Adaptogens to Help You Deal with Stress
"Adaptogens are a unique group of herbal ingredients that can be used to improve and help strengthen the body’s response to stress, enhance its ability to cope with anxiety and fight fatigue in a slow and gentle way without jolts or crashes," says Jordan Pie.
Keep in mind that the effects of adaptogenic herbs take some time to kick in, so consume them daily for at least 30 days and beyond to see the full benefits in your life!
In addition to Mucuna, I like to add several types of adaptogenic mushroom powders to my morning mocha.
Given the pressures of modern life, none of us are immune to stress. Unexpected bills, the loss of one’s job, personal or family health problems, traffic jams and other daily challenges can produce emotional stress, but our bodies’ are also subject to physical and biochemical stress as well. They have to deal with household chemicals, environmental chemicals, chemicals in our food, loss of sleep and other factors that interfere with optimal wellness. All this can overwhelm the body’s ability to cope, resulting in insomnia, fatigue, anxiety, depression and even physical illness.
Fortunately, nature has provided us with herbal remedies that can help you cope with all of the stresses your body, mind and spirit experience. Adaptogens can help you feel calmer and perform better when dealing with life’s day-to-day challenges. They can also help the body normalize its function when you’re faced with strenuous physical activity, loss of sleep and other physical and biochemical forms of stress.
The term adaptogen was coined by Russian scientist Dr. Nikolai Lazarev in the late 1940s following research done on eleuthero root. In 1968, Israel I. Brekhman, PhD and Dr. I. V. Dardymov formally defined adaptogens as plants with three characteristics. First, adaptogens are nontoxic, which means they can be safely taken for extended periods of time. Second, an adaptogen produces a nonspecific biological response that improves the body’s ability to resist multiple forms of stress, including physical, chemical and biological stressors. And third, adaptogens have a normalizing influence, meaning that whatever direction the stressors are throwing the body out of balance, adaptogens help to bring the system back into balance.
All the herbs that have been identified as adaptogens have these characteristics, but each adaptogenic plant has its own unique set of properties. Also, adaptogenic effects aren’t based on a particular group of chemical compounds, so the “active constituents” of adaptogens vary considerably, but all of them help the body function better under stress.
What Are the Benefits of Adaptogens?
For starters, adaptogens appear to normalize the production of hormones (especially the ones associated with stress). This is explained in detail on page two. In addition to this basic stress-reducing action (or perhaps because of it), adaptogens may also have the following benefits.
Normalizing Immune Function: Most adaptogens help to balance the immune system. This means that they can boost the body’s ability to fight infection and may also reduce hyperactive immune reactions in allergies and auto-immune disorders. In China, adaptogenic herbs are given to people undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments for cancer. This is known as Fu Zheng therapy and Chinese research suggests that it helps protect the body from the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
Early research on adaptogens demonstrated that they can enhance athletic performance. They appear to help reduce fatigue, improve cardiovascular and respiratory function and aid in building strength and muscle mass. As a result, adaptogens such as rhodiola, eleuthero and cordyceps have been used in Olympic competition, and unlike steroids, they are not banned because they have no harmful side effects.
Enhancing Mood and Mental Performance: Long-term stress contributes to both anxiety and depression. High stress levels also tend to shut down higher brain function, which can make it difficult to think clearly. Even worse, high levels of the primary stress hormone cortisol actually destroy brain cells and inhibit memory. So, when we’re under a lot of stress, we can not only feel anxious or depressed, we may also have difficulty concentrating and remembering things.
By reducing cortisol levels (as explained below) adaptogens can facilitate better mental focus and clarity during times of stress. They can also help enhance memory and cognitive function as age increases. Many adaptogens are also helpful for reducing anxiety and lifting depression, thus normalizing mood.
Protecting Cardiovascular Health: Adaptogens also have beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system. Many help to protect the heart and regulate blood pressure. Here again, they work both directions. Adaptogens can raise low blood pressure and reduce high blood pressure. They may also have a moderate cholesterol balancing effect.
Balancing Blood Sugar: Cortisol causes the body to convert proteins from the muscles into sugars, which affects blood sugar levels. Some adaptogens help to regulate blood sugar levels and may help with insulin resistance in diabetes. They may also be helpful for low blood sugar or hypoglycemia.
Enhancing Energy: One of the positive effects of adaptogens is that they help to increase a person’s energy and ability to work. In doing this, adaptogens don’t act like stimulants, which raise energy output by using up the body’s energy reserves. Instead, adaptogens appear to increase the body’s energy reserves, giving a person more stamina and endurance. Adaptogens also help people sleep better when they are under stress, allowing a person to have more energy during the day. This makes them particularly helpful for adrenal exhaustion from long-term stress.
For example: you wake up late and skip breakfast. You get caught in a traffic jam that makes late for work. Your boss chews you out. You get an unexpected bill. You find out that a member of your family has a serious illness. As each one of these situations occur, the stress response is turned on and the levels of stress hormones in your body get higher and higher until you feel so wound up you can’t think straight and start making a lot of mistakes. Worse yet, you’re so stressed you can’t get a good night’s sleep.
This is where adaptogens can help. They inhibit the production of CRH and ACTH from the hypothalamus and pituitary, reducing the overall output of stress hormones. This means that the stress hormones don’t ramp up with each stressful event, allowing you to meet life’s challenges with less tension and anxiety, more energy and greater mental clarity.
Cordyceps entered Western medicine after the Chinese government demonstrated its efficacy at the Olympic games in Beijing, where the Chinese athletes set new world records in nearly every competition they entered. The spectacular performance of the athletes stimulated a burst of pharmacological and clinical research into its health benefits. Research suggests that cordyceps has a balancing effect on the immune system. It can stimulate the immune system for people who suffer from frequent infections (especially respiratory infections) or who have cancer. It also calms down hyperimmune reactions in people with allergic asthma, hayfever and autoimmune diseases of the kidney.
An important herb from Ayurvedic medicine, ashwaganda is a nervine and adrenal tonic that helps anxiety, depression, exhaustion and poor muscle tone. It reduces the effects of stress, while promoting energy and vitality. It is used as a supporting herb for recovery from debilitating diseases, and is effective for treating sexual dysfunction caused by stress. In addition to helping the adrenal glands, Ashwaganda is also helpful for the thyroid. It boosts the conversion of T4 (the thyroid storage hormone) to T3 (the active thyroid hormone). Generally speaking Ashwaganda is a good adaptogen for women.
Another adaptogen from Russia, rhodiola aids mental clarity, memory, energy, production and stress reduction. It is astringent and drying, so it is not a good adaptogen for people whose constitutions run on the dry side.