Adaptogens are ancient stress-fighting super-herbs that can help you with the challenges of modern daily life. If you commute to work, are raising small children, or have a demanding occupation, there is a good chance you are dealing with one or more of these issues on a regular basis: stress, fatigue, brain fog and anxiety. Coffee in the morning and a glass of red wine at the end of the day are not the only solutions.
For centuries soldiers in India and China have used adaptogens to manage the stress of combat, boost their energy and become more resilient. You can use these new stress-fighting super-herbs to help your body bounce back from the challenges and stressors of modern life.
What Are Adaptogens and What Do They Do?
Adaptogens are a special class of super-herbs that have been used in Ayurveda and Chinese medicine for centuries. If you regularly supplement with these herbs, they can improve your bodies’ ability to respond to and recover from a stressful event.
Naturopath Edward Wallace states that adaptogenic herbs do not have specific actions: “They help you respond to any influence or stressor, normalizing your physiological functions.”
Various adaptogens have the unique ability to reduce certain effects of stress on your body. They can reduce fatigue, improve cognition, and boost your immune system. Each herb works in the body in a unique way, and more research is needed to understand the mechanisms behind these effects. However, the current research on taking adaptogens for stress has produced some exciting insights into the power of these stress-fighting super-herbs. Read on for a list of the top adaptogenic herbs.
Panax Ginseng, often called True Ginseng, is probably the most popular adaptogen. There is a strong amount of evidence to suggest that Panax Ginseng is effective at improving mood, immunity, and cognition. For example, a study conducted at the University of Connecticut School of Pharmacy found that adults who took 200mg of Panax Ginseng for four weeks improve several aspects of mental health and social functioning.
This super herb is also said to have a positive effect on sexual function, depression and can lower high blood pressure, but the research on these areas is not as conclusive.
If you would like to try Panax Ginseng, start by taking 200-400 mg a day. To avoid sleep disturbances be sure to take it in the morning as this super herb can have a stimulating effect. Ginseng is not recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding women.
Ashwagandha is used in Ayurveda medicine. The word Ashwagandha means the "smell of the horse" which is a reference to the adaptogen’s pungent odor.
Ashwagandha has a long list of possible health benefits. Research studies have indicated that Ashwagandha is particularly useful for reducing anxiety, relieving insomnia and stress-induced depression. While we are still unsure exactly how Ashwagandha works within the body, we know that it can reduce cortisol levels. Cortisol is known as the "stress hormone." Elevated cortisol levels cause many of the health problems associated with chronic stress including increased weight gain, blood pressure, cholesterol, heart disease, interfere with learning and memory, lower immune function and bone density.
Most practitioners and herbalists recommend taking 6,000 mg of Ashwagandha a day divided into three doses (2,000 mg). However, you may find benefits with a daily dose as low as 300-500 mg. You should avoid taking Ashwagandha if you take sedatives or are sensitive to the nightshade group of plants. Ashwagandha is not recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding women.
Rhodiola Rosea is an herb used in traditional Chinese medicine to fight fatigue. Recent investigations have found that this herb is indeed effective at reducing fatigue and exhaustion in prolonged stressful situations. A study published in Phytotherapy Research found that taking 200 mg of Rhodiola Rosea twice daily for four weeks improved mood and reduced fatigue in persons with life and work-related stress.
In addition to helping you through stressful life events, some experts suspect that Rhodiola Rosea might reduce stress-induced binge eating and promote longevity. However, more research is needed to confirm these benefits.
To enjoy the stress-fighting benefits of this superherb, you should take 200 to 600 mg per day of a Rhodiola Rosea extract or 2-3 grams per day of Rhodiola Rosea root. If you have manic depression or are bipolar, you should not take Rhodiola Rosea. Rhodiola is not recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding women.
Holy Basil is an Ayurvedic herb from India and is called the “elixir of anti-aging.” In Ayurveda, this super herb is used to treat a variety of general ailments. Recent medical research has revealed that it is useful for liver protection, immunity, general antioxidant activity and reducing the effects of stress on the body. Researchers in New Delhi found that healthy adults who took 300 mg of an ethanolic extract of Holy Basil leaves per day for four weeks were able to increase the cells of their immune system.
500 mg of the leaf extract taken twice daily is recommended for healthy adults interested in the adaptogenic effects of Holy Basil. In addition, it is also used to boost testosterone. However, the only studies on this effect of Holy Basil were performed on rats, so more investigation is needed.
According to Functional Medicine expert, Dr. Frank Lipman, this adaptogen is "used in traditional Chinese medicine for muscle spasms, joint pain, insomnia, and fatigue. In Germany, its use is approved for chronic fatigue syndrome, impaired concentration, and convalescing after illness. Western herbalists note that it improves memory, feelings of well-being and can lift mild depression."
Dr. Lipman recommends taking 2-3 grams of dried Siberian Ginger root a day. But suggest that people with high blood pressure be carefully monitored while taking this adaptogen. Siberian Ginger is not recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding women.
Preliminary studies indicate that Siberian Ginger can improve physical performance during periods of high-intensity exercise and some animal studies have found health benefits for the brain.
Astragalus is another stress-fighting super herb that lowers cortisol, aka the stress hormone, while boosting the immune system. It has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years.
Studies have shown that Astragalus contains anti-inflammatory compounds that can help your body respond to a number of ailments from injury to infection. In 2012, researchers at the Beijing Friendship Hospital discovered that Astragalus helps the body regulate the immune system by controlling T-cells.
If you would like to enjoy the immune system boosting effects of Astragalus, try this Herbal Immune System Soup with Astragalus recipe.
Water Hyssop is an adaptogenic herb often used in Ayurvedic medicine for longevity and cognitive enhancement. It is not clear whether or not Water Hyssop will help with longevity, but it has been shown to improve cognition by reducing anxiety. A study conducted at the National College of Natural Medicine found that senior citizens that took 300 mg of Water Hyssop per day for 12 weeks showed significant improvements in attention and working memory along with less anxiety and depression.
The standard dose for Water Hyssop is 300 mg. Ayurvedic practitioners recommend you take it with ghee, a clarified butter that originated in India.
Omija or Schisandra berries were used as performance enhancers and as an adaptogen in traditional medicine practices. A few decades ago Omija was studied extensively in Russia, but those studies are not accessible. There have only been a few studies conducted in the West, but suggest that Omija may correlate to high antioxidant activity and produce anti-inflammatory properties.
Omija Tea or Five Flavor Tea is a traditional Korean drink made from herbs and Omija. It is usually served during summer days as an energy booster and to satisfy thirst.
In the fast-paced, high-pressure environment of our modern world, everyone experiences some level of stress in their daily lives. By taking advantage of knowledge from centuries-old Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine, we can combat some of the negative effects that come with our everyday circumstances.
Armed with adaptogens, ancient peoples were able to fight pain, fatigue, insomnia, reduce cortisol, boost the immune system, improve cognitive function, and more. Thanks to an increasing number of studies and a growing acceptance of Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine, these super-herbs are becoming more common in the western world.
Improve your bodies’ ability to cope with stress with adaptogens. These 8 super-herbs are a wonderful starting point for anyone pursuing better overall health. Give yourself the added boost you need to manage the day-to-day struggles of life.
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Article Categories: Food & Nutrition Science