Stress-busting herbs: Adaptogens 101

Stress is a common issue that affects many people, and it can have a negative impact on both physical and mental health. While there are many ways to manage stress, including exercise and meditation, some people turn to adaptogenic herbs to help reduce stress levels.

Adaptogens are a small category of herbs (about 20 in total) that work on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis in the brain, and help to normalize our stress response system and improve overall resilience.

Adaptogenic herbs help restore overall balance and strengthen the functioning of the body as a whole. Adaptogens facilitate these changes through a wide range of actions such as helping to improve focus, support normal immune system functioning by normalizing unbalanced physiological processes.

They’re great for athletes, the chronically stressed, and specific people in need of adrenal response recovery or support. Adaptogens have the ability to reduce stress. Adaptogenic supplements work to counteract the effects of long-term stress on the body’s systems. These herbs have been used for centuries in traditional medicine and are becoming increasingly popular today due to their potential health benefits.

To be considered an adaptogen, a plant must:

  1. Be almost non-toxic, meaning that they don’t cause harm when taken at the recommended dose
  2. Normalize bodily systems, supporting the body’s natural ability to return them to their non-stressed state
  3. Have a non-specific effect, which means they support multiple biological systems, increasing resistance to a variety of external factors

Here are some of the ways in which adaptogenic herbs can help with stress:

  1. Regulating the HPA axis: The HPA axis is a complex system that regulates the body’s response to stress. When the body is under stress, the HPA axis is activated, and a cascade of hormones is released, including cortisol. Adaptogenic herbs are believed to help regulate the HPA axis and reduce cortisol levels, which can help alleviate stress.
  2. Supporting the immune system: Feeling run down all the time? Chronic stress can weaken the immune system, making the body more susceptible to illness. Adaptogenic herbs are believed to have immune-boosting properties that can help strengthen the immune system and improve overall health.
  3. Enhancing cognitive function: When we are under stress sometimes our brain feels foggy and decision making becomes difficult. Stress can impair cognitive function, including memory and concentration. Adaptogenic herbs are believed to enhance cognitive function by improving blood flow to the brain and reducing inflammation.
  4. Supporting energy levels: Always tired no matter how much sleep you got? Chronic stress can lead to fatigue and exhaustion. Adaptogenic herbs are believed to support energy levels by improving the body’s ability to produce and utilize energy.

Some examples of adaptogenic herbs that are commonly used to help with stress include:

  • Ashwagandha or Withania somnifera, is a small shrub that grows in parts of India, the Middle East, and Africa. It’s been harnessed for its plant material for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine. It is believed to help reduce cortisol levels and improve overall resilience. A clinical trial was conducted with sixty adults who took either 240 milligrams of Shoden® ashwagandha root and leaf extract or a placebo once a day for 60 days, then have their stress, mood, and hormone levels measured. Those who took the ashwagandha supplement had significantly lower stress levels by the end of the trial, as shown by stress tests and levels of the hormone cortisol.
  • Rhodiola or Rhodiola rosea is a herb that grows in the cold, mountainous regions of Europe and Asia. Its roots are considered adaptogens, meaning they help your body adapt to stress when consumed and may also reduce fatigue. It is also believed to have immune-boosting properties.
  • Holy Basil, also called tulsi, is an adaptogenic herb that is believed to help reduce stress and improve cognitive function. It is also believed to have anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties. One study found that people who took 500 mg of holy basil extract each day felt less anxious, stressed, and depressed, and also felt more social. Ayurvedic practitioners recommend drinking holy basil leaves as a tea. The act of taking time out to drink tea can be ritualistic and calming.
  • Ginseng is an adaptogenic herb that is believed to help reduce stress and improve cognitive function. When you are chronically stressed your cardivascular system can be affected causing hypertension (high blood pressure), ginseng has been found to restore or normalize blood pressure.

It’s worth noting that while adaptogenic herbs may have some potential benefits for stress, more research is needed to fully understand their effects on the body. Also, these herbs work gradually – they aren’t an overnight quick fix, and can require months to feel results.

In conclusion, adaptogenic herbs are a group of herbs that are believed to help the body adapt to stressors and improve overall resilience. By regulating the HPA axis, supporting the immune system, enhancing cognitive function, and supporting energy levels, adaptogenic herbs may help alleviate stress and promote overall health.

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