Mindfulness & Anxiety

Dealing with Chronic Stress? Try These Adaptogens

By Justin Fowler-Lindner

Are you stressed all the time? Then adaptogens could be exactly what the doctor ordered. 

Adaptogenic herbs are a broad class of healing plants that strengthen the adrenal glands, reduce cortisol production, and normalize the stress response. At the same time, they can combat fatigue and support the immune system.

Excessive production of the stress hormone cortisol can lead to thyroid disorders, hormone imbalances, digestive problems, and widespread inflammation.

The following medicinal herbs may reduce stress and provide powerful adrenal support:

  1. Rhodiola rosea
  2. Holy basil (tulsi)
  3. Ashwagandha root
  4. Licorice root
  5. Schisandra
  6. Asian ginseng (panax)

The term “adaptogen” was coined in1947 by N.V. Lazareve, the Russian scientist who first observed their ability to improve the body’s resistance to stress. He noticed that, over time, these unique herbal supplements can help calm the fight-or-flight response.

Let’s take a closer look at these potent stress-relievers.

1. Rhodiola Rosea

Rhodiola rosea, like all adaptogens, can strengthen the body’s biological coping mechanisms against stress. Both human and animal trials support its efficacy in treating stress-related fatigue.

For example, a 2009 human trial conducted in Sweden found that repeated administrations “Exerts an anti-fatigue effect that increases mental performance, particularly the ability to concentrate, and decreases cortisol response to awakening stress in burnout patients with fatigue syndrome.” (1)

In another 2012 human study, rhodiola rosea supplementation reduced acute stress during periods of exercise in sedentary individuals. (2)

2. Holy Basil

Holy basil, also called tulsi, has been used in India for centuries as an anti-aging herb. Today, multiple rodent studies indicate that it may be an effective treatment for stress and anxiety.

For example, one 2012 study found that the antioxidants in holy basil positively affect the frontal cortex, hippocampus, and plasma corticosterone levels in rats with chronic, unpredictable stress. (3)

To top it all off, holy basil may also enhance cognition. A 2015 human study found that holy basil may improve reaction times and reduce error rates. (4)

3. Ashwagandha Root

For decades, ashwagandha has been studied for its ability to enhance stress tolerance. It seems to be particularly effective at treating bacteria-induced stress and supporting gut health.

In rodents, ashwagandha extract can halt lipid peroxidation caused by bacteria. Lipid peroxidation is a process that can damage the blood cells. (5)

But the benefits don’t stop there…

Another animal study found that treatment with ashwagandha can prevent the formation of gastric ulcers, improve physical stamina, and reduce cortisol content in the adrenals. (6)

4. Licorice Root

Licorice is best known as a flavor of candy, but licorice root is a powerful adaptogen that can reduce stress, support the immune system, and boost endurance.

For example, one recent human study found that supplementation with DGL licorice significantly reduced multiple stress hormones and may even prevent ulcers. (7)

5. Schisandra

Schisandra has a variety of potential benefits related to adrenal support and liver detoxification.

For starters, its high antioxidant content may reduce inflammation and strengthen immunity. In addition to stress reduction, several studies show that treatment with schisandra may bring relief from fatty liver disease and help patients recover from liver transplants.

For example, a 2010 study published in the International Journal of Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics found that schisandra can boost Tcromilu (Tac), a compound that prevents the body from rejecting new organs. (8)

6. Asian Ginseng

Asian ginseng, or panax ginseng, is most well known for its ability to increase energy, reduce stress, and improve working memory in healthy adults. (9)

On a similar note, a recent rodent study found that asian ginseng can reduce several biomarkers of stress, including creatine kinase, blood glucose levels, adrenal gland weight, triglycerides, and the ulcer index. In the end, researchers came to the conclusion that, “[Asian ginseng] possesses significant anti-stress properties and can be used for the treatment of stress-induced disorders.” (10)

Why Adaptogens Are Good for Stress

We live in an age of hyperstimulation from social media and threats of gun violence, all of which can contribute to enhanced cortisol production, and taking supplements that reduce stress may be part of a holistic solution. Over the years, various adaptogens have demonstrated their ability to promote overall wellness and stress reduction, and many of these products are easy to find online or in local stores.

However, it’s also important to note that adaptogens do not have to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and they are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent serious diseases. With that said, current research indicates that with the proper medical supervision adaptogens may be an effective part of a comprehensive treatment plan.


References:

Reference 1: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19016404 

Reference 2: http://web.b.ebscohost.com/abstractdirect=true&profile=ehost&scope=site&authtype=crawler&jrnl=15821943&AN=80194318&h=kmIgfgP0HVQulmuK2Y69%2baZ41AZRhWDKiW99gImM7XoVaZgKYdA85N8PfkdGsX2OKfZw0CtM%2fDMkZjY2HM5AHw%3d%3d&crl=c&resultNs=AdminWebAuth&resultLocal=ErrCrlNotAuth&crlhashurl=login.aspx%3fdirect%3dtrue%26profile%3dehost%26scope%3dsite%26authtype%3dcrawler%26jrnl%3d15821943%26AN%3d80194318

Reference 3: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22455995

Reference 4: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26571987

Reference 5: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0378874197001517

Reference 6: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.3109/13880208209083282

Reference 7: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21184804

Reference 8: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20197017

Reference 9: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20737519

Reference 10: https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/jphs/93/4/93_4_458/_article

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