Five Plant Remedies for a
Adaptogens are a unique group of herbs that can improve the health of your adrenal system, your stress control center. These substances are called adaptogens because they have the unique ability to “adapt” their function to your body’s specific needs.
Adaptogens strengthen your response to stress, enhance your ability to cope with fear, and fight fatigue. Slowly and gently, with no jolts or crashes.
Their effects are initially subtle and small, but also real and undeniable.
If you’d grown up in China or India, you probably would’ve heard of them. They’ve been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine, as stress busters, energy boosters, and more.
Today, science has evidence to support their positive benefits and safety – something Big Pharma can’t hope to touch.
How do adaptogens work?
Think of an adaptogen as a thermostat. When it senses your room is too hot, it stops the furnace from blowing. And likewise when the temperature drops too low, it causes the furnace to blow out more warm air.
Adaptogens are whole plant extracts that work at the cellular level to help you overcome the detrimental effects of stress.
They can calm you down and energize you at the same time. Ideally, they don’t over-stimulate. They normalize imbalances and support your adrenal gland by neutralizing the dangers of stress.
Remember how during stress your body shuts down normal processes to preserve its “fight or flight” status? Well, adaptogens energize your body, eliminate toxic byproducts, and help you use oxygen better.
Most adaptogens grow in harsh climates at high altitudes and endure great challenges to survive. That’s why they produce chemical compounds that support your ability to adapt to changing conditions. To name a few of their benefits, they:
- Support your immune system
- Create peaceful mental focus
- Control inflammation
- Confer controlled energy
There’s a lot to like about adaptogens!
But it’s also important to recognize what adaptogens are NOT. They’re not tranquilizers, sleep aids or antidepressants. If anything, they tend to be energizers, not something to slow you down.
Five recognized adaptogens
Though these plants have been around for thousands of years, it’s still smart to work with your doctor or naturopath before launching headlong into adaptogens.
There are adaptogenic formulas available too, but here we’ll introduce you to a few individually.
To qualify as an adaptogen, the plant must:
- Be backed by solid scientific evidence
- Act in a non-specific way to normalize your body against all forms of stress
- Enhance the immune function of your whole body
- Be able to maintain and restore homeostasis (a steady state without wild swings)
- Be safe and harmless, with no negative interactions with other substances, or with prolonged use
So what are these adaptogens? Let’s take a look…
- Asian Ginseng is the most potent – and treasured – medicinal plant on earth. It improves mental performance and ability to tolerate stress. Western herbalists say it restores and strengthens immune response, promotes longevity, and encourages normal cell growth. It’s an antioxidant, antidepressant, and can help lower blood pressure and blood sugar levels. Studies show it may protect against certain kinds of cancer and promote a sense of wellbeing.
- Holy Basil (also called Tulsi) is known in India for its anti-aging properties. Studies suggest it helps fight fatigue and stress, boosts immunity, and regulates blood sugar, blood pressure, and hormonal levels.
- Ashwagandha is sometimes called Indian ginseng. Dating back to Ayurvedic medicine, it regulates your immune system, eases anxiety, and slashes your cortisol levels. See Issue #139for more about this herb.
- Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea) – also called golden root – is a potent adaptogen. It creates a barrier to stress-related mental and physical fatigue. It was widely used by Russian cosmonauts, athletes and military personnel for many years, before ever becoming known in the U.S.
Rhodiola contains a phytochemical called salisdroside that helps fight anxiety and aging. It suppresses cortisol production. Studies show it:• Restores normal sleep and eating patterns
• Fights physical and mental fatigue
• Protects from oxidative and heat stress,
radiation, and toxic chemical exposure
• Protect your heart and liver
• Boosts oxygen usage
• Improves memory
• Extends longevity
• Helps with weight loss
- Eleuthero is used in traditional Chinese medicine for muscle spasms, joint pain, fatigue, and insomnia. Germany has approved its use for chronic fatigue and impaired concentration. Herbalists say it improves mood and memory.
As with anything new, proceed slowly and listen to your body. I find that ashwagandha, for example, makes me feel hyper. It’s just an individual side effect. Perhaps few others have the same reaction. In the grand scheme of things, adaptogens are certainly a far cry better than coffee, sugar, alcohol… or any number of other damaging ways to deal with the stress in your life.
But as I mentioned at the beginning of this article, the best thing is to identify and get rid of the causes of your stress, not to medicate, even with a natural substance.
When your “fight or flight” response
is always turned on…
is always turned on…
Your body is hard-wired to deal with stress to protect you from predators (lions and tigers and bears), or other aggressors. The response is supposed to go away after the danger has passed. But in civilized societies we’re exposed to non-stop stress.
While the problems we face are rarely life-threatening, our bodies respond to them as if they were. So we spend our lives as though we’re surrounded by big cats that want to eat us.
You face relentless demands on your time, resources, and emotions. And yes… even the technology that’s supposed to make your life “easier” has now firmly sucked you into its grip. Gotta answer those emails and comment on all those Facebook posts!
When you experience a perceived threat, your brain sets off a “fight or flight” alarm. A combination of signals prompts your adrenal glands to release an outpouring of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol.
Adrenaline boosts your heart rate, spikes your blood pressure and increases your energy. (You’re ready to “fight” those lions and tiger and bears, even if the “threat” is just a cop giving you a ticket or a bill you didn’t expect.)
Meanwhile, cortisol (your primary stress hormone) pumps extra sugar into your bloodstream. And curbs all “nonessential” functions… and that includes your immune, digestive, and reproductive systems.
Your stress-response system is supposed to be self-limiting. A threat passes, and you get back to normal. But in today’s s world, for many of us, the pressure never stops.
Chronic stress disrupts nearly all your body’s processes, and puts you on the fast track to associated health problems, including:
- Heart Disease
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Auto immune diseases
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- Weight gain/trouble losing weight
- Sleep Disorders
- Memory Impairment
- Common Cold
And that’s why it’s critical that you learn healthy ways to identify and cope with the stressors in your life. Because these coping skills could save your life.
What’s stressing YOU out?
Many people can’t even define stress, let alone have a hint that it might be slowly “killing” them.
Stress is any condition or feeling experienced when demands exceed your resources to carry them out. In other words, when your life feels out of control.
Some people appear to relax through everything, while others fly off the handle at every little thing.
Are you burning the candle at both ends? What does it take to yank your chain? How do “happy” events play into stress?
In 1967, psychiatrists Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe studied whether stress contributes to or causes illness. Their survey of 5,000 medical patients queried whether the patients had experienced any of a series of 43 life events in the previous two years – from happy celebrations to major trauma.
Each event was assigned a “weighted” score for stress. The more events, the higher the patient’s score… and the larger the total weight of the events, the more likely the person was to become ill.
Interestingly, this list was updated in 2001, and while many events remained, there were also newcomers to the “top 10” highest weighted events, many of them related to financial strains.
Here’s the 1967 and 2001 lists side by side. Do you see yourself in any of these?
Other events included a birth in the family, son or daughter leaving home, a new job, a move, getting married, and even holiday celebrations.
One has to wonder why the death of a child is not listed anywhere, because it doesn’t take much imagination to see how traumatic it is to lose a child. Perhaps the event isn’t that common, compared to those above.
Without going into tons of detail, the two psychiatrists assigned the death of a spouse with a score of 100, and everything else was lower.
Many of these life events are out of your control, but not all.
If you already have a moderate or high risk of illness due to recent events, you’ll want to do everything in your power to avoid piling more stressors on.
For example, when you retire, lose a close family member or spouse, or a child goes off to college, avoid taking on other new obligations like a new job, a move, or a new course of study. Don’t pile stress on top of stress. Some things can wait, even positive things.
Avoid using coffee and sugary snacks as coping mechanisms. Or alcohol. Quick fixes they are. But the crash is never far behind. And in reality, they’re counter-productive to truly addressing your stress.
I’ve been meditating for almost forty years and it’s been a lifesaver for me. I can calm myself down in the face of almost anything. And I’ve also become skilled at eliminating sources of stress or avoiding them in the first place. Perhaps most useful, at the ripe old age of 61 I know my own limits. I can’t solve every problem, save everybody, fix everything. I’m not superman.