Managing Stress with Adaptogens
Managing Stress with Adaptogens
You may hear the word ‘STRESS’ and immediately think of the mental and emotional aspects along the lines of feeling overwhelmed, overly busy, and/or anxious.
In reality, the body actually encounters different forms of stress every day and is always working to restore equilibrium.
Your body is literally constantly being bombarded by stress – even when you don’t feel stressed! 🤯
Here are some examples of common, daily stressors:
- EXERCISE – yep, it’s good for you, but it’s a form of stress the body has to deal with!
- LACK OF SLEEP
- TOXINS - like exposure to environmental pollutants, heavy metals, and chemicals in personal care and cleaning products
- CHRONIC ILLNESS OR INJURY
- ANXIETY - which can be caused by stress or exacerbates existing stress
- WORK – from long hours and a heavy work load to being unhappy in your job all creates daily stress
- LIFE – whether you’re moving, getting married, in a toxic relationship (friends or loved ones), your family and children, just living in 2019 is stressful for most
Decreasing stress is critical for good health. Too much stress can cause weight gain, poor digestion, increased inflammation, accelerated cellular aging, hormonal imbalances, including adrenal dysfunction. Although I do realize this is easier said than done.
The stress response
Talking about stress and its effects on our body isn’t new. However, as our modern era continues grow, the demands and expectations that others, life, and even we put on ourselves continues to grow.
I don’t want to get too technical with you on what the pathways of our stress response are. However, there are some key things you need to know to understand why stress is so harmful to our health. So here are the basics…
When you experience a stressful event, the amygdala (in the brain) sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is like the command center in the brain, communicating via your nervous system. The stress signal then activates the sympathetic nervous system (fight of flight) and sends signals to your adrenals to release epinephrine (aka adrenaline). Your heart then starts to beat faster, pushing more blood to your muscles, you start to breathe more rapidly, and blood sugar (glucose) is released to provide extra fuel for your vital parts of your body needed.
All of this happens so quickly you don’t even know it’s happening or have even processed the stress yet. This is why you remove your hand from a hot stove before you feel it’s hot!
Note: All non-essential functions of your body (like digestion, reproduction, and healing) stop during this process.
Now the dangerous part is that most of the time the stress signals we get aren’t life threatening. So the stress signals continue to go off, as we sit at our computers or go about our life. This is when the hypothalamus activates the secondary stress response: the HPA axis (hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenals).
These glands keep the sympathetic nervous system engaged and additional hormones are released, such as cortisol. This keeps us on high alert but because the stress never “passes” the parasympathetic system (rest and digest) never gets turned back on.
If you want to understand the stress response more, check out this article by Harvard Health Publishing to help understand the stress response better.
How stress affects your body
So everyone talks about the fact that stress is going to kill us…but what is it actually doing to our bodies?
They key thing to remember is that it’s not stress itself that’s bad. It’s prolonged periods of stress that are bad. So for example, working out is a form of stress on your body which is beneficial. But, just imagine if you started a workout and never stopped. Or what happens after you run a marathon - usually a massive crash. Our bodies are not built for prolonged periods of stress. All of our healing happens in the rest and digest phase, and if we’re never there our digestive system starts to get all types of problems, our bodies can’t heal, and ladies our periods get all wonky.
I found the below great image by Healthline showing all the areas of our body that are affected by stress. To read more on how stress affects each of these areas, you can check out their post here.
GOOD NEWS! There are plenty of ways to reduce the impact of stress in your life.
Before I talk about supplements and adaptogens, managing and reducing stress in your life must be a lifestyle. If you don’t change your lifestyle, your body is still going to be overstressed and unable to heal.
Here are simple key things that you can do that will have a great impact on stress:
- Getting enough sleep (7-8hrs, especially during the hours of 11pm-1am when our adrenals regenerate)
- Keep up with a regular exercise routine (limiting cardio to 20-30min to not overstress the body)
- Eating a healthy, balanced diet full of whole foods
Note: There are so many things I can say about the benefits of meditation, but one of the most important ones is that it changes our way our brains perceive stress. We can’t control all the stressors in our life, but if we can change the way our bodies react to them, we’re 100 steps ahead! To read more about Meditation and Mindfulness, check out my blog post here.
If you’re looking for the magic pill that will eliminate stress in your body and life, there isn’t one. But there are some products and herbs that can help undo the damage to your adrenals and the HPA axis that can help you heal from “adrenal fatigue” and “burnout” so that you can get your health and life back on track.
The most effective supplements/herbs when it comes to stress and adrenals are adaptogens.
What are Adaptogens?
Adaptogens - or Adaptogenic Herbs - are plant-based supplements (usually in pill or powder form) that do just what they sound like: they can help your body adapt to the stressors of your personal environment.
Adaptogens have a long history of use in ancient medical practices, like Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic practices.
Current research has found that Adaptogens boost mental function, attention span, and energy during times of stress and reduce the overall production of inflammatory stress hormones, like Cortisol.
Here are 8 common adaptogens:
- ASHWAGANDHA – decreases anxiety, calming effect
- ASIAN GINSENG – decreases fatigue, calming effect, boosts energy
- MACA – boosts energy levels, balances hormones
- RHODIOLA ROSEA – boosts energy and immune system function
- SCHISANDRA FRUIT – enhances energy and cognitive function
- HOLY BASIL (TULSI) – calming and boosts immune system function
- ASTRAGALUS - boosts energy and immune system function
- CORDYSEP MUSHROOMS - boosts energy and immune system function
How do Adaptogens work?
The molecular pathways involved in the body’s stress response are pretty complicated!
As mentioned above, the 3 glands responsible for regulating stress hormones: Hypothalamus, Pituitary, and Adrenals (aka. The HPA Axis)
Research has found Adaptogens help support these glands in achieving equilibrium or homeostasis – a fancy way of saying that they help stress hormones get back into balance!
Unlike caffeine, alcohol, and other drugs, Adaptogens can gently help reduce stress hormones, decrease anxiety levels, and prevent fatigue without any crazy spikes or crashes in energy.
How do you take adaptogens - and are they safe?
Adaptogens are available in pill or powdered form, of which powders can easily be added to teas, smoothies, soups, and other recipes.
The best part about these herbal supplements is that it’s not necessary to take every adaptogen every day and even by choosing just one to add to your routine can still provide health benefits.
It’s recommended to rotate between adaptogens, using one at a time for several weeks and then switching to another, if desired, to reap the benefits of several varieties.
You also want to be mindful of where you are on your stress healing journey and what adaptogens you decide to try. If you’re “wired but tired”, you won’t want to take adaptogens that are stimulating but focus more on the calming ones like Ashwagandha.
You should follow the dosing instructions on the product label or consult with a Natural Health Practitioner for specific Adaptogen recommendations related to the health conditions that you may be experiencing.
It's important to note, though, that while most adaptogens are generally safe for nearly everyone, please supplement with awareness. If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, please consult with your Health Care Practitioner as you might want to avoid some adaptogens and focus on others.
Adapting lifestyle skills that will help you manage and reduce the stress in your life is a must if for overall health and mental wellbeing. If you don’t change your lifestyle, your body is still going to be overstressed and unable to heal, digest, reproduce, etc.
Thankfully, Mother Nature has given us the amazing tool of adaptogens to help us manage and maintain the balance in our lives. Another option for adrenal support is to use glandulars. Glandular therapy refers to the use of animal tissues to try to enhance the function of, or mimic the effect of, the corresponding human tissue.
When it comes to favorite products I like to use, here are my top 6:
- Adreno Calm by Genestra (very calming)
- Adreno Restore by Genestra (helps with energy, don’t use if wired and tired)
- TADS (adrenal glandulars – I often like to start with these with my clients)
- Avena Sativa by BioMed (herbal extract - good for nervousness, restlessness, insomnia)
- Adrenum by BioMed (herbal extract – good for exhaustion, fatigue)
- Tulsi Tea (Holy Basil)
I always test my clients to see what product is going to work best for them. I do this via muscle testing with the products and the corresponding organ (in this case the adrenals). In most cases, once a client finished one product their bodies often are asking for a different one. I use the body’s natural intuition and all knowing to make sure we’re supporting the body with the products, herbs and tinctures it needs.
When it comes to managing stress, I also always check to see if the body has becoming intolerant to the stress hormones: cortisol, epinephrine, norepinephrine, and corticosterone amongst others. When your body no longer recognized your stress hormones, it becomes even harder to heal. This is where the BIE Process can help your recovery.
Have you tried adaptogens before? Didn’t find they helped? Or have you been taking the same one for a long time and you’re not finding it’s doing what it used to?
If you’re not sure what product or adaptogens you should use, I suggest booking in a free 30 min consultation with me to see where the main imbalances in your body might be and what products could be the most helpful. You can book in your session by signing up below:
You’ll get an email confirmation to book in a time that works for you.
Healthline: Adaptogenic Herbs: List, Effectiveness, and Health Benefits
Healthline: Smart Girl’s Guide to Adaptogens for Hormonal Balance and Stress
Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 2017: Understanding adaptogenic activity: specificity of the pharmacological action of adaptogens and other phytochemicals