Adaptogens are herbs or active plant compounds that bolster the body’s ability to respond to stress. They can also help restore balance after stressful situations.
Stress, simply put, is your body’s normal reaction to pressure or a visible/palpable threat. According to researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, stress can sometimes be good for you as it can “push you just to the level of optimal alertness, behavioral and cognitive performance.” In fact, their study on rats showed that brief stressful events stimulated stem cells in the animals’ brains to become new nerve cells, which improved the rats’ mental performance.
When faced with a stressor, the human body is said to react very swiftly and very efficiently. Because physiological changes mediated by the sympathetic nervous system, which releases stress hormones, happen so quickly, people in stressful situations often find themselves reacting before they can even think about what they’re doing. Once the trigger is gone, the parasympathetic nervous system presses the brakes on your stress response.
But if you are constantly subjected to everyday pressures or other stressful triggers, your parasympathetic nervous system may be hindered from dampening your stress response. Chronic low-level stress causes physiological changes that can inadvertently lead to various health issues. Problems linked to chronic stress include fat buildup and weight gain and increased blood pressure, which can ultimately damage your blood vessels and raise your risk of heart attack or stroke.
Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to manage your stress naturally. Aside from practicing relaxation and mindfulness techniques, you can take adaptogenic herbs in the form of supplements or tea to help your body cope with stress in the most optimal way possible. On top of being safe, adaptogenic herbs can help reduce your stress response when it’s no longer needed so your body can achieve a state of internal balance and stability known as homeostasis.
5 Adaptogenic herbs for improving stress resilience
Plenty of herbs used in ancient medicinal systems are still used today to treat various health issues. Although only a few medicinal herbs can be called adaptogens, these herbs are relatively common and easy to find, so they’re readily available to anyone in need of non-pharmaceutical stress support. Medicinal herbs are known for having a variety of health-supporting properties, so expect more than just one health benefit when you use adaptogenic herbs.
If you need help managing stress or optimizing your stress response, try these five adaptogenic herbs:
Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng)
Chronic stress is linked to an increased risk of heart disease because of the effects of cortisol. Having high levels of this stress hormone raises not only blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, but also blood sugar and blood pressure.
High cortisol levels also have a negative impact on your immune system. While a temporary increase in cortisol can boost your immune response, persistently high cortisol levels can lead to chronic inflammation, which can be damaging to tissues and organs. Long-term stress has also been found to weaken your immune system as it decreases the number of circulating white blood cells, the immune cells that help fight infections.
According to a study published in the Journal of Ginseng Research, Asian ginseng exerts its adaptogenic effects by helping stimulate or suppress immune response as well as regulating blood vessel function and blood pressure. Thanks to its immunomodulatory, vasomodulatory and cardioprotective properties, Asian ginseng can promote vitality, enhance physical performance and increase your body’s resilience to stress.
American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius)
American ginseng is a species of ginseng native to North America. Like Asian ginseng, this herb is considered a powerful adaptogen that offers benefits for the brain and immune system. (Related: Four of the best adaptogens that help you beat stress.)
According to studies, American ginseng contains plenty of antioxidant compounds called ginsenosides. These bioactive compounds not only protect the brain from oxidative stress but also support the production and growth of new neurons. The ginsenosides in American ginseng have also been found to support optimal mental clarity, improve attention and memory, and reduce mental fatigue.
The memory-boosting effects of American ginseng can be particularly helpful to students under academic stress. Although stress is thought to enhance memory formation, studies show that it actually impairs memory retrieval and hampers your brain’s ability to update memories with new information. Supplementing with American ginseng can therefore help improve memory performance in times of stress.
Like Asian ginseng, American ginseng also exerts immunomodulatory effects, thanks to bioactive polysaccharides. Depending on your body’s needs, these polysaccharides can either stimulate your immune system or suppress immune response to protect your body from chronic inflammation. According to research, American ginseng contains different classes of polysaccharides, which constitute about 10 percent of the dried root’s weight.
Arctic root (Rhodiola rosea)
Arctic root, also known as golden root or roseroot, has a long history of use in traditional medicine. A popular remedy in many parts of Europe and Asia, arctic root is known for its ability to stimulate the nervous system, enhance physical performance and treat stress-induced fatigue and depression. (Related: Rhodiola significantly improves mental health and promotes a calm state of mind.)
Pre-clinical and clinical trials show that, as an adaptogen, arctic root has brain-stimulating and calming properties that can help improve memory performance and mood during times of stress. A Russian-Swedish study involving 40 medical students reported that those who supplemented with arctic root extract during examination week enjoyed a boost in physical and mental performance, significant reductions in mental fatigue, greater mood stability and an increase in motivation to study.
A separate study by Swedish researchers also reported on arctic root’s effectiveness in alleviating fatigue. Supplementing with arctic root daily for 28 days was found to benefit burnout patients by significantly reducing fatigue symptoms and improving their ability to concentrate. The herb also decreased the participants’ cortisol awakening response (CAR), suggesting that arctic root can also protect against stress-related depression. Studies have linked an elevated CAR to depression and anxiety disorders.
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)
Also known by the names Indian winter cherry and Indian ginseng, ashwagandha is often described as one of the most important herbs in Ayurvedic medicine. It is traditionally used to increase energy levels, reduce inflammation, pain and anxiety, and improve overall health and wellness. (Related: Ashwagandha could be your next workout supplement.)
Animal studies show that ashwagandha can effectively increase stamina and protect against stress-induced gastric ulcers. In a study on horses subjected to different types of stress, ashwagandha was also found to stimulate the immune system and promote the formation of blood cells while decreasing glucose, triglyceride, cortisol and adrenaline levels.
Meanwhile, human clinical trials show that ashwagandha can help regulate stress response by lowering cortisol levels. In a prospective study involving individuals with chronic stress, ashwagandha significantly reduced the scores of participants who took the herb daily on all stress-assessment scales, including anxiety, as well as their blood cortisol levels. The study noted that even at high concentrations (300 milligrams, mg), ashwagandha was well-tolerated by participants, and its adaptogenic effects can improve self-assessed quality of life.
Five-flavor fruit (Schisandra chinensis)
Five-flavor fruit, sometimes called magnolia berry, are the purple-red berries that grow from a vine plant native to Northern China, Russia and Korea. This medicinal herb – a staple in Traditional Chinese Medicine – is said to taste sweet, salty, bitter, pungent and sour all at the same time, hence its unusual name.
According to animal studies, five-flavor fruit is a potent adaptogen that can help decrease the levels of stress markers in rats subjected to hours of psychological and physical stress. A study published in the journal Scientific Reports also found that five-flavor fruit helped reverse depression-like symptoms and cognitive deficits in rats with chronic unpredictable mild stress.
In humans, several studies have reported that supplementing with five-flavor fruit results in improved work performance and strength, reduced fatigue and increased endurance. The lignans in five-flavor fruit have also been found to protect the liver by activating enzymes in liver cells that produce the antioxidant, glutathione. Five-flavor fruit can also trigger detoxification pathways in the liver and improve mental performance, particularly concentration and coordination.
Watch this video to learn more about the health benefits of ginseng, a potent adaptogen.
This video is from the Holistic Herbalist channel on Brighteon.com.