What herb do you suggest for relieving stress? The side effects of alprazolam are intolerable?”
–R.T., Denver, Colorado
Answer: Many herbs and nutrients can help, please use my search box at my website because I have many articles archived. Also, I wrote a full chapter, “Frazzled, Frustrated and Freaked Out” in my book, The 24-Hour Pharmacist. Today, I’m excited to tell you about Magnoliae Officinalis, a flowering plant used for eons in traditional Chinese and Japanese medicine to control anxiety and promote better sleep. Various parts of the plant can be applied topically, ingested orally, or taken as a tea to relieve digestion, constipation, toothaches, inflammation, depression, headache, and asthma. You’re going to love this next part.
Magnolia bark extract has powerful stress busting effects, largely due to “honokiol” a well-studied and potent anxiolytic. It works similarly to prescription medications like alprazolam (Xanax), chlordiazepoxide (Librium), diazepam (Valium), and lorazepam (Ativan). Both magnolia and prescription sedatives work by increasing levels of GABA, a relaxing hormone that helps calm and soothe an overactive brain. The difference is that honokiol is picky and works in specific areas of the brain (raising GABA). The net effect is relaxation. Prescription drugs affect GABA receptors throughout your entire body, causing systemic side effects such morning hangover effect, muscle weakness, daytime fatigue and more. Magnolia, being more selective, should not produce these problems, and should not make you feel doped up.
Magnolia helps manage stress eating so I suggest you take it while watching your favorite reality show (wink). A couple of studies found that overweight women ate fewer calories while on magnolia, versus those who did not supplement. It’s not an appetite suppressant, I suspect it just tames the compulsion to eat while under stress.
Millions of Americans with generalized anxiety disorder, grief, depression and panic attacks may benefit from magnolia bark, so it’s a bright future. I love that magnolia bark offers a safe alternative for people concerned about addiction and excessive sedation from medications. The biggest deal to me, as a pharmacist is that studies published in the Journal of Pharmacology have shown that honokiol induces a specific stress-relieving effect and is less likely to cause “motor dysfunction” as well as sedation as compared to medicine. I’d still tread carefully if you have to operate machinery or drive a car, until you are certain of magnolia’s effect on you. The best part is that withdrawal symptoms are absent in people who discontinue magnolia bark. I recommend “HonoPure” by Econugenics, “Magnolia Extract” by either Nutricology or Allergy Research Group.