Managing Stress with Adaptogens
A little word on stress. In our fast paced, tech-driven world it can be difficult to hold on to that sense of calm. Tack on work, kids, family, friends, etc and our stress levels can get out of control pretty quickly.
When our nervous system senses that we’re in a stressful situation, our adrenal glands receive signals to release hormones (adrenalin and cortisol) causing our body to enter fight or flight response. Being in a prolonged state of this sense of flight or flight, can lead to health problems like, diabetes, digestive issues, disturbed sleep, decreased sex drive and more.
While activities like yoga, meditation, walking or reading can be relaxing, herbalists also use adaptogenic herbs to help the body adapt to stressful situations and maintain balance. These herbs have been used for thousands of years but the term ‘adaptogen’ has been studied since 1947. Today’s definition describes adaptogens as: new class of metabolic regulators (of a natural origin) which increase the ability of an organism to adapt to environmental factors and to avoid damage from such factors” (Panossian et al., 1999). Meaning, adaptogens can help you cope with symptoms of stress, like fatigue and anxiety by improving your mood and focus and increasing overall energy. Studies on animals and isolated neuronal cells have revealed that adaptogens exhibit neuroprotective, anti-fatigue, antidepressive, anxiolytic, nootropic and CNS stimulating activity. (NCIB, 2010)
Adaptogens are full of hormone balancing properties, but they all have their own unique qualities. Here are 4 adaptogenic herbs I think are worth taking a look at if you’re struggling with stress.
Highly regarded in Traditional Chinese Medicine as the herb of immortality, reishi mushroom is most commonly used for its abundance of polysaccharides which provide immuno-stimulating properties. However, reishi is also a wonderful adaptogenic herb, helpful for nourishing and supporting the adrenals and the nervous system. We use organic dried, powdered reishi in our Queen of Green and Mighty Maca superfood powders to make it easy to enjoy its adaptogenic and immuno-stimulating properties.
Cautions: Avoid with blood thinners and medications that lower blood pressure
Originally grown in India, the Mediterranean and the Middle East, ashwagandha is most commonly used in Ayurveda for its tonic, strengthening and relaxing properties. Its powerful medicinal properties include, easing stress and anxiety, aiding sleep and also fatigue. All of which are largely supported by clinical research. There have been studies done showing that those taking Ashwagandha had lower stress levels and an increased sense of well-being. Ashwagandha has also been proven to reduce anxiety and tension in 6 clinical trials. Not only that, it can be useful for treating chronic inflammation disease like arthritis. Ashwagandha also contains a high iron content and can be helpful for those suffering from anemia.
The leaves of the ashwagandha plant contain the most withanolides (constituents linked to inhibit cancer cell growth). The root is powdered or made into decoctions and taken as either a strengthening or calming tonic.
Unfortunately, this magical herb doesn’t taste all that great, so its best blended into a warm drink or sprinkled on yogurt or cereal.
Safety - avoid if you are pregnant or breastfeeding
Holy Basil (Tulsi)
A native to tropical Asia, this herb has been grown for more than 3,000 years and considered one of the most holy plants in India. Holy Basil or Tulsi, has been valued for centuries because of its benefits for the mind, body, and spirit. It is used in India for a wide variety of medicinal properties, relieving fevers, bronchitis, asthma, stress and mouth ulcers. Indian research studies have been done to show Holy Basil’s ability to help lower blood pressure, and its anti-inflammatory, pain-relieving, and fever reducing properties. It is thought to have an affinity with the heart, protecting it from stress and lowering blood pressure and has an ability to help the body adapt to new demands and stressors.
Holy Basil isn’t that same sweet flavour you’d get from other varieties. It is slightly spicy with flavour that is more stable under high cooking temperatures. You can also purchase Holy Basil in capsule or liquid form from reputable brands like New Chapter and Botanica.
Chinese Ginseng (Panax Ginseng)
A native to Eastern China, ginseng is the most famous Chinese herb, and has been used medicinally for over 7,000 years. Researchers have been studying ginseng for over 50 years in China, Japan, Korea and Russia, proving its adaptogenic qualities and ability to provide hormonal support to both men and women. Trials have shown that ginseng significantly improves the body’s capacity to cope with hunger, extremes of temperatures, and mental and emotional stress. (Chevallier, A.) 2016 Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine. New York, NY: DK Publishing.
The plant is harvested after 4 years and root can be consumed either fresh or dried. You can find Panax Ginseng in capsule form from reputable brands like Natural Factors or in tincture form from Mountain Rose Herbs.
Safety - avoid if you are pregnant, nursing or on blood thinning medication
There is no shortage of herbal products available on the market, so always do your research to ensure you’re purchasing products that are organically grown and sustainable.
When stress takes over, it can leave us struggling with an array of health issues. If you're feeling like you need a little extra support to help manage, its definitely worth doing some research into adaptogenic herbs and speaking to your health care provider about which herbs are right for your body.
“With our thoughts, we make the world.” ~Buddha