Amazing Adaptogens for Stress & Fatigue
At this wintry time of year, I reckon we could all do with a bit of calm in our days, especially with only 7 or so hours of daylight to cram everything in. This is a great time of year for adaptogenic herbs, or adaptogens, which, in my humble opinion, are real power-house plants. Incredibly effective (and I speak from personal experience), they've been used extensively in Ayervedic and Chinese medicine for hundreds of years. Now, the rest of us are waking up to Amazing Adaptogens.
Their main role is to help balance and protect the body, especially effective during times of stress, by strengthening the body’s response to 'adapt', increasing the natural resistance to emotional, physical and environmental stress. They calm the adrenal glands from releasing negative hormone levels, while helping to normalise the cardiovascular and the endocrine (hormone) system back to regular function.
If anyone's experienced being under the effects of adrenalin and cortisol coursing through the body, you'll know how much of a relief it is for the sensation to pass. I regularly add a couple of gentle adaptogens into the morning smoothie to help keep me on the straight and narrow during the day, and my horses get similar in their daily herb mix during winter to help keep a seasonal melancholy at bay.
Then there's a chronic, ongoing, stressed state, the degenerative breakdown of various systems of the body at cellular level, which if left untreated take the body, as a whole, down the path of exhaustion. In order to survive, and whether human or horse, the body kicks in its own survival kit, the Fight/Flight defence system.
This is very much part of the stress scenario - the fight/flight response is the body’s natural stress defence system to survive a perceived threat. The central nervous system now alerts the body into emergency mode, sending messages via nerve impulses to the relevant organs to ready themselves for survival.
At the same time, the endocrine system – a series of glands that secrete hormones (chemical regulators) – kicks in. If homeostasis is threatened in any way, it instantly secretes specific hormones from the adrenal glands to put the body on alert to fight or fly, specifically cortisol (the stress hormone which affects the central nervous system, digestion and kidney function), and adrenalin (the survival hormone), to basically keep the body functioning.
Until the survival syndrome is turned off, this eventually exhausts the brain and body, so alleviating the symptoms is critical to both mental and physical well-being. Thanks to Mother Nature there are some lovely adaptogen herbs to help kick this debilitating syndrome into touch, which we use extensively in our organic herbal StressTonic blend.
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is regarded as one of the best medicinal herbs for mental or physical fatigue, and is especially beneficial for adrenal fatigue. It naturally balances hormone levels, insulin sensitivity and the natural production of thyroxine which supports healthy thyroid function.
Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus), also referred to as Siberian ginseng, is believed to help the body handle stress by supporting adrenal function, reduce fatigue and hormonal levels. Eleuthero modulates stress response by supporting the body’s ability to produce brain chemicals that offset the effects of stress. This herb is often prescribed by herbalists for those who lack concentration or are low on energy.
Liquorice Root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) is one of my personal go-to herbs if ever I’m feeling wired on adrenalin or under pressure. Considered an effective immunomodulator, with a specific affinity with the adrenal glands to produce a restorative effect, a cup of liquorice tea will completely relax my agitation within 15-20 minutes.
Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica) is an indigenous herb to the Himalayas and widely used in Ayurvedic and Indian folk medicine. Renowned for its life-giving properties, Gotu Kola has been shown to be effective in fighting off fatigue by boosting energy levels as well as stamina.
Ginkgo Biloba is an extremely ancient tree that has been used in China to treat various health ailments for thousands of years. Studies have shown that ginkgo can be useful as a remedy for poor concentration and fatigue. In Germany it's often prescribed as a treatment for improving oxygen utilization and reducing fatigue.
Ginkgo is believed to protect the brain and liver from free radicals. Fatigue increases susceptibility to free radicals which in turn damage proteins, cells, and DNA. Ginkgo is also thought to counteract the effects of high levels of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenalin.
Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus) is another herb that has a long use in Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), partnering well with eleuthero. Considered an immunostimulant adaptogen, astragalus is used as a tonic to enhance the function of the adrenal glands. NB. It should not be used with blood-thinning medicines or by those suffering from high fever.
Nettle (Urtica dioica) is an energy-boosting, super-nutritious plant, packed with minerals and vitamins. Many herbalists recommend nettle for nourishment as well as to address endocrine imbalances such as adrenal fatigue.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is often used with other adaptogen herbs such as ginkgo and ginseng to combat adrenal fatigue. Working together synergistically, these herbs are believed to have a strengthening effect on the adrenals, increase resistance to stress, and regulate the levels of cortisol.
Schizandra (Schisandra chinensis) has long been used by the Chinese to aid in normal body functions during stressful times.Research also shows that this medicinal herb provides antioxidant activity and promotes proper functioning of the liver to protect the body from the damage stress-related free radicals can cause.
Rhodiola Rosea This adaptogenic herb is renowned for use with stress-related physical and mental fatigue. Rhodiola contains salidroside, phytochemicals known to relieve anxiety, and the herb has been shown to inhibit excessive release of stress hormones, particularly cortisol, leading to less fatigue.
Holy Basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum), also called Tulsi, is known in India as an elixir of anti-aging. It is regarded to have numerous health benefits such as regulating hormone levels, blood sugar and blood pressure. Being an adaptogenic powerhouse, holy basil is thought to be able to ease stress by calming the nervous system.
Panossian A, Wikman G. Effects of Adaptogens on the Central Nervous System and the Molecular Mechanisms Associated with Their Stress Protective Activity. Pharmaceuticals. 2010;3(1):188-224. doi:10.3390/ph3010188.
Adams, D, Wu, T, Yang, X, Tai, S, and Vohra, S: Traditional Chinese medicinal herbs for the treatment of idiopathic chronic fatigue and chronic fatigue syndrome}, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2009. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Ganzheitsmedizin. Herbal Drugs in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: An Overview. Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, H.N.B. Garhwal (Central) University, Srinagar, Garhwal.