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Why burnout is the next big opportunity for dietary supplements
“I’m burned out.” It’s an expression we hear more often these days by those feeling so stressed by the daily grind that they suffer from brain fog, fatigue, loss of initiative, poor sleep, and low mood. But burnout is a real condition, characterized most often by workplace stress and subsequently compounded by other life responsibilities.
The medical community first used the term burnout to refer to physicians whose demanding, long-term shifts created dramatic, acute stress. Any worker, however, can suffer from this condition. The American Institute of Stress defines burnout as “a disabling reaction to stress on the job.” The institute also estimates that job stress costs U.S. industry $300 billion annually, as measured by absenteeism, decreased productivity, employee turnover, and direct medical, legal, and insurance fees. The institute also reports that nearly half of all American workers suffer from symptoms of burnout.1
Consider, also, the following statistics from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention2:
According to the American Institute of Stress, when burnout occurs, it quickly incurs symptoms like fatigue, irritability, sleeplessness, inability to concentrate and focus, forgetfulness, and anxiety/panic attacks. Additionally, stressed individuals may either lose weight due to loss of appetite or gain weight due to comfort eating. Still other symptoms include involuntary teeth grinding/clenching, leading to jaw pain and headaches, and/or increased alcohol consumption or drug use. Psychologically, the burnout sufferer will also become depressed, feel isolated, lose interest in intimacy and motivation, and experience feelings of uselessness and hopelessness. All this amounts to noticeable loss of productivity and increased absenteeism.
Long-term and unaddressed, burnout can raise the risk of cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal disorders, psychological disorders, ulcers, and impaired immune function, according to the International Labour Organization’s Encyclopaedia of Occupational Safety and Health3
Although dietary supplements for stress support are a long-standing category, formulated more for acute conditions, as a subcategory of stress support, burnout presents numerous opportunities to offer consumers relief.
One combination supplement, a casozepine (milk casein) blend called Target 1, was clinically researched for its effects on individuals suffering from burnout. In addition to milk casein ingredient Lactium*, a branded ingredient from Pharmachem Laboratories, the Target 1 blend includes Extramel, a proprietary, antioxidant-rich melon extract developed by French supplier Bionov and distributed by Seppic SA (France); taurine, an ingredient believed to have energizing properties; and the adaptogenic Siberian ginseng plant (Eleutherococcus senticosus), which may increase the body’s resistance to stress, said researchers.
The double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study4 took place at the University of Bordeaux (France), where 44 participants aged 18–65 suffering from some degree of burnout were given two 640-mg Target 1 tablets to take twice daily for 12 weeks. A comparable group of 41 participants received a placebo. All participants underwent verbal interviews on their life and mental state at the beginning and conclusion of the study.
At the outset of the study, all participants in the placebo and the treatment groups reported feeling at least “present” burnout exposure as evaluated on the Burnout Measure Scale (BMS-10), which rates 10 parameters such as feeling tired, disappointed with people, hopeless, trapped, helpless, depressed, physically weak, worthless/like a failure, fed up, or having difficulty sleeping. The majority of participants reported “high” burnout levels, with a few reporting “very high” burnout.
By the end of the 12 weeks, 14 of the placebo participants still had a “high” level of burnout compared with 26 at the beginning of the trial. By comparison, at the end of the 12 weeks, only two participants taking Target 1 reported a “high” level of burnout compared with 33 at the trial’s outset. The supplement group also presented greater improvement on the Maslach’s Burnout Inventory Scale–Human Service Survey for professional fatigue than the placebo group.
“The dietary supplement Target 1, when used in association with verbal expression, might represent a primary tool in the care of people affected by burnout in the future,” the researchers concluded.
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It should also be noted that, individually, these ingredients can hold their own for relieving effects of stress:
Lactium*: Lactium is a patented hydrolysate of milk proteins that contain a bioactive peptide with relaxing properties that regulate stress naturally. Lactium has been the subject of several other research studies.
A double-blind, crossover study5 was conducted over a 30-day period on 63 female volunteers showing at least one stress symptom. Those subjects receiving Lactium (dosage 150 mg/day) had a significantly greater improvement in stress symptoms versus placebo in the following areas: digestive, intellectual, social, cardiovascular, and emotional. The effect of Lactium was greater in subjects with a high intensity score for a major symptom at the beginning of the study.
Another placebo-controlled study6 conducted on 42 healthy men put through stressful, controlled situations showed that plasma cortisol concentrations significantly decreased in the Lactium group by 20.69%, whereas concentrations only decreased by 3.39% in the placebo group. The authors concluded that Lactium “displays an anti-stress activity in human subjects.”
Taurine: This amino acid is used to create the major inhibitory neurotransmitter gamma amino butyric acid (GABA), a deficiency of which can lead to overstimulation and the feeling of being overwhelmed. When GABA levels are low, as is typical in high-stress situations, this can result in anxiety and related issues. Much of the available GABA is unable to effectively cross the blood-brain barrier, yet taurine, a building block of GABA, can. One mouse study7 concluded that supplementation of taurine activated GABA receptors, leading to the minimization of excitability, or nervous tension.
Extramel (superoxide dismutase): One randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical study8 evaluated the effect of this proprietary melon juice concentrate rich in superoxide dismutase on the signs and symptoms of stress and fatigue in 70 healthy volunteers aged 30–55 years who expressed feeling daily stress and fatigue. For four weeks, these volunteers took either 10 mg Extramel (140 IU SOD) daily or a placebo. Stress and fatigue were measured using four observational psychometric scales: FARD, PSS-14, SF-12, and Epworth scale. The authors concluded that the supplement significantly improved signs and symptoms of stress and fatigue linked to performance, physical (pain, sleep troubles), cognitive (low concentration, weariness, sleep troubles), or behavioral (irritability, difficulty of contact) activity compared to the placebo.
Eleutherococcus senticosus: Scientific reviews of this adaptogenic plant, also known as eleuthero or Siberian ginseng, generally ascribe its abilities to alleviate fatigue, help increase energy, and support immune function.
Lots of Promise
Of course, other supplement ingredients exist that have been shown to provide a sense of calm, increased energy, accelerated sleep onset, and the ability to “take the edge off.” Formulating powerful supplements that help the body withstand and decrease physiological symptoms of burnout should go a long way in helping those specific consumers recover not only naturally, but safely and gently.
Editor’s note: * Lactium is an ingredient sold by the author’s company, Pharmachem Laboratories.
Mitch Skop is senior director of product development for Pharmachem Laboratories Inc. (Kearny, NJ). His experience includes implementing and evaluating research for promising ingredients; working with formulators to develop safe, efficacious ingredients; advising customers on various delivery forms and applications; and supervising successful product launches, from securing proper certifications to branding.