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Because of our modern lifestyles (once again), we are constantly stressed and under pressure. We usually have loads of things to do and tasks to complete in one day, but we never seem to have enough time to do it all. With all of this, we often end up stressed. And as this keeps happening on a regular basis, we develop chronic stress. Luckily, there’s a way we can naturally help our bodies to relieve stress, and that’s by using adaptogenic herbs. Here’s everything you need to know about adaptogens and stress.
What Are Adaptogens?
As the name indicates it, adaptogens can help us to “adapt” to stressful conditions so our body can continue to work properly even when under pressure. In other words, we can say that adaptogens can help us to tolerate stress.
There are actually different kinds of stress: physical stress (long working hours, travel, not enough sleep…), emotional stress (divorce, loss of loved one, feeling anxious or depressed..), environmental stress (pollution, extreme weather, noise..) and adaptogens can help to deal with any of these.
All the best-known adaptogens have been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda. So obviously, these are not new. But a lot more research has been done in the past years, scientifically confirming the benefits of these plants. Which is why most of us have only started to hear about adaptogens recently.
There are 3 facts that make adaptogens particularly interesting.
- Adaptogens are non-toxic: This means that adaptogenic herbs are usually not harmful. They have very little or no side-effects.
- Adaptogens produce a nonspecific response to stress: This means that once in our body, they don’t act in a specific way but instead, they act according to what is harming us. So they work differently depending on the stressors that are affecting our body. For example, an adaptogen won’t have the same effects on someone who is suffering from emotional stress and someone that is affected by environmental stress. It will help to relieve each person accordingly.
- Adaptogens have a normalizing influence on the body: Adaptogens promote balance in the body. Simply put, if there’s too much of something in the body, let’s say for example the stress hormone cortisol, then adaptogens can help to reduce it. And if there is not enough of something, like energy, then adaptogens have the capacity to increase it.
How Do They Work?
When we are stressed, our body usually responds in 3 stages. This is called general adaptation syndrome (GAS).
To understand how adaptogens work, it is important to know how our body reacts to stress.
This is what each stage looks like:
1. Alarm reaction: This is when we go into “fight or flight” mode. A part of our brain called the hypothalamus receives a signal that informs it that we are stressed. This, in turn, makes the adrenal glands (situated on the top of our kidneys) release the hormones adrenaline and cortisol. These increase our heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, blood sugar and energy so we can respond to that stressful situation.
2. Resistance: In this stage, our body will try to get everything back in order and reduce the levels of hormones previously released. If the stressful situation is over, all should come back to normal. But if it isn’t, the stress hormones will continue to be released. And if these hormones continue to be released for a long period of time, they will start to produce negative effects on our body such as irritability and a lack of concentration.
3. Exhaustion: This is usually when our body can’t take it anymore. All our energy has been used trying to resist and fight the stressor without success. This leads us feeling tired and exhausted. Eventually, we start showing signs of anxiety or depression. And if it keeps going, we become at risk of developing other health problems.
Adaptogens help us to cope and fight the stressor. That way, we stay in the resistance stage longer and we can avoid exhaustion.
What Can Adaptogens Do?
Having high levels of cortisol for a prolonged period of time is known to cause blood sugar imbalances and rapid weight gain. This can also cause sleeping problems, suppress thyroid function, and disturb the digestive, immune and reproductive systems. By continuously producing stress hormones over a long period of time, the adrenal glands can get tired, which is often called “adrenal fatigue”, leading to numerous other health problems.
Adaptogens have the ability to decrease the levels of stress hormones and bring them back to normal. By doing so, they can help prevent or reduce the problems listed above.
This is what adaptogens can also do:
- Boost immunity
- Balance hormones
- Promote cognitive functions
- Reduce inflammation
- Increase energy levels
- Reduce fatigue
- Promote restful sleep
- Have antioxidant properties
- Improve overall wellbeing
List Of Some Of The best Adaptogens
These are some of the most powerful and effective adaptogens:
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) also called Indian Ginseng, has been shown to increase energy, keep the mind sharp, promote restful sleep, calm the nervous system and correct stress hormone imbalance. It is also good to improve blood circulation, help digestion, reduce inflammation and pain, increase immunity, enhance thyroid function and prevent aging.
Ashwagandha is one of the best natural supplements for anxiety as well.
Possible side-effects of ashwagandha:
At the recommended dosage, ashwagandha is usually safe to take. However, if you get too much of it, it can produce some side-effects including upset stomach, vomiting and diarrhea.
Where to buy Ashwagandha?
You could try this high quality ashwagandha supplement available on iherb. Or purchase this one on Amazon.
Note: On supplements, ashwagandha is also often referred to as KSM-66.
Holy Basil (Ocimum Tenuiflorum) also called Tulsi in India, has been used for centuries in Ayurveda and is known to benefit physical, mental and spiritual health. Also considered “The Queen of Herbs”, all parts of this plant have adaptogenic properties. Holy Basil is an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant that can help lower blood sugar and cholesterol, reduce inflammation and joint pain, protect against infections by supporting the immune system, correct hormone imbalances and thus reduce stress.
Possible holy basil side-effects:
Holy basil is usually safe to take at the recommended dosage. Some side-effects can include nausea or diarrhea.
A member of the ginger family, turmeric (Curcuma Longa) is a root that is considered a super-spice because of its antioxidant properties and numerous abilities. It has been widely used in traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda and now thousands of studies have been done on its active ingredient, curcumin, proving all the positive effects it can have on our health. It can prevent aging, improve blood circulation, help to heal wounds. It can also be extremely effective to reduce inflammation and pain associated with arthritis and has anticancer effects.
Possible side-effects of turmeric:
Turmeric does not usually have side-effects. However, in some people, it can occasionally cause upset stomach, nausea, diarrhea or dizziness.
Where to buy turmeric supplements?
We suggest this organic turmeric supplement with added ginger and hundreds of 5 star reviews.
Or if you prefer to shop on Amazon, this organic turmeric blend is the best option.
Rhodiola (Rhodiola Rosea), also known as golden root or arctic root, has been used for centuries in Russia and Scandinavian countries. It is particularly effective in reducing fatigue and improving sleeping patterns. Rhodiola is an adaptogen that has the ability to reduce cortisol levels when under stress. It can also help enhance concentration and improve brain function, increase energy as well as promote happiness by inducing the release of the hormones dopamine and serotonin.
Possible side-effects of rhodiola rosea:
Rhodiola rosea is usually safe to take although it can have some mild side-effects including dry mouth, dizziness and insomnia.
Where to buy rhodiola rosea?
Here is a great rhodiola rosea supplement in capsule form, without unnecessary ingredients.
Schisandra (Schisandra Chinensis) is a vine native to China and Russia. Its fruit, also called magnolia berry or five-flavor berry, is the part that is used as a supplement. It is an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, it supports the immune system and adrenal function, promotes hormonal balance and fertility, can prevent diabetes by regulating blood sugar levels, can improve digestive health and liver function as well as protect the skin.
Possible side-effects of schisandra:
Like other adaptogens, schisandra is usually safe to take but can produce some side-effects such as upset stomach, heartburn, skin rash or itching.
Where to buy schisandra?
Here is a great quality schisandra suppplement that does not contain any other ingredients.
Licorice Root (Glycyrrhiza) has been used for centuries in Mediterranean countries, India and China. It has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. It is a powerful expectorant usually used to help loosen and expel phlegm through cough. It is also very effective for digestive health, for supporting the immune system and the adrenal glands.
However, licorice root should not be used for too long or at high doses as an overdose of glycyrrhizin (the active ingredient in licorice root) can be dangerous. It can be safer to chew on a piece of licorice or to drink licorice tea.
Possible side-effects of licorice root:
At the recommended dosage, licorice root is usually safe to take although it is better not to take it for more than 4-6 weeks. As mentioned above, if taken in high doses and for a long time, licorice root can be unsafe. It can produce side-effects including high blood pressure, headache, upset stomach, heartburn.
Where to buy licorice root?
Here is an organic licorice supplement without additives that contains licorice root powder and licorice root extract.
Reishi Mushroom (Ganoderma Lucidum) is another powerful adaptogen. Because of its many active ingredients, this Asian fungus has some really amazing benefits. It has anti-viral and anti-microbial properties that help protect from infections and viruses. It can improve digestive health, immunity, restore hormonal balance, protect from allergies and stabilize blood sugar levels. It also supports heart health by protecting from high blood pressure and high cholesterol. It has the ability to fight tumor growth and cancer, improve sleeping problems, and relieve pain and fatigue.
Possible side-effects of reishi mushroom:
Reishi mushroom is usually safe to use however some side-effects can sometimes occur including dry mouth, upset stomach, dizziness, headache and nosebleed.
Where to buy reishi mushroom?
Like all natural supplements, make sure you buy a product that is of high quality and does not contain any fillers. You could try these reishi mushroom capsules available on iHerb.
Other Natural Supplements Specially Formulated
If you are still not sure which of the above adaptogens would be best for you, there is actually another option.
You could try a supplement that has been specially formulated with a combination of adaptogens to provide relief from stress and support adrenal health. This one from Gaia Herbs is a good example. It contains rhodiola, holy basil, schisandra and ashwagandha altogether.
Adaptogens Can Be Really Effective For Stress
Now that the link between adaptogens and stress is clear, there is little doubt that adaptogens can be very effective to help us stay well physically and mentally while facing a stressful situation. But remember that they should not be considered a cure and if possible, you should always try dealing with what is stressing you out in the first place.
Even though these adaptogens come from natural sources and are usually safe to use, they can have negative effects if used for too long or inappropriately.
People suffering from serious health conditions, on medications, pregnant or breast-feeding should always talk to a doctor first.
Have you ever tried any adaptogenic herb? Or are you considering doing so? tell us in the comments below!