In today’s fast-paced world, stress seems to be an inevitable part of life. But what if there was a natural way to combat stress and improve overall well-being? Several botanical medicines have been shown to balance chronic stress. Enter adaptogens, powerful, plant-based compounds that can help our bodies cope with stress and maintain balance.
In this blog post, we’ll dive into the fascinating world of adaptogens, their history, and how they work to regulate our stress response. We’ll also explore 4 popular adaptogens like Ashwagandha, Rhodiola Rosea, and Holy basil and provide practical tips on incorporating them into your daily routine. So, sit back, relax, and embark on a journey to discover the power of adaptogens for stress relief and wellness.
- Adaptogens are natural substances with stress-adaptive properties that support physical and mental well-being.
- Adaptogenic herbs are food for the adrenal glands.
- Adaptogenic herbs may boost your immune system.
- Adaptogens lubricate your entire hormone receptor system – the cascade of hormones across all the systems, sex hormones, and adrenal hormones.
- Popular adaptogens include ashwagandha, Rhodiola Rosea, ginseng, and holy basil for reducing fatigue & regulating hormones.
- Consider potential risks, such as medication interactions or conditions, when taking adaptogens.
Understanding Adaptogens: Nature’s Stress-Relievers
Adaptogens are natural substances known for their stress-adaptive properties that are crucial in maintaining balance within your body and bolstering your immune system. With their long history in natural medicine, they have been used by individuals for centuries to support recovery from illness, physical weakness, and impaired mental and physical performance. But how do these powerful compounds work their magic? It all comes down to their ability to regulate your stress and support overall wellness.
Definition and Origin
Adaptogens are plant-based compounds used in various cultures to help the body cope with stress and maintain homeostasis or balance. They are known to increase the body’s non-specific resistance to stress and reduce sensitivity to stressors, thus providing stress protection and extending the period of resistance (stimulatory effect) against emotional stress. A substance must meet three key criteria to be classified as an adaptogen: it must be safe and non-toxic, promote overall well-being through nonspecific actions, and assist the body in managing stress and regulating stress hormone levels.
These plants have historically been used to:
- Restore vitality in debilitated and chronically stressed individuals
- Increase energy
- Improve mental focus.
- Prevent the negative effects of stress and enhance the body’s response to stress
Some well-known adaptogens include:
- Ashwagandha or Withania Somnifera
- Rhodiola Rosea
- Licorice Root
- Holy Basil
- Cordyceps mushrooms
- Reishi mushroom
- Eleuthero, also known as Siberian ginseng
- Astragalus root
- Asian(also known as Panax ginseng) ginseng
- Schisandra chinensis
All of these adaptogens are known for their stress-protective activity. They have been utilized in natural medicine practices such as Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Functional Medicine. They are also used in homeopathy. At Metabolix Health, we revere them for restoring balance and supporting overall health as part of our hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and adrenal fatigue programs.
Stress Response Regulation
To understand the stress-relieving power of adaptogens, we first look at the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, a key stress response regulator that calms your sympathetic nervous system. Adaptogens exert their effects by modulating the HPA axis, thereby regulating stress hormones and bolstering your body’s stress reaction. For example, cordyceps has been observed to cause a temporary increase in cortisol levels when exposed to stress, followed by a significant decrease during non-stress periods compared to no support, indicating its potential to modulate stress.
In addition to their role in regulating hormones, adaptogens have also been found to exert an anti-fatigue effect, which can increase physical and mental performance in situations of stress and mental fatigue, including those experiencing chronic fatigue syndrome. This effect is particularly evident in animal studies regarding tolerance to mental exhaustion and improved attention.
Popular Adaptogens for Stress Relief
Regarding stress management and relief, some adaptogens stand out above the rest. Ashwagandha, Rhodiola Rosea, and Holy Basil are three popular adaptogens known for their unique properties and benefits for mental and physical well-being.
We’ll delve into the specifics of each of these potent stress-relievers and their potential benefits in combating stress-induced anxiety.
Ashwagandha Root Extract (Withania somnifera)
Ashwagandha, or Withania somnifera, is a potent adaptogen known for its calming effects. It has been used in natural medicine for centuries and is renowned for its ability to:
- Reduce anxiety 
- Support hormonal balance
- Enhance resistance to stress, resulting in improved self-assessed quality of life
- Stabilize cortisol and DHEA
- Provide non-specific stress resistance
Research indicates that ashwagandha may safely and effectively provide these benefits. However, it should be known that ashwagandha is a nightshade, so if you are sensitive to nightshades or follow a nightshade-free food diet, you should avoid ashwagandha. Also, individuals on thyroid medication should use ashwagandha with caution, as it may stimulate thyroid hormonal activity. Additionally, caution should be taken when using ashwagandha if taking sedating medications, as it may interact with hormones. Check with your healthcare professional on the safety of using adaptogens.
Rhodiola Rosea (Arctic root)
Rhodiola rosea is another powerful adaptogen used to combat stress . It is renowned for its ability to diminish fatigue and enhance mental focus. Studies have demonstrated that Rhodiola can help reduce the cortisol response to awakening stress in burnout clients, indicating its potential to regulate hormones. Rhodiola’s effects in the body is different from Ashwagandha above, which we learned exerts its effects on the HPA axis. Rhodiola instead exerts its adaptogenic effects on neurotransmitters and endorphins. A positive therapeutic effect was observed in 128 people experiencing chronic fatigue of various origins, partly due to its ability to regulate stress.
Rhodiola offers an advantage over other adaptogens in circumstances of acute stress because it produces a greater feeling of relaxation and antianxiety effects. A single dose of Rhodiola extract before acute stressful events has prevented stress-induced disruptions in function and performance. Still, it has also shown positive results with long-term use. In studies, it has also been shown to decrease the cortisol response to the stress of awakening from sleep.
Rhodiola Rosea is generally considered safe, with few known interactions with medications or serious side effects. However, it is always important to consult a Functional Medicine provider or qualified nutritionist before taking new dietary supplements, including Rhodiola Rosea, to ensure safety and proper use.
Holy Basil (Tulsi)
Holy basil, an adaptogen with uplifting properties, has long been used in Ayurvedic medicine to alleviate stress and anxiety . In addition to its stress-relieving benefits, holy basil may have potential hypoglycemic effects. A study conducted in January 2015 demonstrated that participants experienced improved reaction times and reduced error rates compared to the placebo group, suggesting the cognitive-enhancing effects of holy basil.
There is evidence that holy basil is helpful for canker sores and gastric ulcers, which are often associated with chronic stress. As always, consult with a qualified Functional medicine professional before using any herbal products to ensure safety and proper use.
How to Incorporate Adaptogens into Your Daily Routine
The integration of adaptogens into your daily routine can be a straightforward process. In fact, there are several easy ways to add these stress-relieving compounds to your life, whether through dietary supplements, teas, and beverages or even in culinary dishes.
We’ll examine each of these methods and how they can enable you to harness the benefits of adaptogens.
Dietary supplements, such as capsules or tinctures, are convenient for consuming adaptogens. However, selecting high-quality products from trustworthy sources and discussing with your nutritionist or functional medicine provider to ascertain the appropriate dosage for your unique needs is crucial. Do not randomly purchase supplements without professional guidance.
Tinctures, a liquid dietary supplement, can also be used to consume adaptogens. They can be incorporated into food or beverages to mask the bitter taste, making them an easy and enjoyable way to incorporate adaptogens into your daily routine.
Teas and Beverages
Adaptogens can be incorporated into teas and beverages by diluting a concentrated brew with water. Additionally, adaptogen tea leaves or flowers can be steeped in hot water to create a calming tea. To make adaptogen-infused beverages at home, you may want to explore recipes such as:
- Refreshing Reishi Cooler with Hibiscus & Berries
- Matcha Latte
- Apple Spice Adaptogen Latte
- Ginger Tonic
These recipes incorporate adaptogenic herbs and ingredients like Reishi mushroom, Ashwagandha, matcha tea, and ginger to offer stress relief and wellness benefits. Adhering to the recommended brewing instructions or dosage guidelines when preparing adaptogen-infused beverages ensures maximum potency and effectiveness. By incorporating adaptogens into teas, smoothies, and other beverages, you can enjoy a simple and enjoyable way to consume these powerful stress relievers.
Some adaptogens, such as Tulsi, can be used in cooking, adding flavor and stress-relieving benefits to your meals. Incorporating adaptogens into your cooking can be easily achieved by adding them to recipes or using them as toppings. For instance, add a tablespoon of maca powder to your oatmeal or sprinkle licorice root powder on your smoothies. Additionally, you may want to consider snacks and drinks that are specifically formulated with adaptogens for a convenient way to add them to your daily diet.
Retaining their beneficial properties when cooking adaptogens in their raw or minimally processed form is important. With a little creativity, you can enjoy the stress-relieving benefits of adaptogens while adding a flavorful twist to your favorite dishes.
The Science Behind Adaptogens and Stress Relief
Science backs the stress-relieving attributes of adaptogens. Studies have shown that adaptogens can regulate stress, improve cognitive function, and enhance overall well-being. For example, adaptogens are known for their stimulating and tonic effects on the central nervous system. This helps to improve mental performance, lower blood pressure, increase stress tolerance, and provide non-specific stress resistance.
Clinical studies have been conducted to assess the effects of adaptogens on stress relief and overall health. These studies have demonstrated that adaptogens can:
- Help regulate stress hormones
- Provide stress protection
- Exert an anti-fatigue effect, which can increase physical and mental focus in situations of stress and fatigue.
Furthermore, adaptogens are considered safe and non-toxic when taken in normal doses. They do not have the potential for addiction, tolerance, and abuse and do not have any negative effects on mental function or lead to psychotic symptoms with long-term use, unlike conventional stimulants.
Potential Risks and Precautions
Despite adaptogens being generally deemed safe, potential risks and precautions always require attention when considering plant medicine. Again, this is why you want to work with a suitably qualified and experienced functional medicine practitioner. At Metabolix Health, we have decades of experience working with adaptogens. Clare Kelway is a Homeopath first before training in Functional medicine and nutrition, which means she is an expert in plant medicines and their ability to restore balance in the body.
Pregnant or breastfeeding women should avoid adaptogens during pregnancy and breastfeeding due to potential risks and a lack of evidence. Individuals with autoimmune disorders should also be cautious when using adaptogens, as some, like ashwagandha, may have an immunosuppressant effect.
In addition to these specific contraindications, individuals taking prescribed medications, such as blood thinners, antidiabetic drugs, and neuro-psychiatric drugs, should consult with a healthcare provider before taking adaptogens to avoid potential interactions with prescription medications. People should not take certain herbs with high blood pressure and other vascular conditions. By being aware of potential risks and precautions, you can use adaptogens safely and effectively to support your stress relief and overall wellness.
In conclusion, adaptogens offer a natural and effective way to combat stress, support overall well-being, and improve mental performance. With their long history of use in traditional medicine and scientific research supporting their stress-relieving properties, adaptogens like ashwagandha, rhodiola rosea, and Tulsi can be a powerful addition to your daily routine. By incorporating adaptogens into your life through dietary supplements, teas, beverages, or culinary dishes, you can harness their stress-relieving benefits and enhance your overall wellness. Remember to consult with a healthcare professional before using adaptogens, especially if you have any pre-existing conditions or take medications, to ensure safe and proper use.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a good adaptogen when stressed?
Eleuthero and Rhodiola are great adaptogens that can help relieve stress, fatigue, and anxiety. They can also boost immune function as an immune modulator.
What is the most powerful adaptogen?
Among the most popular and effective adaptogens are ashwagandha, Rhodiola, and ginseng, each offering different benefits and working differently in the body.
Who should avoid adaptogens?
Pregnant and breastfeeding women and people taking Pharma medications unless you are working with a Functional Medicine provider who can professionally guide you.
How do adaptogens lower cortisol?
Adaptogens can stabilize cortisol levels by promoting homeostasis in the body, regulating hormones like cortisol that can lead to fatigue, downregulating hormone levels if they are too high, and normalizing chronically elevated cortisol levels through their interaction with glucocorticoid receptors.
What are adaptogens, and how do they work?
Adaptogens are natural botanical substances that help the body cope with stress and support overall wellness by regulating the body’s stress response.
- Chandrasekhar, K., Kapoor, J., & Anishetty, S. (2012). A Prospective, Randomized Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study of Safety and Efficacy of a High-Concentration Full-Spectrum Extract of Ashwagandha Root in Reducing Stress and Anxiety in Adults. Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine, 34(3), 255-262. https://doi.org/10.4103/0253-7176.106022
- Ivanova Stojcheva E, Quintela JC. The Effectiveness of Rhodiola rosea L. Preparations in Alleviating Various Aspects of Life-Stress Symptoms and Stress-Induced Conditions-Encouraging Clinical Evidence. Molecules. 2022 Jun 17;27(12):3902. doi: 10.3390/molecules27123902. PMID: 35745023; PMCID: PMC9228580.
- Lopresti, A. L., Smith, S. J., Metse, A. P., & Drummond, P. D. (2022). A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial investigating the effects of an Ocimum tenuiflorum (Holy Basil) extract (HolixerTM) on stress, mood, and sleep in adults experiencing stress. Frontiers in Nutrition, 9, 965130. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2022.965130