in slightly different proportions, thus providing slightly different effects in terms of antistress benefits. Numerous animal and human studies have shown that different types of ginseng can increase energy and endurance, improve mental function (learning and maze tests), and improve overall resistance to various stressors, including viruses and bacteria, extreme exercise, and sleep deprivation. Human studies have shown improved immune function and reduced incidence of colds and flu following a month of supplementation with Panax ginseng. In a handful of studies, ginseng supplementation has also provided benefits in mental functioning in volunteers exposed to stress, such as improvements in ability to form abstract thoughts, in reaction times, and in scores on tests of memory and concentration.

Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus, or “Eleuthero” for short) is not truly ginseng, but it is a close-enough cousin to deliver some of the same energetic benefits. The Siberian form of ginseng is generally a less-expensive alternative to Panax, or Asian/Korean, ginseng, although it may have more of a stimulatory effect rather than an adaptogenic effect—not necessarily a bad thing if you just need a boost. Often promoted as an athletic performance enhancer, eleuthero may also possess mild to moderate benefits in promoting recovery following intense exercise, perhaps due in part to an enhanced delivery of oxygen to recovering muscles.

The active compounds in ginseng are known as ginsenosides, and most of the top-quality ginseng supplements will be standardized for ginsenoside content. It is thought that the ginsenosides interact within the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis to balance the body’s secretion of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and cortisol. ACTH has the ability to bind directly to brain cells and can affect a variety of stress-related processes in the body.

Magnolia Bark
Magnolia bark (Magnolia officinalis) is a traditional Chinese medicine used since ad 100 for treating “stagnation of Qi” (what we view in Western medicine as low vigor or burnout). Magnolia bark extracts are rich in two biphenol compounds, magnolol and honokiol, both of which are thought to contribute to the primary antistress and cortisol-lowering effects of the plant.

Japanese researchers have determined that the magnolol and honokiol components of magnolia bark extracts are one thousand times more potent than alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E) in their antioxidant activity, thereby helping to balance the “oxidation” Pillar of Health. Other research groups have shown both magnolol and honokiol to possess powerful “mental acuity” benefits via their actions in modulating the activity of various neurotransmitters and related enzymes in the brain (increased choline acetyltransferase activity, inhibition of acetylcholinesterase, and increased acetylcholine release).

Numerous animal studies have demonstrated that honokiol acts as a central-nervous-system depressant at high doses but as an anxiolytic (antianxiety and antistress) agent at lower doses. This means that a small dose of a magnolia bark extract standardized for honokiol content can help to “de-stress” a person, while a larger dose might have the effect of putting you to sleep. When compared to pharmaceutical agents such as Valium (diazepam), honokiol appears to be as effective in its antianxiety activity yet not nearly as powerful in its sedative ability. These results have been demonstrated in at least a half dozen animal studies and suggest that magnolia bark extracts standardized for honokiol content would be an appropriate approach for controlling the detrimental effects of everyday stressors, without the tranquilizing side effects of pharmaceutical agents.

Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea) is a species of plants from the Arctic mountain regions of Siberia. The root of the plant is used medicinally and is also known as “Arctic root” or “golden root.” Rhodiola has been used for centuries to treat cold and flulike symptoms, promote longevity, and increase the body’s resistance to physical and mental stresses. It is typically considered to be an adaptogen (like ginseng) and is believed to invigorate the body and mind to increase resistance to a multitude of stresses. The key active constituents in rhodiola are believed to be rosavin, rosarin, rosin, and salidroside.

In one clinical trial, Rhodiola rosea extract was effective in reducing or removing symptoms of depression in 65 percent of the patients studied. In another study, twenty-six out of thirty-five men suffering from weak erections or premature ejaculation reported improvements in sexual function following treatment with Rhodiola rosea extract for three months. In another study of physicians on nighttime hospital duty, rhodiola supplementation for two weeks resulted in a significant improvement in associative thinking, short-term memory, concentration, and speed of audiovisual perception. An additional study of students undergoing a stressful twenty-day period of exams showed daily rhodiola supplementation alleviated mental fatigue and improved well-being.

Overall, Rhodiola rosea extract appears to be valuable as an adaptogen, specifically in increasing the body’s ability to deal with a number of psychological and physiological stresses. Of particular value is the theoretical role for rhodiola in increasing the body’s ability to take up and utilize oxygen—an effect similar to that of cordyceps (see above)—which may explain some of the nonstimulant “energizing” effects attributed to the plant. Rhodiola is often called the “poor-man’s cordyceps” because of ancient stories in which Chinese commoners and Tibetan Sherpas used rhodiola for energy because the plants grew wild throughout the countryside, while only the emperor, his immediate family, and his concubines were allowed access to the rare cordyceps mushroom.

Theanine is an amino acid found in the leaves of green tea (Camellia sinensis). Theanine offers quite different benefits from those imparted by the polyphenol and catechin antioxidants for which green tea is typically consumed. In fact, through the natural production of polyphenols, the tea plant converts theanine into catechins. This means tea leaves harvested during one part of the growing season may be high in catechins (good for antioxidant and anticancer benefits), while leaves harvested during another time of year may be higher in theanine (good for antistress and biochemical-balance effects). Theanine is unique in that it acts as a nonsedating relaxant to help increase the brain’s production of alpha waves. This makes theanine extremely effective for combating tension, stress, and anxiety, without inducing drowsiness. Clinical studies show that theanine is effective in dosages ranging from 50 to 200 mg per day. A typical cup of green tea is expected to contain approximately 50 mg of theanine.

In addition to being considered a relaxing substance (in adults), theanine has also been shown to provide benefits for improving learning performance (in mice) and promoting concentration (in students). No adverse side effects are associated with theanine consumption, making it one of the leading natural choices for promoting relaxation without the sedating effects of depressant drugs and herbs. When considering the potential benefits of theanine as an antistress or biochemical-balance supplement, it is important to distinguish its nonsedating relaxation benefits from the tranquilizing effects of other relaxing supplements, such as valerian and kava, which are actually mild central-nervous-system depressants.

One of the most distinctive aspects of theanine activity is its ability to increase the brain’s output of alpha waves. Alpha waves are one of the four basic brain-wave patterns (delta, theta, alpha, and beta) that can be monitored using an electroencephalogram (EEG). Each wave pattern is associated with a particular oscillating electrical voltage in the brain, and the different brain-wave patterns are associated with different mental states and states of consciousness. Alpha waves, which indicate what we call “relaxed alertness,” are nonexistent during deep sleep as well as during states of very high arousal, such as fear or anger. In other words, alpha waves are associated with your highest levels of physical and mental performance; therefore, you want to maximize the amount of time during your waking hours that your brain spends in an alpha state. By increasing the brain’s output of alpha waves, theanine can help you “rebalance” your metabolism and your brain-wave patterns as well as help you control anxiety, increase focus and concentration, promote creativity, and improve overall mental and physical performance. Research studies have clearly shown that people who produce more alpha brain waves also have less anxiety, that highly creative people generate more alpha waves when faced with a problem to solve, and that elite athletes tend to produce a burst of alpha waves on the left sides of their brains during their best performances.

Antioxidant Peril in NEJM

I’ve been writing, and speaking, and educating about the dangers of too many (and the wrong type and improper balance) of antioxidants for quite a long time – at least 20 years at this point. My newest book, Deadly Antioxidants, will be coming out in March 2015, so I’m hard at work putting the finishing touches on that in the new few weeks.


If you’re interested to read a sample chapter – or listen to any of the recent radio programs on this topic – you can do so HERE.


I will also introduce a “summary booklet” version of a portion the Deadly Antioxidants book at the LifeVantage Elite Academy in Orlando in a few days – so please stay tuned for more information about how to get your copy.


Just a few days ago, on July 10, the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) published a commentary on “The Promise and Perils of Antioxidants for Cancer Patients” which stated (in part):


“It has been proposed that reactive oxygen species (ROS) cause mutations, and thus cancer, and that antioxidants counter this effect, but studies suggest that antioxidants do not prevent cancer and may accelerate it. These findings may be due to the cellular location of ROS targeted by antioxidants.”


The article raises several excellent points that I’ve been educating about for many years, and I agree with most of the major points made by the authors (Navdeep S. Chandel, Ph.D., and David A. Tuveson, M.D., Ph.D., from the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago; and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in Cold Spring Harbor, NY.


For example, a growing number of research studies are showing that isolated, synthetic, high-dose antioxidant supplements (including vitamin E, selenium, and beta-carotene, among others) may have a dark side, upsetting our body’s natural protective defenses.


If this is true, why are we constantly told we should take antioxidant pills to supplement our diets? Certainly, antioxidants protect every cell in our body from damage by reactive oxygen molecules called free radicals. Free radicals come from cigarette smoke, car exhaust, and air pollution, but also from exposure to the sun and are even created by normal metabolism every time we breathe.


Too many damaging free radicals — or too few protective antioxidants — can wreak havoc on cell membranes, mitochondria, and DNA, leading to tissue damage and a wide range of chronic diseases, including cancer, chronic fatigue, diabetes, arthritis, and heart disease.


Consuming antioxidant nutrients in the form of brightly colored fruits and vegetables has clearly been shown in hundreds of research studies to be associated with reduced free radical damage and improved health. This research has led to many in the nutrition and health arenas to push the idea that if antioxidants in natural foods are beneficial, then we should take even more of them in pill form. Unfortunately, the practice of “taking antioxidants” in the form of high-dose vitamin supplements is being linked to more harm than good.


However, exciting new research, including some work cited in the NEJM article is also demonstrating how we can encourage the human body to protect itself by turning on its own built-in and ultra-powerful antioxidant defense systems. This internal network of antioxidant enzymes—which is regulated by the unique and potent Nrf2 pathway—is already inside every one of our 100 trillion cells—and its protective properties are more than one million times more powerful than typical antioxidant supplements.


Don’t Take Antioxidants—Make Antioxidants!

This idea of “making antioxidants” (naturally within our cells) compared to the standard approach of “taking antioxidants” (in the form of high-dose vitamin supplements) is a fundamentally different approach to protecting the body from oxidative stress—and might just be the future of how we protect ourselves to enhance our overall well-being and improve how we feel, look, and perform at all levels.


As I mentioned earlier, my new book will be published in March 2015, with a shorter “booklet” summary available later this week – so please stay tuned for news about how to get your copy.


Thanks for reading,





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

Nutritional Biochemist and Author

801-576-0788 (office)

801-915-1170 (mobile)


UPCOMING BOOK:  Deadly Antioxidants – Why Your Daily Vitamins May Be Causing Cancer and Shortening Your Life (and How You Can Turn on Your Body’s Own Antioxidants for Optimal Health)


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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  (

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

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

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

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) –



Supplements for Stabilizing Glucose

Want to feel better than you’ve ever felt?

Here’s another excerpt from my 10th book, The Secret of Vigor – How to Overcome Burnout, Restore Biochemical Balance and Reclaim Your Natural Energy

I started posting these excerpts at the very start of this year – because some of the most popular New Year’s resolutions every year are:
*Lose Weight
*Get in Shape
*Reduce Stress
*Get Healthier
*Win the Lottery

Even though it’s the heart of summer now, the Secret of Vigor can help you with 4 out of 5 of the most popular resolution goals (which tend to be “year-round” goals for many of us as well).

I’m almost done with the posts – into the last chapter now and hard at work on my next book, Deadly Antioxidants, which will be released in March 2015.

Please stay tuned for each of the last few installments – or if you simply can’t wait, then you can certainly get a copy at or at your favorite library or bookstore.

Supplements for Stabilizing Glucose
When most people think of controlling blood sugar, they automatically think about diabetes (which affects about twenty-five million Americans, with 90 to 95 percent of cases manifesting as “Type II” diabetes). At least double that number—more than fifty million Americans—have what might be called “pre-diabetes,” or a dysfunctional or suboptimal control of blood sugar. Most of these people are completely unaware that their blood-sugar levels are fluctuating wildly throughout the day, but they clearly feel the effects in terms of fatigue, problems concentrating, constant hunger, weight gain, and accelerated aging—mostly via glycation, but also via oxidation and inflammation.
Optimal control of blood sugar—and the excessive glycation that can result from improper control—can be greatly enhanced by consuming a number of the dietary supplements outlined below.

Licorice Root
Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) has been used by practitioners of traditional medicine around the world for at least four thousand years—especially in Egyptian and Middle-Eastern medicine, where licorice plants are thought to have originated. Licorice roots contain bioactive polyphenols, predominantly glabridin, which possess antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-stress, and glucose-lowering properties. Perhaps the most beneficial effect of licorice/glabridin extracts is their ability to reduce abdominal fat and blood glucose in diabetic or overweight subjects. In one six-week study of moderately overweight men and women, a once-daily glabridin supplement reduced glucose levels by 10 percent, controlled appetite, and induced a one-pound per week loss of body fat, with no significant alterations to diet or exercise patterns.

Alpha-Lipoic Acid
Alpha-lipoic acid has been established by many European and U.S. studies as an important antioxidant and blood-sugar controller. Alpha-lipoic acid has been named “the universal antioxidant,” because it reacts with many different free radicals. Alpha-lipoic acid supplementation enhances insulin action and can reduce or reverse oxidative nerve damage caused by elevated blood-sugar levels. In conjunction with other antioxidants, such as vitamin E, alpha-lipoic acid may be doubly helpful in patients with diabetes. By promoting the production of energy from fat and sugar in the mitochondria, glucose removal from the bloodstream may be enhanced and insulin function improved. Indeed, alpha-lipoic acid has been shown to decrease insulin resistance and is prescribed frequently in Europe as a treatment for peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage) associated with diabetes. In the United States, the American Diabetes Association has suggested that alpha-lipoic acid plus vitamin E may be helpful in combating some of the health complications associated with diabetes, including heart disease, vision problems, nerve damage, and kidney disease.

Chromium is a trace mineral that is essential for normal insulin function. Dietary studies indicate that most people in the United States and other industrialized countries don’t get enough chromium, and deficiencies appear to be even more common in people with diabetes and problems with blood-sugar control. Chromium also aids in the metabolism of glucose, regulation of insulin levels, and maintenance of healthy blood levels of cholesterol and other lipids. Chromium forms part of a compound in the body known as glucose tolerance factor (GTF), which is involved in regulating the actions of insulin in maintaining blood-sugar levels and, possibly, in helping control appetite. Food sources include brewer’s yeast, whole-grain cereals, broccoli, prunes, mushrooms, and beer. (Note: Most of the calories in beer come from the alcohol—about 100–150 calories of the total 150–200 calories in a 12 oz beer—while carbs only account for 40–80 calories, depending on the brand of beer. I’m not advocating that diabetics start gulping beer to get their chromium, but beer is one of the “foods” that delivers a decent supply of chromium into the food supply.) Many clinical studies support the benefits and safety of chromium supplementation for normalizing blood sugar. Supplemental chromium can lower blood-insulin levels, improve glucose tolerance, and decrease systemic levels of glycation. Experts from the U.S. Department of Agriculture at the Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center recommend chromium supplementation in daily amounts of 200 mcg for optimal blood-sugar control.

Fenugreek is a well-known spice that has been used in Asia and Africa to treat various ailments, including diabetes. The active, blood-sugar lowering principles of fenugreek have not been entirely elucidated, but dietary fiber and saponins (which are also antioxidants) may contribute. Fenugreek seeds contain an amino acid (4-hydroxyisoleucine) that may stimulate insulin secretion (direct beta-cell stimulation) and help control blood-sugar levels. Interestingly, fenugreek extract also appears to improve testosterone levels and restore the balance between testosterone and cortisol in stressed subjects.

Gymnema (Gymnema sylvestre) is a plant used medicinally in India and Southeast Asia for treatment of “sweet urine,” or what we refer to in the West as diabetes or hyperglycemia. In ancient Indian texts, gymnema is referred to as “gurmar,” which means “sugar killer” in Sanskrit. Gymnema leaves, whether extracted or infused into a tea, suppress glucose absorption and reduce the sensation of sweetness in foods—effects that may deliver important health benefits for individuals who want to reduce blood-sugar levels. Gymnema sylvestre leaves contain gymnemic acids, which are known to suppress transport of glucose from the intestine into the bloodstream, and a small protein, gurmar, that can interact with receptors on the tongue to decrease the sensation of sweetness in many foods. Modern scientific methods have isolated at least nine different fractions of gymnemic acids that possess hypoglycemic activity. The effect of gymnema extract on lowering blood levels of glucose, cholesterol, and triglycerides is fairly gradual—typically taking a few days to several weeks. Very high doses of the dried gymnema leaves may even help repair the cellular damage that causes (and is caused by) excessive blood-sugar exposure. Several human studies conducted on gymnema for treatment of diabetes have shown significant reduction in blood glucose, glycosylated hemoglobin (an index of blood-sugar control), and insulin requirements (so insulin therapy could be reduced). Gymnema appears to increase the effectiveness of insulin rather than causing the body to produce more, although the precise mechanism that causes this remains unknown.

Indian Daisy
Indian daisy (Sphaeranthus indicus) is a medicinal plant that grows in India, Southeast Asia, and the Philippines. Traditional uses include brewing tea from the flowers as a treatment for diabetes and hyperglycemia (elevated blood sugar). The blood sugar–lowering effect of Indian daisy flower extract is similar to that of insulin, which improves glucose transport from the blood into body cells. The blood sugar–regulating properties of Indian daisy have been demonstrated in studies of isolated cells in animals and humans. In isolated cells, flower extracts are known to stimulate glucose uptake. Feeding diabetic mice, rats, and rabbits Indian-daisy flower reduces elevated blood sugar and returns insulin levels to normal. In humans with moderate abdominal obesity, Indian-daisy flower extract, taken for eight to twelve weeks, has been shown to reduce blood-sugar levels by up to 30 percent and help subjects maintain a tighter control of blood-sugar fluctuations, which helps control appetite and encourage weight loss without significant dietary alterations.

Panax (Asian) Ginseng
Panax gensing has a more than one-thousand-year history as a folk remedy in China and Korea. In addition to its effects in controlling cortisol as an adaptogen against stress, various animal studies show that Panax ginseng can lower blood sugar, improve glucose utilization, and increase insulin production. A placebo-controlled clinical study showed that Panax ginseng extracts reduce hemoglobin glycosylation and improve glucose tolerance without side effects.

Vanadium is another trace element involved in promoting normal insulin function. A normal diet typically provides about 10 to 30 mcg of vanadium per day. Although no RDA for this element has been established, this amount appears to be adequate for most healthy adults. Vanadium is thought to play a role in the metabolism of carbohydrates and may have functions in cholesterol and blood-lipid metabolism. In diabetics, vanadium supplements may have a positive effect in regulating blood-glucose levels. Food sources of vanadium include seafood, mushrooms, some cereals, and soybeans. Through its insulin-mimetic effect, vanadium is thought to promote glycogen synthesis and help maintain blood-glucose levels. Vanadyl-sulfate supplements have been shown to normalize blood glucose levels and reduce glycosylated hemoglobin levels and can reduce fasting glucose levels by about 20 percent.

Zinc is an essential trace mineral for immune function, antioxidant protection, and reproduction. Three out of four people do not get the recommended intakes for zinc. Zinc supplementation is especially important for reducing glycation, because it also promotes normal insulin function. However, to avoid unwanted nutrient interactions, zinc should not be supplemented in high doses (for example, above 45 mg daily) and is best taken in balance with other trace elements, such as copper (2 mg of copper for every 15 mg of zinc).


Secret of Vigor = Supplements for Controlling Inflammation

Want to feel better than you’ve ever felt? 

Here’s another excerpt from my 10th book, The Secret of VigorHow to Overcome Burnout, Restore Biochemical Balance and Reclaim Your Natural Energy

Some of the most popular New Year’s resolutions every year are:

*Lose Weight

*Get in Shape

*Reduce Stress

*Get Healthier

*Win the Lottery

The Secret of Vigor can help you with 4 out of 5 of the most popular resolution goals, so I’ll be posting excerpts from the book for the next several weeks – so please stay tuned for each installment. 

If you simply can’t wait, then you can certainly get a copy at or at your favorite library or bookstore.

Supplements for Controlling Inflammation

Recall from earlier sections that the general idea with inflammation is that you want “enough”—not too much and not too little—but that balance can become upset by poor diet, disease, injury, stress, and other lifestyle factors. Some researchers would go so far as to say that “overinflammation” is at the heart of virtually every disease process, including burnout or low vigor, and certainly the data support a strong link between inflammation and heart disease, cancer, obesity, and Alzheimer’s disease (not to mention the long list of clearly “inflammatory” diseases, such as fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and others). Other sections of this book cover some of the most effective natural approaches for keeping inflammation under control, including reducing your intake of refined carbohydrates, increasing your intake of omega-3 fatty acids and brightly colored fruits and vegetables, as well as reducing stress-hormone exposure. The information that follows outlines some of the most effective dietary supplements for naturally controlling inflammation.

Essential Fatty Acids

The term “essential fatty acids” refers to two fatty acids—linoleic acid and linolenic acid—that the body cannot synthesize and thus must be consumed in the diet (vitamins and minerals are also termed “essential,” because the body cannot make them and therefore must consume them). These essential fatty acids are needed for the production of compounds known as cytokines, which help regulate inflammation, blood clotting, blood pressure, heart rate, immune response, and a wide variety of other biological processes.

Linoleic acid is considered an “omega-6” (n-6) fatty acid. It is found in vegetable and nut oils, such as sunflower, safflower, corn, soy, and peanut oil. Most Americans get adequate levels of these omega-6 oils in their diets, due to a high consumption of vegetable oil–based margarine and salad dressings. Linolenic acid is classified as an “omega-3” (n-3) fatty acid. Good dietary sources are flaxseed oil (51 percent linolenic acid), soy oil (7 percent), walnuts (7 percent), and canola oil (9 percent), as well as margarine derived from canola oil. For example, a tablespoon of canola oil or canola oil margarine provides about 1 g of linolenic acid.

If you think back to the type of diet humans evolved to eat (caveman diet), it provided a much more balanced mix of n-3 and n-6 fatty acids. Over the last century, modern diets have come to rely heavily on fats derived from vegetable oils (n-6), bringing the ratio of n-6 to n-3 fatty acids from the caveman’s ratio of 1:1 to the modern-day range of 20:1 or 30:1! The unbalanced intake of high n-6 fatty acids and low n-3 fatty acids sets the stage for increases in various inflammatory processes.

Fatty acids of the n-3 variety have opposing biological effects to the n-6 fatty acids, meaning that a higher intake of n-3 oils can deliver anti-inflammatory, antithrombotic, and vasodilatory effects that can lead to benefits in terms of heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, and a wide variety of inflammatory conditions, such as fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, and ulcerative colitis.

In the body, linoleic acid (n-6) is metabolized into arachidonic acid, a precursor to specific “bad” cytokines that can promote vasoconstriction, elevated blood pressure, and painful inflammation. Linolenic acid (n-3) is metabolized in the body to EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). EPA serves as the precursor to prostaglandin E3, which has anti-inflammatory properties that can counteract the inflammation caused by n-6 fatty acids.

Recent studies have shown that consumption of linolenic acid and other n-3 fatty acids offers wide-ranging anti-inflammatory benefits. This effect is thought to be mediated through the synthesis of EPA and DHA. Fish oils contain large amounts of EPA and DHA, and the majority of studies in this area have used various concentrations of fish-oil supplements to demonstrate the health benefits of these essential fatty acids. For example, 1 g of menhaden oil (a common fish used to produce fish-oil supplements) provides about 300 mg of these fatty acids. EPA is known to induce an anti-inflammatory effect through its inhibition of cyclooxygenase (which converts arachidonic acid to thromboxane A2).

Some evidence suggests that omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil and flaxseed may help improve insulin sensitivity (thus reducing glycation) and reduce perception of stress (thus reducing cortisol exposure). A recent expert scientific advisory board at the National Institutes of Health highlighted the importance of a balanced intake of n-6 and n-3 fatty acids to reduce the adverse effects of elevated (inflammatory) arachidonic acid (a metabolic product of n-6 metabolism). The committee recommended a reduction in the intake of n-6 fatty acids (linoleic acid) and an increase in n-3 (linolenic acid, DHA, EPA) intake.

No serious adverse side effects should be expected from regular consumption of essential fatty acid supplements, whether from fish oil or other common oil supplements (see below). However, due to the tendency of n-3 fatty acids to reduce platelet aggregation (“thin” the blood), increased bleeding times can occur in some individuals.

The best dietary sources of omega-3 fatty acids are fish, such as trout, tuna, salmon, mackerel, herring, and sardines, which all contain 1 to 2 g of n-3 oils per three- to four-ounce serving. A minimum of 4 to 5 g of linoleic acid (but no more than 6 to 7 g) and 2 to 3 g of linolenic acid are recommended per day. Supplements of linoleic acid (n-6) are typically not needed, whereas linolenic acid (n-3) supplements (4 to 10 g/d) or concentrated EPA/DHA supplements (400 to 1,000 mg/d) are recommended to balance normal inflammatory processes. Total DHA/EPA intake should approach about 1 g per day, evenly split between the two.

In addition to fish oils, other plant-derived oils are rich sources of essential fatty acids, including flaxseed, borage seed, and evening primrose.

Evening Primrose Oil

Evening primrose oil (EPO) is most commonly used for relieving inflammatory conditions associated with “women’s health,” such as premenstrual syndrome, fibrocystic breasts, and menopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes. Each of these conditions is related on a biochemical level to an excessive inflammatory response.

The essential fatty acid linoleic acid forms 60 to 80 percent of evening primrose oil, but the gamma linoleic acid (GLA) component of EPO may be more important for controlling inflammation. The body synthesizes GLA from linoleic acid, which comprises 8 to 14 percent of the oil in EPO supplements. GLA is a precursor of prostaglandin E1 (PGE1), a deficiency of which has been documented in some women with premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and cyclical breast pain. Because decreased levels of PGE1 can increase the pain-inducing effect of the hormone prolactin on breast tissue, it is thought that they may be a primary cause of many of the symptoms associated with PMS.

PGE1 has beneficial anti-inflammatory effects, and supplementation with EPO is known to control a variety of inflammatory disorders. In a double-blind crossover study in men taking either fish oil alone or fish oil plus EPO, the combination lead to a significant 12 percent decrease in inflammatory markers, whereas fish oil alone lead to a 6 percent decrease in the same markers.

Borage Oil

Borage seeds are a rich source of a GLA (20 to 30 percent of total oil content), which has medicinal properties that have been demonstrated in such areas as anti-inflammatory activity, immune-system modulation, management of atopic eczema (excessive proliferation of the skin cells), and other skin maladies. Studies have shown that individuals with active rheumatoid arthritis (an inflammatory condition) experienced an improvement in their symptoms when they were given a borage oil supplement daily for six months.


The boswellia plant (Boswellia serrata) produces a sap that has been used in traditional Indian medicine as a treatment for arthritis and inflammatory conditions. The primary compounds thought to be responsible for the anti-inflammatory activity of boswellia are known as boswellic acids. These compounds are known to interfere with enzymes that contribute to inflammation and pain (COX-2, 5-LO, and 12-LO).

Boswellia sap/resin has a long history of safe and effective use as a mild anti-inflammatory to reduce pain and stiffness and promote increased mobility (without many of the associated gastrointestinal side effects commonly reported for synthetic anti-inflammatory medications). A number of studies have shown that boswellic acids may possess anti-inflammatory activity at least as potent as common over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen and aspirin. In one study of patients with rheumatoid arthritis, pain and swelling were reduced following three months of boswellia use. In some cases, boswellia may be associated with mild gastrointestinal upset (heartburn, aftertaste, and nausea—so take it with food), but no serious adverse side effects have been reported.

Bromelain and Papain

The term “proteolytic” is a catch-all term referring to enzymes that digest protein. In the body, proteolytic enzymes, such as bromelain (from pineapples) and papain (from papayas), act as anti-inflammatory agents and pain relievers and have been effective in accelerating recovery from exercise and injury in athletes, as well as tissue repair in patients following surgery. In one study of soccer players suffering from ankle injuries, proteolytic-enzyme supplements accelerated healing and got players back on the field about 50 percent faster than athletes assigned to receive placebo tablets. A handful of other small trials in athletes have shown enzymes can help reduce inflammation, speed healing of bruises and other tissue injuries, and reduce overall recovery time when compared to athletes taking placebos.

Flaxseed Oil

Flaxseed is just what it sounds like—the seed of the flax plant. Flaxseed is typically used as a source of the essential fatty acids linolenic acid (LN) and linoleic acid (LA). Flaxseed oil is about 57 percent LN (an omega-3) and about 17 percent LA (an omega-6). LN can be converted into EPA and DHA,  fatty acids that are precursors to anti-inflammatory and anti-atherogenic prostaglandins.

Regular flaxseed consumption has been associated with improvements in the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids in the blood, a situation that may offer protection and relief from inflammatory conditions. A number of animal and human studies on flaxseed oil have shown a clear and consistent reduction in proinflammatory markers (tumor-necrosis factor and interleukins).


Ginger (Zingiber officinale) has been used throughout history as an aid for many gastrointestinal disturbances, as well as for relief of inflamed joints. The most active chemical compounds in ginger are known as the gingerols, which are also the most aromatic compounds in this root and are thought to be the reason that ginger can inhibit substances that cause the pain and inflammation associated with osteoarthritis. For example, in osteoarthritis patients taking powdered ginger, 75 percent of the subjects reported decreased pain and swelling after treatment with ginger for one month. Ginger supplementation is known to reduce production of the inflammatory thromboxane compounds associated with excess inflammation and pain. In studies of patients with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, significant pain relief was noted in more than half (55 percent) of the osteoarthritis patients and nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of the rheumatoid arthritis patients when supplemented with ginger.


Turmeric is known by the Latin plant name Curcuma longa (where the name for the turmeric-derived spice “curcumin” comes from) and is a member of the ginger family (Zingiberaceae). As a traditional medicine, turmeric is used as an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and analgesic (pain reliever). Currently, research is continuing to investigate turmeric’s anti-inflammatory effects and its potential as a potent anticancer agent (which makes sense if cancer is viewed as an inflammatory disease). The primary active compounds in turmeric are the flavonoid curcumin and related “curcuminoid” compounds that deliver potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and chemoprotective (anticancer) effects. As such, turmeric-containing supplements would logically be expected to have a beneficial effect in such areas as arthritis, cancer, and heart disease. In a wide range of animal studies, turmeric extracts have been shown to significantly alleviate the pain of arthritis (naturally occurring and experimentally induced forms). In human studies, arthritis pain and a variety of inflammatory compounds, including cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) and 5-lipoxygenase (5-LO), were controlled by turmeric. In a particular series of experiments at Houston’s MD Anderson Cancer Center, turmeric extracts have been shown to control the inflammatory cascade associated with a variety of inflammatory diseases, including cancer, atherosclerosis, arthritis, and osteoporosis.

Vitamin D

You probably think of vitamin D as being “good for strong bones” and helping prevent osteoporosis—and that is true, because it helps the body absorb calcium from the diet. The more recent and exciting news is that vitamin D can help reduce the risk of a wide range of diseases, including diabetes, heart attacks, high blood pressure, chronic pain, multiple sclerosis, depression, stroke, rheumatoid arthritis, and cancers of the lung, prostate, kidney, esophagus, breast, ovary, stomach, and bladder. Vitamin D also acts as an immune-system modulator, preventing excessive expression of inflammatory cytokines and increasing the “oxidative-burst” potential of macrophages.

Scientific evidence also suggests that vitamin-D deficiency is responsible for immune-related conditions, including autism and asthma. For example, the seasonal vitamin-D deficiency that spikes during the winter months (when sun exposure is reduced) has been associated with immune-system dysfunction, including autoimmune disease, such as multiple sclerosis (MS), type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and autoimmune thyroid disease. Many scientists have even suggested that the vitamin-D deficiency that comes with the winter months may be the seasonal trigger for influenza outbreaks around the world.

Very few foods are good sources of vitamin D, including fortified dairy products and breakfast cereals, fatty fish, beef liver (which is too high in vitamin A), and egg yolks. Cod-liver oil is a good source of vitamin D but also tends to contain too much vitamin A, which can interfere with the absorption and activity of vitamin D in the body. The two forms of vitamin D found in dietary supplements are D-2 (ergocalciferol) and D-3 (cholecalciferol), with D-3 being the preferred form, because it is chemically equal to the form of vitamin D produced by the body and is two to three times more effective than the D-2 form at raising blood levels of vitamin D. A daily dose of 2,000 IU of vitamin D-3 would be expected to raise blood levels by 20 ng/mL, which is about the amount of “deficiency” that the average person might expect to have (especially during the winter months in a northern-latitude city in the United States).