Chronic stress is public enemy number one. Some stress is necessary to keep your immune system sharp and help you stay alive in dangerous situations. Yet, prolonged, relentless stress can contribute to leaky gut, adrenal fatigue, insomnia, heart disease, anxiety, and a plethora of autoimmune conditions.
Unfortunately, our lives are fraught with ongoing stress from long hours at work, traffic, financial worries, and health issues. We may not be able to avoid stress entirely. Yet the key to minimizing its impact on your health is to learn how to relieve it naturally. That’s why more and more people are turning to adaptogens for stress relief and to combat adrenal fatigue. More than just a trendy buzzword, adaptogens might be the ancient answer to our modern-day woe of the stress that leads to adrenal fatigue.
What Are Adaptogens?
Adaptogenic herbs or “adaptogens” are a class of herbs that help the body “adapt” to stress. Adaptogens have been used for centuries. That’s right, despite their recent surge in popularity, adaptogens such as ashwagandha, ginseng, and Rhodiola have a long history of use in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine.
Russian scientist Israel Brekhmanfirst coined the term “adaptogen” in 1947. He outlined the following criteria to classify herbs as adaptogens. To qualify as an adaptogen, an herb must:
- Increase the body’s ability to cope with internal and external stresses.
- Exhibit stimulating effects after both single-time use and prolonged use, leading to increased working capacity and mental performance under fatigue-inducing conditions.
- Normalize the functions of the body.
- Be completely safe and free of negative side effects1
Adaptogens have been touted for their ability to boost vitality. Adaptogens also are known to support the body in combating fatigue. Several well-studied adaptogens have a balancing effect on body processes and optimizing the body’s stress response. We know that stress is at the root of many chronic illnesses. Adaptogens may be just what you need to support your immune system.
GO DEEPER: Discover more about how stress is the root cause of many chronic conditions and autoimmune diseases.
Adaptogens, Chronic Stress, and the HPA Axis
So how do adaptogens work? Let’s take a look at the “HPA axis” so we can understand their function.
Your hypothalamus is the part of your brain that recognizes stress. Under stress, your hypothalamus signals your pituitary gland. Together they signal your adrenals to produce and release hormones to deal with a crisis. This is known as your HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis.
Chronic stress keeps your HPA axis constantly engaged. This is bad news for your overall health. It’s also taxing to your adrenal glands and micronutrient reserves. Your adrenal glands have to work incredibly hard to keep up with the constant demands on them. If the adrenal gland never gets a break, adrenal fatigue and dysfunction can result.
Adaptogens support a more balanced response to ongoing stress. They augment the optimal production of stress hormones and cortisol production to prevent adrenal fatigue and HPA axis dysfunction. Adaptogens also help modulate cellular sensitivity to stress hormones, thereby encouraging a healthier overall response to stress.
The Stress-Hormone Connection
Our hormones are the chemical messengers that are essential for nearly every bodily function from your metabolism, to your mood, to your sleep cycle. Hormones affect your body temperature and heart rate, your mood, your appetite, your sex drive, growth and development, and more. There are nearly 50 of these chemical messengers produced by your endocrine glands and for optimal health, they should work together in a complex, perfectly balanced routine.
Hormone production naturally fluctuates during your lifetime, so you can meet the needs of each phase of your life. However, hormone fluctuations due to stress are a different matter. Chronic stress can lead to hormone imbalances that mess with your sleep, mood, libido, and contribute to weight gain, adrenal fatigue, brain fog, and a myriad of chronic illnesses.
The Best Adaptogens to Support Stress Relief and Boost Your Response to Adrenal Fatigue
If you’re even partially in tune with the world of health and wellness, you’ve likely heard of the powerful adaptogen ashwagandha. Meaning “horse smell” in Sanskrit, ashwagandha has a very strong taste, so many people prefer taking ashwagandha as an extract or in supplement form.
Extracted from a small evergreen shrub, ashwagandha prompts a state of calm in the mind. Ashwagandha also supports the body’s inflammatory response. It’s also used to optimize blood pressure. This adaptogen may also support the activity of immune cells known as natural killer cells that help you fight off infections.2
Ashwagandha is the only adaptogen that supports enhanced thyroid function and the production of both T3 and T4. Its immune-boosting effects may also help optimize your body’s pain response to conditions such as rheumatoid and osteoarthritis.3
Ashwagandha helps the body cope with stress by boosting adrenal function. It is widely used to balance stress hormones and enhance energy levels of those experiencing adrenal fatigue.
Maca root is unique in that it is both an adaptogen and a superfood. Grown in the Andes mountains, maca is a root vegetable. Maca is rich in protein, fiber calcium, magnesium, and amino acids such as glycine and arginine. This root has been used as medicine for hundreds of years to support libido, fertility, mood, and help the body cope with symptoms of adrenal fatigue.4
As an adaptogen, maca helps support hormone production when your body is under-producing hormones. Maca also helps balance hormone production when your body is over-producing hormones. When used over time, maca can boost the function of the hypothalamus and pituitary gland to restore balance and mitigate adrenal fatigue.
Unlike ashwagandha, maca is extremely tasty. It’s both a food as well as a supplement. Maca has a nutty flavor that’s almost like butterscotch. You can easily mix it into smoothies or even baked goods for a potent energy boost!
As you know, chronic stress contributes to inflammation and can trigger many illnesses due to an unbalanced immune response and hormone dysfunction. Ginseng is superior in its ability to significantly modulate the body’s stress response by helping regulate the HPA axis.
Studies show the potential of using ginseng as an adaptogen to support the body’s inflammatory response during a number of conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and asthma. Ginseng’s neuroprotective effects support cognitive function. This adaptogen even impacts autoimmune disease by boosting the body’s ability to suppress the pro-inflammatory cytokines generated by chronic stress.
Some people enjoy ginseng tea. However, many people find its bitter flavor unappealing, so ginseng is often taken as a supplement.
Too much cortisol (your primary stress hormone) can deplete your nutrient reserves. It can impair memory and have devastating effects on your blood pressure, blood sugar, and metabolism. Rhodiola is an adaptogen that can balance the secretion of cortisol during difficult situations.
Rhodiola can support energy levels and optimize concentration in those with adrenal fatigue. Of the 20 different types of Rhodiola plants, only Rhodiola rosea exhibits health benefits and can be classed as an adaptogen. Russia, Norway, Sweden, and other countries have all included Rhodiola in their medical traditions.
Perhaps not as well known as other adaptogens, eleuthero is nonetheless an incredible herb. Eleuthero was first used in China as an herbal remedy at least 2,000 years ago!
In addition to supporting the body’s appropriate stress response, eleuthero may also optimize nervous system functioning and boost energy levels. Eleuthero contains compounds that support the body’s response to fatigue. This adaptogen can help your body optimize the burning of fat, rather than carbs, for energy.
Eleuthero offers a whole host of other benefits, including boosting immune function and optimizing stabilize blood sugar levels. It also supports optimal cognitive function as well as the body’s response to infections. Eleuthero may even help balance hormone levels throughout life, mitigating the symptoms of fatigue, insomnia, memory problems, and loss of strength caused by low estrogen levels that can occur at menopause.
Beat Stress and Adrenal Fatigue with Adaptogens
If you experience adrenal fatigue, hormone imbalance, chronic stress, or are just looking for natural ways to boost energy and immune health, I recommend ZenAdapt™.
ZenAdapt™ contains an ideal blend of botanicals and micronutrients for promoting the optimal amount of cortisol and a balanced stress response. That way, you can mitigate the overproduction of the stress-response chemicals that keep you tossing and turning at night. In addition to ashwagandha and Rhodiola root extract, I made sure to include some of the most powerful adaptogenic herbs including:
- Palmitoylethanolamide (PEA) is a naturally occurring fatty acid that’s similar to cannabidol (CBD) in its ability to soothe overstimulated nerves and promote a healthy inflammatory response to stress. Unlike CBD, PEA is naturally produced in your body, has no danger of being tainted by illegal THC (the compound that creates a “high”), and has no known side effects!
- Saffron, the farmed “$10,000 spice,” is known for being the most expensive spice in the world. It’s worth every penny! Saffron has well-demonstrated effects on supporting healthy weight loss, sexual function, and free-radical fighting activity in the blood, all of which can be directly related to stress.
ZenAdapt™ is perfect for anyone who needs to wind down in a healthy way. Simply take it in the afternoon to promote a healthy night’s rest. ZenAdapt™ is a great choice for anyone who:
- Deals with stress or overwork
- Does not have a balanced stress response
- Has tried other adaptogenic supplements without success
- Is looking for rapid calming and stress relief from an adaptogenic supplement
- Regularly drinks caffeinated beverages such as coffee or tea
- Seeks support in dealing with anxious feelings
- Would like to support healthy relaxation
Adaptogens are a great addition to your stress-busting plan. My ZenAdapt™ formula, packed with ashwagandha, Rhodiola, and other compounds to support your body’s response to constantly being “on,” is ideal for those experiencing adrenal fatigue and high cortisol. It’s also perfect in the aftermath of extended periods of intense emotion and low energy and cortisol.
For more information on natural hormone balance, check out my interview with Frank Lipman, MD, where we discuss how diet and supplementation can help combat our toxic burden and the importance of healthy habits such as stress management, exercise, and diet for balancing your hormones.
- //www.isagenixhealth.net/father-of-adaptogens-and-his-energizing-adaptogen-blend-in-e/. Isagenix Health. 2013.
- Role of Nutraceuticals as Adaptogens. Arunabha Ray, Rashmi Anand. ScienceDirect. 2021.
- Efficacy & Safety Evaluation of Ayurvedic Treatment (Ashwaganda Powder & Sidh Makardhwaj) in Rheumatoid Arthritis Patients: A Pilot Perspective Study. Gajendra Kumar, Amita Srivastava, Surinder Kumar Sharma, T Divakara Rao, Yogendra Kumar Gupta. NCBI. 2015.
- Maca Root & Adrenal Fatigue . Kimberly Riggins . Healthfully. 2017.