Menopausal women searching for safe and effective alternatives to hormone replacement therapy (HRT) will inevitably come across “phytoestrogens”, either in their whole food form or as a concentrated extract in a supplement. But what exactly are phytoestrogens and how do they work in the human body? Are they even safe? Many answers remain unknown to the general public and the literature can offer mixed results as well. Let’s clear up some of the confusion. The term “phytoestrogen” can literally be translated into “plant estrogen”. In the 1950’s, this estrogenic activity was discovered in plants when researchers investigated the cause of
The number of individuals suffering from disturbed sleep is on the rise. Studies have shown that individuals who chronically get less than six hours of sleep are at a higher risk for developing certain diseases, are less able to deal with the effects of daily stress, and are more prone to weight gain2. The severity of sleep disturbance can vary depending on the root cause, but common symptoms include difficulty falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep for periods of time, or very early awakening3.
Sleep is regulated by the body’s internal clock, which keeps track of light levels. There are two primary types of sleep: rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (non-REM) sleep. REM is marked by intense brain activity and movement of the eyes and occurs while dreaming. Non-REM sleep is characterized by a reduction in physiological activity and consists of a progressively deeper sleep in comparison to REM sleep. Unlike REM sleep, there is no eye movement during the non-REM phase of sleep. The correct balance between REM and non-REM sleep is essential for obtaining a restful, restorative sleep, as well as promoting processes, such
Ortho Sleep: A Natural Sleep Aid
There are currently a variety of medicinal treatments for sleep disturbances on the market. However, many of these drugs have hazardous side effects, which often outweigh the benefits, and are generally not recommended for the elderly4. As such, there is a clear need for safe natural products to be developed.
Natural sleep aids often include the amino acid L-theanine, the neurotransmitter GABA, the serotonin precursor 5-HTP, the hormone melatonin, and herbal extracts such as valerian root, passionflower, and lemon balm. AOR’s Ortho Sleep is an award-winning formula that combines all of these ingredients to help tackle sleep disruption.
L-theanine is a non-essential amino acid found at high levels in green tea. Supplemental L-theanine in humans has been shown to increase the activity of alpha-brain waves, which characterize relaxation of the brain without inducing drowsiness5. Furthermore, L-theanine can stimulate sleep indirectly by increasing GABA production (see below).
GABA is one of the key inhibitory neurotransmitters in the brain. GABA acts like a ‘brake’ during times of stress and anxiety. Numerous studies have shown that activation of GABA receptors is linked to sleep6. In a human study of 13 patients, GABA supplementation increased alpha-brain waves inducing relaxation and promoting sleep after 60 minutes7.
Melatonin is a hormone that is key in the treatment of insomnia caused by circadian schedule interruptions such as jet lag, or changes in shift work. Production of this hormone by the pineal gland increases during times of darkness. As such, increases in melatonin have been shown to be linked to increased sleep time, and reducing the amount of time it takes to fall asleep. A placebo-controlled trial investigating the sleep of 17 night-shift workers found that melatonin supplementation (5 mg) increased sleep quality after a 28-day cycle compared with baseline (before administration of the melatonin) and placebo8.
Serotonin is another neurotransmitter that is essential for sleep modulation, and is converted by the body into melatonin. In a human study, subjects that took 100 mg of
- HTP (a serotonin precursor) daily for six weeks went to sleep quicker and experienced improved quality of sleep, compared to those who took the placebo9.
Valerian is an herb containing essential oils which have been shown to have sleep-inducing effects in human clinical trials. In a placebo-controlled, crossover trial of 128 volunteers administered 400 mg of valerian extract, subjects showed improved quality of sleep, decreased sleep latency, and reduced nighttime awakening10.
Passionflower is an herb that consists of the dried flowering and fruiting top of the perennial vine. Passionflower contains flavonoids which are thought to be the active ingredient responsible for improving insomnia. When administered to rats, passionflower extract was associated with an increased duration of sleeping time11.
Lemon balm is a member of the mint family and is grown all around the world. Traditionally, lemon balm has been used as a calming agent and clinical data has supported this claim. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 18 healthy volunteers, a single dose of 600 mg of lemon balm resulted in increased mood and calmness in comparison to those patients on placebo12. In another double-blind, placebo-controlled study among 98 healthy volunteers with mild sleep disorders, 33.3% of the study group reported an improvement in sleep quality compared to only 9.4% in the placebo group13.
The correct balance between REM and non-REM sleep is essential for obtaining a restful, restorative sleep, as well as promoting processes, such as learning, memory, mood and the ability to concentrate.”