Chronic stress is an epidemic, and it is causing a range of symptoms from disrupted sleep, cravings & fatigue to low mood. Certain plants referred to as ‘adaptogens’ may have the ability to lighten our stress hormone load.
At a foundational level, so many factors within our control impact our levels of circulating stress hormones and how well our bodies remain resilient to stress:
- Restful, restorative sleep
- Omega-3 intake from low-mercury seafood
- Diet full of colorful vegetables & fruits
- Supportive Relationships
- Periods of mindfulness & breath regulation
- Clear, organized thoughts
In addition to a lifestyle foundation, plant-based compounds known as adaptogens can also help to reduce chronic stress.
Select plant compounds may exert stress-protective effect through an impact on the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis. They may also impact key mediators of the stress response, such as heat shock proteins (Hsp70), stress-activated c-Jun N-terminal protein kinase (JNK-1), and cortisol levels (source).
Ready to see how you can integrate these adaptogens into your daily life? Download my free recipe guide!
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In Botanical Medicine for Women’s Health, the well-known physician and herbalist Aviva Romm suggests use of adaptogens for a minimum of three months.
Medicinal Mushrooms have been used for over a thousand years beginning with Egyptian and ancient Chinese cultures. While mechanisms in humans remain to be fully elucidated, improved blood sugar control, resistance to fatigue during a forced swimming test, and antioxidant effects have been seen in mouse models (source).
Reishi is one type of ‘medicinal mushroom’ widely considered to have stress-balancing effects or adaptogen qualities.
How to Use
Four Sigmatic sells mushroom blend based drink powders. You can mix Terrasoul Superfoods Organic Reishi Mushroom Powder into decaf coffee or energy bites.
In her book Body Into Balance, herbalist Maria Noel Groves notes that ‘in the past few decades, holy basil has gained popularity in the United States for its ability to calm and energize, relieve anxiety, and balance cortisol and blood sugar levels’.
In one study, 1200mg daily for 6 weeks decreased frequency of exhaustion and sleep problems (source). Holy basil leaf extract 500 mg twice daily following meals for 60 days significantly reduced anxiety and associated symptoms of stress and depression in patients with generalized anxiety disorder (source).
How to Use
Cautions: Holy Basil may reduce levels of the thyroid hormone T4, may decrease blood sugar, and occasionally may aggrevate reflux.
Used for an ‘anti-stress effect’ as a popular adaptogen, Ashwaghanda seems to work directly through lowering levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
In a study of 64 subjects, those given 300 mg of high-concentration full-spectrum extract from the root of the Ashwagandha plant exhibited a significant reduction (P<0.0001) in scores on stress-assessment scales on Day 60, while serum cortisol levels were substantially reduced (source).
How to Use
Gaia Herbs is one brand offering Ashwaghanda that I personally like.
Cautions: Ashwagandha might suppress thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) and/or increase triiodothyronine (T3) or thyroxine (T4) values, may lower blood pressure or blood sugar. Since Ashwaghanda is in the Solanaceae family, those with nightshade sensitivities may wish to avoid it.
Interested in learning more about the use of adaptogens? Listen to my episode of the Nourished Brain Podcast with Kiki Athanas.