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The 5 Best Adaptogens to Combat Stress and Adrenal Fatigue

Best Adaptogens to Combat Stress and Adrenal Fatigue - Featured Image - Amy Myers MD
Chronic stress is public enemy number one. While some stress is necessary to keep your immune system sharp and help you stay alive in dangerous situations, prolonged, relentless stress can contribute to leaky gut, adrenal burnout, 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. While we may not be able to avoid stress entirely, the key to minimizing its impact on your health is to learn how to manage and relieve your stress naturally. That’s why more and more people are turning to adaptogens for stress relief and adrenal balance. More than just a trendy buzzword, adaptogens might be the ancient answer to our modern-day woes.

What Are Adaptogens?

Adaptogenic herbs or “adaptogens” are a class of herbs that have been used for centuries to help the body “adapt” to stress. That’s right, despite their recent upsurge in popularity, adaptogens such as ashwagandha, ginseng, and rhodiola have a long history of use in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine.

The term “adaptogen” was first coined by Russian scientist Israel Brekhman in 1947, who outlined the following criteria of how to classify herbs as adaptogens:

  1. Increase the body’s ability to cope with internal and external stresses.
  2. Exhibit stimulating effects after both single-time use and prolonged use, leading to increased working capacity and mental performance under stressful and fatigue-inducing conditions.
  3. Normalize the functions of the body.
  4. Are entirely safe and have no negative side effects.1

Adaptogens have been touted for their ability to boost strength and vitality, combat fatigue, and treat everything from asthma to infertility. Although adaptogens may not necessarily be the cure-all many claim them to be, there are several well-studied adaptogenic herbs that are proven to have a balancing effect on bodily processes and help decrease the damage caused by stress. And, as we know that stress is at the root of many chronic illnesses, these seemingly “magical” claims might not be so far off!

Adaptogens, Chronic Stress, and the HPA Axis

So how do adaptogens work exactly? To understand this, let’s take a look at something called the “HPA axis”.

Your hypothalamus is the part of your brain that recognizes stress. When you are stressed, your hypothalamus signals your pituitary gland, and they both in turn signal your adrenals to produce and release stress hormones. This is known as your HPA (Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis.

Chronic stress keeps your HPA axis constantly engaged. Not only is this bad news for your overall health–affecting your mood, sleep, libido, immune system, blood sugar, appetite, thyroid, and much more–it’s also terribly taxing to your adrenal glands and micronutrient reserves. Your adrenal glands have to work incredibly hard to keep up with the demand of being constantly engaged, which can fatigue them and lead to adrenal dysfunction and burnout.

Adaptogenic herbs support a more balanced response to ongoing stress, regulating stress hormone and cortisol production in order to prevent adrenal fatigue and HPA axis dysfunction. Adaptogens also help modulate cellular sensitivity to stress hormones, thereby encouraging a healthier response to stress overall.

The Best Adaptogens for Stress Relief and Adrenal Balance

The Best Adaptogens for Stress Relief and Adrenal Balance - Infographic - Amy Myers MD

1. Ashwagandha

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 it as an extract or in supplement form.

Ashwagandha has been shown to calm the mind, reduce inflammation, lower blood pressure, and enhance the activity of immune cells known as natural killer cells that help you fight off infections and cancer.2 Ashwagandha is the only adaptogen proven to enhance thyroid function, increasing serum concentrations of both T3 and T4.3 Its anti-inflammatory effects may also help relieve pain associated with rheumatoid and osteoarthritis.4

Ashwagandha helps the body cope with stress by boosting adrenal function. It is widely used to balance stress hormones, relieve anxiety, and increase energy in those suffering from adrenal fatigue.

2. Maca

Maca root is unique in that it is both an adaptogen and a superfood. Grown in the Andes Mountains, maca is a root vegetable rich in protein, fiber, calcium, magnesium, and amino acids such as glycine and arginine. Maca has been used medicinally for hundreds of years to improve libido, fertility, mood, and symptoms of adrenal fatigue.5

As an adaptogen, maca raises hormone production when your body is under-producing hormones and lowers hormone production when your body is over-producing hormones. When used over time, maca nourishes and enhances the function of the hypothalamus and pituitary gland, which restores balance to the adrenals.

Unlike ashwagandha, maca is extremely tasty and therefore can be used as a food as well as a supplement. It has a nutty, butterscotch-like flavor that can easily be mixed into smoothies or even baked goods for a potent energy boost!

3. Ginseng

As you know, chronic stress contributes to inflammation and can trigger many illnesses due to an imbalanced immune response and hormone dysfunction. Ginseng is superior in its ability to significantly reduce chronic stress by regulating the HPA axis, effectively decreasing depression, anxiety, and other HPA axis disorders.

Studies have demonstrated the potential of ginseng to prevent and reverse a number of inflammatory conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and asthma. Ginseng also has neuroprotective effects, which can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. It even has the power to prevent autoimmune disease by suppressing pro-inflammatory cytokines generated by chronic stress.6

4. Rhodiola

Too much cortisol (your primary stress hormone) can deplete your nutrient reserves, impair memory, and have devastating effects on your blood pressure, blood sugar, and metabolism. Rhodiola is an adaptogen that has been proven to reduce the secretion of cortisol during stressful situations.

Research shows that rhodiola can increase energy and enhance concentration in those with adrenal fatigue. It offers antidepressive and cardioprotective effects as well.7

Of the 20 different types of rhodiola plants, Rhodiola rosea is the only one to exhibit health benefits.

5. Eleuthero

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 helping the body cope with stress, eleuthero acts as a stimulant, increasing nervous system functioning and boosting energy levels. Eleuthero contains compounds that combat fatigue and burn fat for energy.8 In an exercise study, a daily dose of eleuthero elevated cardiovascular function and improved endurance in athletes by 23%!9

Eleuthero offers a whole host of other benefits, including enhanced immune function, stabilized blood sugar levels, improved concentration, and reduced duration of respiratory infections such as pneumonia and influenza. It can even help you manage menopause symptoms by binding to estrogen receptor sites, thereby decreasing fatigue, insomnia, memory problems, and loss of strength caused by low estrogen levels during menopause.10

Beat Stress and Adrenal Fatigue with Adaptogens

If you suffer from adrenal fatigue, hormone imbalance, chronic stress, or are just looking for natural ways to boost energy and immune health, there are two supplements I recommend.

The first is Adrenal Support, which contains ashwagandha, ginseng, eleuthero, and rhodiola for supporting an optimal stress response and cortisol production. Along with these adaptogenic herbs, Adrenal Support offers crucial B vitamins, vitamin C, and the micronutrient building blocks of adrenal hormones to support overall adrenal health.

The second is my Organic Greens Superfood Juice Powder, which also includes ashwagandha for promoting ideal immune function and stress relief, as well as maca root for optimal mental clarity, vitality, and hormonal health. Plus, it’s an easy and delicious way to get additional superfoods and phytonutrients into your diet that are excellent stress-busters in their own right!

Have you added adaptogens to your wellness routine? Share your experiences in the comments below!

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