Stress sucks the joy out of life. It drains our inner peace, health and relationships. And if we don’t take steps to reduce it, stress has a snowball effect—leading to more issues in our precious tissues. It messes with our energy, mood, ability to think clearly and can even raise blood sugar and blood pressure. Basically, we’ve gotta stress less and thrive more—and we need a holistic approach to achieving this goal long term.
But, it’s so easy to neglect self-care and let our stress levels get out of control. I’m guilty, too! At one point, I pushed myself so far that I ended up with full-blown adrenal fatigue. Basically, adrenal fatigue occurs when you’re under intense or prolonged stress and your adrenal glands become less efficient at making hormones and neurotransmitters—leaving you extremely worn out. So of course, I felt exhausted, frazzled and foggy. I got on the road to recovery by working with my integrative doctor to find supplements that fit my needs and re-dedicating myself to the self-care practices I’ve shared with you time and time again.
Today, I want to further explore some of those stress-relieving supplements. Mother nature has given us a powerful family of herbs that help your body adapt to stress. They’re called adaptogens and they do many things, including helping to prevent the damaging effects stress has on your adrenal glands. Happy glands mean avoiding adrenal fatigue (yay!).
The power of adaptogens really clicked for me when I read this description by Dr. Frank Lipman: “Adaptogens work a bit like a thermostat. When the thermostat senses that the room temperature is too high, it brings it down and when the temperature is too low, it brings it up. Adaptogens can calm you down and boost your energy at the same time without overstimulating. By supporting adrenal function, they can help counteract the adverse effects of stress and normalize body imbalances. They help cells eliminate toxic byproducts of the metabolic process, access more energy and utilize oxygen more efficiently.” Thanks, Frank!
There are so many ways adaptogens can support your well-being, but they don’t work the same for everyone. So, I highly suggest working with your integrative doctor or a clinical herbalist (find one here) to figure out which adaptogens are right (and safe) for you.
Of course, we can’t cover every single adaptogen in this blog, so I’ve listed five of my favorites below for reducing stress. Ready? Take a deep breath and read on for the details…
5 Adaptogens to Help You Relieve Stress and Improve Your Well-Being
Panax Ginseng and its compounds called ginsenosides have been used for over 2,000 years in Asian countries. “Panax” comes from the word “panacea”, meaning a cure for all diseases, longevity and physical strength. The ginsenosides support the adrenal glands in a way that can improve cognitive performance and mood, decrease depression, lower blood sugar in people with diabetes and even improve erectile dysfunction. Although, you should skip ginseng if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding or if you have an autoimmune disease, as it increases immune system activity.
Rhodiola is indigenous to cold, mountainous regions and has been used by individuals for thousands of years to adapt to the stress of cold temperatures and high altitudes. It works at the cellular level by increasing the oxygen-carrying capacity of red blood cells. This means better mental performance, physical performance, energy and even moods (study). If you get the blessing from your doc to take this herb, try to find rhodiola that is Siberian-grown, which will likely have the highest concentration of rosavins—especially helpful for reducing stress. Because rhodiola can act as a blood thinner, beware if you’re on anti-clotting meds or are taking blood thinning supplements like vitamin E.
Ashwagandha supports adrenal function, which balances hormones and helps to reduce chronic stress and adrenal fatigue. Supplemental Ashwagandha has been shown to help decrease anxiety, stress and depression among people with generalized anxiety disorder (study) by improving cortisol levels. Since Ashwagandha is a powerful hormonal balancer, it shouldn’t be taken during pregnancy or by anyone with an autoimmune condition.
Holy basil has been deemed the “herb for all reasons” because it helps support metabolic, physical, chemical and psychological stresses in the body (study). Its strong anti-inflammatory actions help the body and mind fight the inflammatory effects of stress, which are the underlying causes of most diseases and mental health issues. By extinguishing the flame, holy basil helps to reduce the negative effects of stress on organs, which can otherwise lead to high blood sugar, high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels. Its anti-inflammatory nature also helps to improve memory and cognition, leading to a decrease in anxiety and depression. To be on the safe side, holy basil is a blood thinner so extra caution is given to pregnant and breastfeeding women, as well as people taking anti-clotting meds because it can slow blood clotting.
Licorice (the root Glycyrrhiza glabra, not the red twirly candy!) is best known for its anti-inflammatory properties, which help the body manage digestive issues like heartburn, constipation, indigestion and nausea. But, it’s this herb’s ability to actually increase cortisol production that makes it a stress reliever. Licorice can balance out stress hormones and give your adrenals a break. So instead of your adrenals working overtime during periods of high stress, they can take a breather. You’re not only less strung out, but you’re less likely to experience adrenal fatigue—it’s a win-win! Because licorice root (specifically the compound glycyrrhizin) has the ability to increase cortisol production (above doses of 500 mg daily), it can also increase blood pressure. Pregnant women and folks with high blood pressure should look for deglycyrrhized licorice and definitely get the go-ahead from their integrative doctors first.