Do you have a nagging sensation of exhaustion, anxiety, or stress? Don’t blame current events or the approaching Christmas season; your body’s stress response mechanism is most likely malfunctioning.Are adaptogens good for stress?What is the best adaptogens for stress?
The term “adaptogen” refers to plant medicines that assist manage the delicate dance between your brain and hormone system by regulating something called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis.
- How do adaptogens help you to cope with stress?
- What is an adaptogenic herb?
- Mode of action of adaptogenic herbs
- Stress, stress adaptation and aging
- Interest of adaptogenic plants in anti-aging medicine
- The 10 best adaptogens for stress
- Which is better for stress ashwagandha or rhodiola?
- Which adaptogen is best for me?
- What foods are high in adaptogens?
- How to take adaptogenic herbs ?
How do adaptogens help you to cope with stress?
Adaptogens function like this:
Our bodies go through a process known as general adaption syndrome when we are exposed to a stressor, whether physical or emotional (GAS). Alarm, resistance, and weariness are the three stages of the GAS reaction. Adaptogens help us stay in the resistance phase for longer by energizing us and keeping us from becoming exhausted. We achieve homeostasis and can battle on instead of crashing in the middle of a stressful situation, task, or event.
Some adaptogens appear to inoculate us against stress and assist us in coping.
We perform better and feel better when we can adjust to stress, regardless of what is driving us out. We can also improve our health and well-being as a result of this. When you’re anxious, your adrenal gland releases cortisol, a stress hormone that energizes you to deal with a crisis. However, eating too much, too often is typically harmful to our health.
“Cortisol is typically the cause of weight gain, especially around the abdomen,” says Tara Nayak, a naturopathic physician in Philadelphia who advises her patients to take adaptogens. “When you use adaptogens to relieve stress, you diminish stress hormones and their impact on weight gain.”
Adaptogens have the potential to aid with a variety of different health conditions, including pain, digestive disorders, sleeplessness, and more. “Stress triggers a cascade of bodily responses that influence immune function, hormones, cognitive function, and our internal clock, known as our circadian rhythm,” explains Korn. “If these stresses persist, chronic disease results.”
What is an adaptogenic herb?
Who has not heard of the famous ginseng, highly prized in Asia and supposed to lengthen life and enhance performance? This is part of it.
“Adaptogenic” plants can help to better resist a state of stress, to adapt, and to recover from the resulting fatigue. Perhaps that is why they are known to improve longevity.
Nicolaï LAZAREV, a Russian pharmacologist, defined in 1947 the concept of “adaptogen”, or ” a pharmacological substance capable of inducing in an organism a state of non-specific increased resistance, making it possible to counterbalance stress signals and to adapt to exceptional effort “.
In 1968, his successor Dr. BREKHMAN, head of the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology of Adaptation in Vladivostok, gave 3 criteria to define an adaptogenic plant:
- ” Increase the resistance of the body against aggressors of different nature (physical, chemical or biological) non-specifically ;
- Presents a normalizing influenceregardless of changes in physiological norms;
- Show a lack of toxicity and influence on the normal functions of the body. »
To better adapt to stress
To put it simply, let’s say that an adaptogenic plant makes us more resistant and more resilient to the stress reaction (see below). When the latter occurs over time, it is a significant element in aging and disrupts our health on practically all levels, including the neurological, digestive, and hormonal. It might be a rise in work, extraordinary physical exertion, changes in the environment (temperature, surroundings, etc.) to which one must adjust, relationship issues (work, family, marriage…), and so on.
To find the balance
These plants do not have a habituation effect like so-called “tonic” or “stimulating” plants such as coffee, ephedra, guarana, tea… but they are balancing. They restore a better homeostasis, or: they help the body to naturally regain its balance of health. They are neither stimulants nor tranquilizers.
Thus, in addition to increasing a person’s resistance, an adaptogenic plant can balancing physiological standards : temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, activity of the autonomic nervous system, immune system… and this without harming or disturbing the body (7).
Be careful, these plants have no specific action on any particular disease. They will not heal a targeted body part or organ. On the other hand, they strengthen the whole and thus increase a person’s healing potential.
Known for a long time in the traditions
In traditional Chinese medicine, as in Ayurvedic medicine, adaptogenic herbs have been known for thousands of years as superior general tonics, strengthening the various functions of the organism, increasing its energy and generally promoting the state of good health.
Mode of action of adaptogenic herbs
Curiously, adaptogens are said to decrease the effects of stress and help the body recover from it, not by opposing it directly, but rather by acting as mild stress repeated with each take. The body, eventually getting used to and overcoming this mild stress, strengthens itself to better withstand the more intense and chronic stress.
This phenomenon is found in the techniques known as hormesis where a “bearable trauma” of short duration is applied to the body (exposure to cold or heat, deprivation of food, short and intense exercise…) and ends up reinforcing its system of defense and adaptation.
In studies, the effect of adaptogens is mainly on the endocrine axis hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenals and on mediators associated with stress: so-called heat shock proteins (HSPs) in particular, protein kinase enzyme, cortisol, nitric oxide, FOXO, etc. HSPs precisely play a role in cell survival mechanisms and in apoptosis: natural elimination of diseased or abnormal cells.
Without going further into the details, these mechanisms make it possible to produce more energy in our cells, better physical and cognitive performance, and give us a glimpse of why traditional medicines associate the use of these plants with better longevity.
Stress, stress adaptation and aging
As a reminder, the stress reaction is a unconscious physiological process which is triggered in the presence of imminent danger or aggression in our environment, and which puts us in danger. This reaction contributes to the survival of a species.
It primarily affects our autonomic nervous system and our adrenal glands, which will create more cortisol and adrenaline, among other things. When hunter-gatherer man lived in the savannah and faced danger, this survival reflex readied him for battle or flight. To that goal, blood circulation is increased in the muscles while decreasing in the digestive system, the heart beats faster to send more blood into the arteries, the pupils dilate, the hairs stand on end, and so on. When the threat is passed, everything returns to normal.
The real problem comes from prolonged stress (or chronicle). Nowadays and in our modern societies with a frenetic pace of life, it is most often psychological or linked to pollution or poor diet. We know today that it accelerates the aging of the body (see our article on mental stress and accelerated aging). Among other things, it promotes:
- intestinal permeability disorders that generate toxins,
- the overall acidification of the body, with demineralization and deficiencies,
- chronic inflammation,
- the loss of elasticity of the tissues of the body…
Consequently, it causes premature aging of all tissues: skin, hair, nails, bones, membranes, tendons, organs, hormonal glands, etc.
Interest of adaptogenic plants in anti-aging medicine
Many studies exist that demonstrate various effects of adaptogens (see bibliography below). Many of these properties have made them part of the arsenal of anti-aging medicine:
– in the prevention of aging:
The goal is to strengthen our body and make it more resistant. Adaptogens then act as the methods applied to the hormesis exposure to cold, heat, nutrient deprivation, fasting, high-intensity exercise, apnea… The ideal is, of course, to combine these techniques and not to believe that a few plant capsules will replace them all. Laziness is not an anti-aging weapon!
– to help restore balance after significant stress:
Most often this stress will lead to common problems with advancing age, such as:
- fatigue, even adrenal exhaustion,
- loss of libido,
- digestive disorders,
- mood disorders and depression,
and in the longer term (3)(4):
- chronic inflammation,
- insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome,
- neurodegenerative diseases,
The triggering element could have been a long illness, one or more physical or psychological traumas, nervous overwork, surgery, etc… especially since we tend to become less solid with age.
Adaptogenic herbs stimulate the immune system which tends to become less efficient with age.
They also have abilities anabolic and promote tissue manufacturing in the body. They are therefore particularly indicated for people with a catabolic and metabolic constitution (Vata and Pitta in Ayurvedic medicine). Thus, they can improve the healing capacity. Some doctors use them after aesthetic anti-aging treatments to help the skin recover: peels, lasers, surgeries, etc.
They can also help build muscle, which is also interesting in anti-aging since we know that our muscle mass decreases as we age.
They improve the ability cardio-respiratory in athletes .
The 10 best adaptogens for stress
Some are well known, others less so. Most have been studied and have proven their effect on the strengthening of adaptive capacity and on nervous or/and physical fatigue. Here they are :
- Ginseng (panax ginseng): with a particular effect on kidney function, nicknamed “plant of vitality”. It improves mood, libido, immunity, and helps fight depression.
- Turmeric: best known for its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-cancer effects.
- Sea buckthorn: rich in vitamins C, A, E, trace elements, omega 7, and antioxidant flavonoids, good against skin aging
- Rhodiola (rhodiola rosea): growing in Siberia, with a more marked action on nervous balance.
- Eleutherococcus: mainly in Asia and Siberia, it is a mild, easily tolerated adaptogen with properties similar to those of ginseng
- Ashwagandha (withania somnifera) is a standard of Ayurvedic medicine, improves sleep/wake rhythm, libido, fatigue, mood…
- The schisandra : used in Ayurveda to tone the nervous system and by Chinese medicine to improve longevity. It would also be an aphrodisiac.
- Astragalus still used in Ayurveda to help sleep, and which could promote the lengthening of our telomeres, itself correlated with our longevity.
- gingko biloba, an antioxidant rich in flavonoids. In particular, it improves cerebral capillary circulation.
- Reishi or ganoderma: also called the miraculous mushroom. It acts particularly on the liver.
These plants and their dosages are better described in our article: “The best adaptogenic plants in anti-aging“.
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Which is better for stress ashwagandha or rhodiola?
In ayurveda the herb that is considered to be the best for stress is ashwagandha. It reduces the levels of cortisol, which is one of the stress hormones. It also reduces blood sugar levels and has a positive effect on GABA receptors which help in reducing stress and anxiety. Rhodiola, on the other hand, helps in reducing cortisol and is also known to have an anxiolytic effect on the brain.
However, while both of these herbs are known to have good effect on stress, they also have their own side effects. For example, ashwagandha may cause drowsiness and rhodiola may cause headaches in some people. So, it is best to consult a doctor before taking these herbs.
Ashwaganda is a great herb for stress relief. It is calming and helps you fall asleep. Rhodiola, on the other hand, is more of a stimulant, so it’s great if you have chronic fatigue or low energy levels.
Which adaptogen is best for me?
In general, the adaptogens are the tonics that strengthen the adrenals, immune system and nervous system. They are generally nontoxic and usually have no side effects. They can be used both short term as an acute remedy and long term as a preventive. Stress is a major cause for dysfunction of the immune system, adrenal glands and nervous system. The most common adaptogens are Siberian Ginseng, Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), Licorice, Rhodiola and Maca.
Korean Ginseng, Ashwagandha, and Rhodiola Rosea. These are all available in the form of capsules and can be taken once or twice a day with or without food. They work by nourishing the cells in your body and helping to restore balance to the body. Ginseng and Ashwagandha are especially beneficial for stress and anxiety reduction while Rhodiola works best for improving mental and physical energy. There are also many other adaptogens out there, and it is advisable to try several different ones. You may find that one adaptogen works better for you than the others.
What foods are high in adaptogens?
Some food-based adaptogen examples and how they function
Scientists in India discovered that Turmeric helps the body stay healthy under stress, based on a variety of parameters such as weight, blood pressure, immunity, and inflammation. Turmeric is thought to promote the body’s intrinsic antioxidant function, reducing inflammation and increasing immunity while also assisting the body in maintaining optimal levels of stress hormone production. Turmeric may be added to Asian-inspired meals, soups, and curries, as well as in drinks as an infusion or as a turmeric latte prepared with warm, foamy coconut milk.
Moringa has been demonstrated in trials to have a stabilizing impact on blood sugar levels in diabetics. The Moringa tree leaf is dried and processed into a powder that can be added to meals such as an omelette towards the end of cooking to provide a nutty flavor; it also makes a terrific addition to a green smoothie or drink.
Our adrenal glands are under a lot of stress as a result of modern living. Liquorice root has been shown to aid in the regulation of cortisol, the stress hormone generated by the adrenal glands. In fact, chewing on liquorice root can serve two purposes: it can give our adrenals a break while also distracting us from our worry by giving us something to grasp and chew on. Liquorice may also be made into a tea by steeping the shredded or powdered root in hot water.
Maca is a part of the cruciferous family, which includes cauliflower, broccoli, and cabbage. This is a nutrient-dense food that contains seven necessary amino acids as well as a lot of fiber. It has been reported to be effective in balancing sex hormone levels and is also known to increase desire. Maca powder may be used into smoothies, oatmeal, breakfast bowls, and baked goods.
Holy Basil (Tulsi)
Holy basil is a member of the mint family. It has been demonstrated to help control the stress response and alleviate anxiety symptoms. It has a peppery flavor and may be used at the end of cooking to soups and stir-fries. It also pairs nicely with Liquorice as a tea infusion.
Dried Nettle To consume, nettle leaf can be processed into a powder. It is considered to be very therapeutic for people suffering from stress and even burnout. It creates a tasty tea infusion.
This adaptogen, which is high in antioxidants, has been demonstrated to help control blood sugar levels. Wild blueberries can be eaten raw or blended into a smoothie.
Mushrooms like reishi, cordyceps, and chaga aid to strengthen the immune system, especially when stressed. Reishi and Chaga are immuno-modulating, which means they include compounds that aid in the formation of immune cells, which helps to avoid illness. Dried, powdered mushrooms can be ingested by infusing them in tea or adding them to hot chocolate (they combine well in taste well the cacao bean). Discover the Mushrooms recipe here.
Excellent for immune system support, especially during cold, cough, and flu season. Astragalus can be added to the pot when rice and/or quinoa are steamed, as well as absorbed in boiling water and served as a tea infusion.
The Raspberry Leaf
Raspberry leaf, as an adaptogen, is believed to help regulate female hormones and relieve period cramps. It is most commonly ingested as a tea, tincture, or supplement.
How to take adaptogenic herbs ?
To prevent the body from getting used to these treatments, they must be taken in cures, of 2 months for example. Beyond that, they will become less and less effective.
In general, it is conventional to say that it takes 3 weeks for a sufficient effect to appear. This seems normal given the mode of action of these plants which actually “train” the body to adapt. Nevertheless, some animal studies have shown effects after 7 days of treatment .
It is possible to use a single plant or a mixture of different plants.
It is often advisable to combine essential micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, amino and fatty acids). On the one hand, because deficiencies are frequent in these periods of stress and they must therefore be filled. On the other hand, because nutrient requirements can be increased to overcome the effects of stress, in particular: magnesium, zinc, group B and C vitamins.