People in our modern age are under a lot of pressure. And while it’s only natural for the human body to release the hormone cortisol in response to stress, elevated cortisol levels cause us to live in a perpetual state of fight-or-flight.
Chronic stress can have a negative impact on our bodies, especially affecting our adrenal glands and thyroid. In addition, stress is also linked to increased risk of asthma, diabetes, depression, obesity, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and gastrointestinal issues.
For thousands of years, humans have used adaptogen herbs—a group of medicinal plants known to help balance, restore, and protect the body—to combat stress, and their results are nothing short of impressive. Research shows that adaptogens can help our bodies recover from chronic stress and improve stress-related health disorders; balance cortisol levels; build muscle mass, strength and stamina; and boost the immune system.
The following adaptogen herbs are some of the best all-natural options for dealing with stress-related health issues. Even better, they also have other super powers to help you determine which one best fits your unique needs.
There are more than 2,000 species of astragalus, but only two are used medicinally: Astragalus membranaceus and Astragalus mongholicus. Like most adaptogens, astragalus has a long history of use in traditional Chinese medicine and is specifically known for being an immune system booster and disease fighter. Research even demonstrates how Astragalus membranaceus root supplementation improves immunity while also bolstering antioxidant capacity.
If you’re someone who seems to get sick very easily, astragalus may be your best adaptogen option. It’s a great choice for anyone trying to boost their immune function and buffer the impact of stress.
In Tibet, rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea) is a traditional medicine used to increase resistance to physical stress. It also goes by names like “king’s crown” and “golden root.”
Some studies on animals have linked rhodiola to preventing diet-induced obesity, and since rhodiola helps normalize cortisol levels, it makes sense that it may also help reduce cravings for unhealthy food and discourage the fat accumulation linked to high cortisol levels—specifically fat around the abdomen or belly. Research has also shown that rhodiola may improve stamina and endurance by increasing red blood cell count and lowering oxidative damage by free radicals.
Rhodiola is a smart choice if you’re looking to lower cortisol and encourage healthy weight loss. It may also improve athletic performance and endurance.
In addition to helping our bodies deal with the negative effects of stress, schisandra is also well known for lowering inflammation and improving liver and digestive function. The fully ripe, dried berries of the schisandra plants are used to make powder, teas and supplements that can be used medicinally. Research has shown that these potent berries contain compounds called lignans that seem to actually promote regeneration of damaged liver tissue. Schisandra berries have even been proved to improve cases of chronic viral hepatitis, an inflammatory liver condition.
You should consider schisandra if you want to improve both the health of your liver and your stress response.
A pilot study published this year in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine showed how ashwagandha can help patients with subclinical hypothyroidism. These patients were diagnosed with thyroid disorder but didn’t display any obvious symptoms of thyroid deficiency. Over the course of eight weeks, the treatment group received 600 milligrams of ashwagandha root extract daily, and the control group received starch as a placebo. The researchers found that ashwagandha improved serum thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) and thyroxine (T4) levels significantly compared to the placebo, revealing the herb’s ability to improve hypothyroidism.
This herb is a great option for people who have hypothyroidism in addition to stress and anxiety. Ashwagandha supplementation has also been shown to boost testosterone levels in men who are undergoing infertility screening.
In Ayurvedic medicine, holy basil (also known as tulsi) is often referred to as “the incomparable one,” “mother medicine of nature,” and “the queen of herbs.” This antioxidant-rich adaptogenic herb’s benefits include improving insomnia, easing indigestion, and relieving headaches. Holy basil also contains an active compound called eugenol, which has been proven to improve dental health and skin conditions like acne, thanks to its antimicrobial nature.
I highly recommend natural cosmetic and dental products that contain holy basil (tulsi). This herb is also great in tea to calm your system after a stressful day or to provide relief when you have a headache. It’s a therapeutic choice for supporting digestion and a good night’s sleep, too.