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Stress and Adaptogens

Educated people look for natural alternatives when dealing with their physical and mental health. At the very core to having both a healthy mind and body involves controlling things that can be damaging and interrupt homeostasis, which is the balance that your body needs to maintain optimal health. Stress can greatly negatively impact your health. This occurs when cortisol, the hormone that is released when stressed, remains chronically elevated. Many people assume that stress is only related to mental health such as financial problems, being overwhelmed at work, having too much school work, or even relationship problems, but physical stress can cause higher levels as well. This occurs in athletes and people who have very physically demanding jobs. The results of stress may cause fatigue, poor mental performance, and anxiety but also may have physical manifestations like Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis, Hypertension, and Fibromyalgia to name a few. In fact the results of chronically elevated cortisol levels will affect every physiologic system in the body including the thyroid, adrenals, and gastrointestinal system. In many cases it is not so simple to alleviate the cause of stress but that does not mean we cannot address the elevated cortisol levels. This is where adaptogens play a major role. Studies on adaptogens date back to World War II as scientists began looking for a pill that could improve mental and physical performance. From there began a whole host of studies on many adaptogens including Panax Ginseng, Holy Basil, Ashwaganda, AstraGalus Root, Licorice Root, Cordycep mushrooms, and the three very extensively studied: Rhodiola Rosea, Eleutherococcus Senticosus, and Schisandra Chinesis. All of these have been considered safe and effective. The following tables focus on the 3 most extensively studied and will show that they have a variety effects in many areas of the body.

The goal of understanding what effect elevated levels of cortisol will have on your body is the first step in recognizing what is needed to alleviate any symptoms you may be having. To start with, the obvious choice is to reduce the cause of the stress when possible. Sometimes that is easier said then done but the goal of any therapeutic avenue is to treat the cause not the symptom. This is also directs us to the importance of Adaptogens because the aim of using them would be to prevent any symptoms from occurring in the first place rather than leading down the path of symptomatic treatment using synthetic meds or not using anything and then having negative effects on our homeostasis. Also valuable to this natural approach are other avenues that are synergies with the us of adaptogens such as biofeedback, yoga, meditation, and breathing exercises.

If stress is a part of your life or you have a physically intense job or are an athlete, I recommend trying to remove stressors first. If that doesnt work consider adaptogens on a daily basis combined with the relaxation techniques mentioned above.

These tables are posted from an article posted by the National Institute of Health for those who like to read in more scientific detail.

*: Effects of Adaptogens on the Central Nervous System and the Molecular Mechanisms Associated with Their Stress

—Protective Activity
Alexander Panossian* and Georg Wikman