Adaptogenic herbs help improve the body's ability to combat stress -- whether emotional, physical, or environmental. If you're looking for natural ways to relieve the symptoms of everyday stress and anxiety, adaptogenic herbs may be an option.
History of Adaptogenic HerbsWhile many adaptogenic herbs can be traced back centuries to traditional Indian Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine, it wasn't until 1947 that Soviet scientist, Dr. Nikolai Lazarev, came up with the term "adaptogenic." According to Bionity.com, adaptogenic herbs were given the following specific criteria in the 1960s by Dr. Israel I. Brekhman and Dr. I.V. Dardymov:
Although the herbs have been extensively studied in Russia and studies are ongoing, the herbs are not widely accepted by Western mainstream medicine. In addition, the Food and Drug Administration does not approve adaptogenic herbs for treatment uses. Despite this, the herbs enjoy popularity among holistic healers, naturopaths and those looking for an alternative to conventional anxiety relieving medicines.
Popular Adaptogenic HerbsWhile the overall list of adaptogenic herbs is extensive, there are several that are popular and used regularly by supporters. The herbs are commonly taken as supplements or teas but may also be found in juice, dried, and fresh forms.
AshwagandaAccording to the Natural Health Research Institute's (NHRI) website, studies show Ashwaganda has strong antioxidant properties that help boost immunity and reduce cell-damaging free radicals in the body. In addition, studies show the herb may positively alter brain chemistry to improve memory, relax the body, and help relieve stress.
AstragalusThe American Cancer Society's website states that astragalus root is a traditional Chinese medicinal herb that supporters believe kills cancer cells, heals burns, improves weakness, fights colds, and helps prevent heart disease. The site also indicates that some studies show the herb may improve immunity and enhance the effects of immune therapy for some forms of cancer.
GinsengGinseng is a popular adaptogenic herb with many potential benefits. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center's website, ginseng has antioxidant properties that improve cell strength and boost immunity. In addition, Asian ginseng has been found to increase mental clarity.
Holy BasilThis herb, also known as tulsi, is a member of the mint family and native to India. Dr. Andrew Weil believes compelling studies show the herb may have impressive stress-fighting abilities. In addition, studies show the herb may also have antioxidant, antiviral, and antibacterial properties and may help reduce pain and regulate blood sugar.
Licorice RootLicorice root's sweet taste makes it a popular sweetener for sweets, drinks, cough medicines and throat lozenges, but the herb may also have strong adaptogenic benefits. It's believed to help treat digestive disorders -- which may be stress induced -- and lung problems. However, licorice root may not be safe for everyone to use. According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, large quantities of licorice root may:
Wild growing mushrooms are treasured for their medicinal properties and have long been used in traditional Chinese medicine for their strengthening benefits. According to NHRI, the following mushrooms have powerful properties:
Noni comes from a tropical evergreen shrub and is often consumed in juice form. It's been used for centuries in the Pacific as a general health tonic. NCCAM suggests that studies show noni has antioxidant, anti-tumour, and immune boosting properties. Studies are ongoing to determine noni's effect on breast and prostate cancer cells.
NCCAM cautions that noni is high in potassium so people with potassium restricted diets should avoid the herb. In addition, noni has been shown to cause liver damage.
RhodiolaThis herb is found in arctic areas and is believed to have strong adaptogenic qualities. On his website, Dr. Andrew Weil tells of a 2002 review by the American Botanical Council which reported studies concluded rhodiola helps prevent fatigue, stress and the negative effects of oxygen deprivation. The herb is also believed to help fight depression and anxiety.
A 2011 National Institutes of Health (PubMed) abstract indicates that rhodiola shows encouraging signs of antidepressant activity. A separate abstract that evaluated various studies on rhodiola's effectiveness concluded that the herb may have positive effects on mental and physical performance and some mental conditions.
According to a PubMed abstract, animal studies show this diverse adaptogenic herb protects against the stress of several issues:
Suma, also called Brazilian ginseng, is native to the Amazon and tropical areas of Brazil, Peru, Paraguay, Ecuador, and Venezuela. The herb has been used by people native to these areas for centuries to increase energy, invigorate the body, and help sexual function.
The American Pharmaceutical Association Practical Guide to Natural Medicine indicates that suma is recommended by North American herbalists as an energizing adaptogen. In addition, some studies show suma may help fight cancer; however, these studies are not conclusive and much more research is necessary to conclusively determine suma's health benefits and potential side effects.
HOW DO YOU USE THEM?
You can use adaptogens in teas, tinctures, supplement form, or in powder form with food. For example, medicinal mushrooms are a class of adaptogens that I love using in chocolate smoothies because of the malty and earthy flavor – they taste delicious and add those health benefits.
HOW MUCH SHOULD I USE?
Dosages for adaptogens depend on your individual health, frequency of use, and if you’re taking medications be careful as many of these pose herb-medicine interactions. Also if you’re pregnant, be very careful and speak with your doctor before taking adaptogens. Above all, work closely with your physician or your nutritionist to get a specific amount and to see if using these are right for your health – that’s what I’m here for!
Fight Stress Naturally
Stress and anxiety seem to be a daily part of life in today's fast paced world. While some stress can be tolerated, too much will quickly wreak havoc on overall health. Adaptogenic herbs may help your body combat the negative effects of stress, especially when combined with a lifestyle that includes a healthy diet, regular exercise and meditation.
To avoid negative side effects, please consult your doctor before using any adaptogenic herb to manage stress or treat an ailment, especially if you are pregnant or have a medical condition.
Your guide to living whole and well. Emma Olliff is a Registered Nutritional Therapist, wellness expert, food lover, and advocate for healthy living!