How Adaptogenic Herbs Can Help Your Body Fight Stress
‘Adaptogens’ are phytochemical substances found in certain herbs and plants that can help improve our ability to cope with stress. They do this through various mechanisms that work together to bring the body back into homeostasis, or a state of balance.
Adaptogenic herbs have long been used in traditional Chinese medicine and in the Indian healing practice of Ayurveda. Adaptogenic plants used in treatments include liquorice, Siberian ginseng, shatavari and holy basil, among several others.
How adaptogenic herbs help mitigate the stress effect
We all experience varying levels of stress in our lives, possibly coping better on some occasions than others!
There are three phases to the stress response:
- Alarm – where your adrenal gland produces ‘fight or flight’ hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline.
- Resistance – the stage where your body acts in response to the stressful situation and attempts to return the body to normal. It’s during this phase that our ability to adapt, concentrate and perform gets a boost.
- Exhaustion – end stage of chronic stress where the body attempts to repair and recover but is not able to do so effectively.
Overall, the stress response is a remarkable mechanism that helps us respond to and survive threatening events. It can even improve our performance. For example, athletes deliberately put themselves under stress in order to improve their strength and speeds.
However, chronic negative stress in our lives can be detrimental to our health and lead to the exhaustion phase. This is because when cells are under stress, they can suffer damage from free radicals and nitrous oxide. The production of cortisol can also inhibit the immune system.
In addition, the constant production of stress hormones from our adrenal glands can lead to depletion of micronutrients, adrenal fatigue and mental and physical illness.
The good news is that adaptogens can help stretch out the resistance phase for longer, improving our ability to ‘adapt’ to the stressor. This is a complex process, but essentially, adaptogens do this by reducing levels of nitrous oxide and cortisol, leading to improvements in immunity and faster protein repair. This in turn can lead to better sleep, mood, endurance, health and immunity.
Which plants are adaptogenic?
Some typical adaptogenic herbs include:
- Siberian ginseng – herbaceous shrub containing compounds that can help protect against stress and increase endurance, concentration and immune responses.
- Schisandra – fruit-bearing vine with liver-protective and anti-depressive properties.
- Gotu kola – herb in the parsley family that may improve cognitive function and help relieve anxiety.
- Shatavari – member of the asparagus family with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-depressive properties.
- Maca – Peruvian vegetable plant that may increase libido, boost memory and mood, and improve endurance.
- Liquorice – herb root containing compounds with anti-inflammatory, antibiotic and antioxidant properties that can help protect against stress and digestive problems. It can also add a sweetness to bitter herbal teas.
- Tulsi (holy basil) – used for an array of health problems in Ayurveda, this herb has antibacterial, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-depressant properties, and may protect against stress and help improve cognitive function and memory.
- Amla (Indian gooseberry) – extract used for relieving oxidative stress and improving glucose metabolism.
- Reishi – mushroom used to reduce stress and fatigue and improve sleep.
How to take adaptogens
Adaptogens can be taken in a range of forms. This includes as a supplement pill, or in the herbal rejuvenating jams typically used in Ayurveda.
They can be combined with cacao and other ingredients in a powder for a soothing drink, as in our Spirit Dust. They can also be taken as a tea.
A tea blend can be a particularly good way of taking adaptogens, because it allows the combining of many kinds of herbs, potentially enhancing the stress-reducing properties of the beverage.
Teas that offer adaptogenic benefits include our naturopathically-formulated Energy Tea blend containing Siberian ginseng and gotu kola, and soothing Digestive Tea with liquorice. To order, go to our tea products page.