Unraveling the effectiveness of adaptogens in managing stress. Next Health examines their impact on our stress response. Contact us for more information.
As April is Stress Awareness Month, many of us are being reminded of the ways stress takes a toll on our health. Adults are considerably more stressed than they were decades ago. In fact, new research that compares the stress levels from the 1990s to 2010s found stress levels rose for all age groups and the stress levels of those between the ages of 45-65 rose by almost 20%.
Short-term stress can lead to symptoms such as anxiety, fatigue, weight gain/ loss, sleep problems, and more. Long-term, the effects of chronic stress can be serious as stress has been linked to chronic inflammation, which increases the risk of a multitude of conditions including neurodegenerative disorders, heart disease, cancer, and more.
Given all of these potential consequences, many of us are looking for simple yet effective ways to manage our stress. In addition to well-known stress relieving techniques such as breathwork, meditation, and exercise, one of the most common natural stress remedies recommended by health and wellness experts is adaptogens.
But what are adaptogens and do they really help improve our stress response?
Adaptogens are a category of plants and mushrooms that have been shown to help improve the body’s stress response. By supporting the body’s ability to handle stress, adaptogens can help combat and alleviate symptoms such as anxiety, fatigue, sleep problems, and other stress-related issues. Most health-enhancing adaptogens are available in supplement form, as tinctures, or can be added to an herbal tea.
Studies show that adaptogens both help increase the body’s resistance to stress and decrease sensitivity to stressors, resulting in “stress protection.” This helps avoid a state of adrenal exhaustion or burnout.
Adrenal burnout is a result of prolonged stress and a constant release of cortisol, the body’s stress hormone. Cortisol is part of the “fight or flight response” and when the body is continually stressed and releasing cortisol, the adrenals are unable to keep up and cortisol levels can drop.
Low levels of cortisol can result in fatigue, salt cravings, shakiness, brain fog, inability to handle stress, joint swelling or pain, and much more. Experts estimate that approximately 80% of Americans suffer from some form of adrenal dysfunction.
By supporting our body’s stress response with adaptogens that minimize our response to stressors in the first place, we can enjoy a more balanced state of well-being.
Ashwagandha, also known as winter cherry, is an annual evergreen shrub that is local to India, the Middle East, and parts of Africa. The powerful healing benefits of ashwagandha have been used for hundreds of years for its healing properties. It is best known for stress and anxiety support as research shows it helps control hormonal mediators of stress such as cortisol. Ashwagandha is also known to reduce the activity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, a system in your body that regulates the stress response.
Moreover, the leaves of Ashwagandha contain triethylene glycol, which can promote sleep induction naturally. Consistent quality sleep is essential in regulating our stress response.
More than 200 types of magnolia trees exist worldwide. Magnolia officinalis, or magnolia bark is native to China and has been used for thousands of years in traditional Chinese medicine.
Studies show that magnolia bark’s bioactive compounds can reduce adrenaline, a common stress hormone. Magnolia bark also helps promote a healthy stress response by combatting unhealthy levels of cortisol, decreasing the chance of adrenal burnout.
Magnolia bark has also been shown to increase levels of GABA, a critical sleep hormone. Because sleep is critical for hormone balance, the promotion of quality sleep can reduce stress and anxiety.
Licorice root grows across the world and can be found throughout Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. It is commonly used for its flavor in candy, beverages, and other foods, but it actually has a variety of health benefits. Studies show that licorice root contains a compound called glycyrrhizic acid, which promotes adrenal function, combatting stress, depression, and anxiety.
In addition to being an effective adaptogen, licorice root is an excellent antiviral and anti-inflammatory. It also promotes a healthy gut as licorice root is commonly given for gastritis and peptic ulcers.
According to functional medicine doctor, Josh Axe, Panax ginseng is considered “the most potent” adaptogen for improving mental performance and reducing stress.
Panax ginseng is associated with a variety of benefits including enhancing energy, lowering blood sugar and cholesterol, reducing stress, promoting relaxation, and improving libido in men.
Because of these extensive benefits, Panex ginseng has been used for its healing properties for hundreds of years. In fact, it is one of the longest-living plants and is considered the original source of ginseng.
This adaptogen originates from East Asia and has a variety of other names including Chinese ginseng, Korean ginseng, and Asian ginseng.
Rhodiola root, also known as arctic root, has been incorporated into teas in China, Russia, and Scandinavia for centuries.
Rhodiola root has been shown to support the nervous system, immunity, and energy levels in both traditional medicine and modern research. Additionally, research shows that Rhodiola can help the body combat symptoms of stress such as anxiety, exhaustion, fatigue, and burnout.