When stress is spoken of in terms of adaptogen, researchers are not talking about physiological stress, rather than emotional stress people generally think of. Although emotional stress often leads to psychological stress, stress is defined in the Georgia State Honors College Undergraduate Research Journal as, “a state of disharmony or threatened homeostasis” (Ajala). The stressors are occurrences such as imbalances of hormonal, behavioral and autonomic functions caused by chemicals, external stimuli, environmental conditions, or biological agents. Symptoms of chronic stress often leads to stress within the body and is associated with symptoms such as anxiety, depression, insomnia, headaches, fatigue frustration and more. It’s uncommon for people to live their lives without any stress and extremely important to support your body through stress factors so your body continues to support you in health. One way to do this is by incorporating adaptogenic substances into your diet.
Coined by Nikolav Lazarev in 1957, the term adaptogens are defined as, “substances that increase the state of nonspecific resistance in stress” (Pannossian & Wagner). By doing this, adaptogens decrease sensitivity to stress in the body and prevents huge fluctuations in fight or flight response in the body. The new balance in the body caused from incorporating adaptogenic changes from homeostasis to heterostasis which promoting resistance against physically, chemically, biologically and psychologically stressors by also promoting balance in the body. Adaptogenic substances have been known as those, “that increase attention and endurance in fatigued people, and reduce stress-induced impairments and disorders related to the neuro-endocrine and immune systems” (Pannossian & Wagner). Adaptogens essentially help your body in its resilience response when inevitable stressors come into your life. They are non-harmful, non toxic, improve mental clarity, protect against harmful effects of stress and stabilize body functions. Below are some adaptogenic herbs and their benefits to the body.
Rhodiola Rosea, also called “the golden root” has 140 active ingredients and was used by the Vikings for physical strength and endurance. Chinese emperors sought out the root and brought it into central Asia where it was used as a remedy for cold and flu. It was prescribed by Mongolian Physicians for tuberculosis and cancer (Herb Wisdom). It’s a go-to adaptogen in clinical trials for its ability to balance central nervous system monoamines which are neurotransmitters dopamine, noradrenaline and serotonin. Studies have shown that Rhodiola can improve memory and brain function. A study highlighted in Herb Wisdom showed, “significant reductions in mental fatigue, improved sleep patterns, a reduced need for sleep, greater mood stability, and a greater motivation to study.” The adaptogenic herb is immunomodulating in its ability to help the immune system re-discover lost homeostasis or balance. Additionally, research has shown that Rhodiola can improve recovery time after longer workouts, help with attention issues, memory, strength, and help rid the body of toxins. It does this by increasing, “the level of enzymes, RNA, and proteins important to muscle recovery after exhaustive exercise” (Herb Wisdom). It has also been found to help seasonal affective disorder, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome (Herb Wisdom).
Bacopa is a plant that has been used in traditional Indian Ayurvedic medicine and specifically helps with cognitive support. In a study done in Australia, it was found that Bacopa can improve the speed of visual information processing, learning rates, memory consolidation and rescue anxiety. The plant can even help when someone is experiences delayed word recall which would help someone to multitask. It might even help you with long term memories related things like learning a new language (Roseland). Considered a Nootropic, it’s been known to increase memory and the ability to learn in healthy people. It might increase certain brain chemicals that are involved in thinking, learning, and memory. Some research suggests that it might also protect brain cells from chemicals. Bacopa is involved in Alzheimer's disease treatment.
Ashwagandha is an essential herb in Indian Ayurveda Medicine and assists with natural healing. The dried roots are used for medicine, although the fruits can be used when fresh. It’s been known to be antitumor, anxiolytic, antiarthritic, GABA-mimetic, cognitive, anti-cortisol, adaptogenic, and energy benefits (Ajala). In a double blind study done in 64 adults, after 60 days there was a statistically significant decrease in serum cortisone levels (Ajala). In a similar study cited in the same paper, 52 adults who had chronic stress had decreased cortisol levels, BMI and body weightIt helps boost brain function and lowers blood sugar and cortisol level. It can increase testosterone and boost fertility in men. The herb can increase muscle mass and strength. Ashwagandha is a central nervous system tonic and can be used to relieve symptoms of anxiety, nervous exhaustion, impaired memory, insomnia, ADHD, and chronic debilitation due to exhaustion, according to Golden Poppy Herbs. The root can help to rejuvenate a weakened immune system and is helpful for people with autoimmune conditions like cancer and chronic connective tissue disorders. As cited by Golden Poppy Herbs, it can even be used to increase white blood cell count during and after radiation for cancer treatment.
Oatstraw is the leafy stalks of the oat plant which contain the highest concentrations of amino acids and polyphenols that research has shown promote brain function, sleep, and reduced anxiety levels. Oatstraw is also called Milky Oats because it coats the body in a milky, nourishing and protective juice. It is high in iron, manganese, and zinc. According to Stauber, Oatstraw is packed with vitamins and minerals, protein, soluble fiber, beneficial oils, polysaccharides, steroidal saponins and more. It has been used in traditionally used stimulate, restore and repair a damaged nervous system. It’s also useful to restore the body from illness, weakness, overwork, poor nutrition, chronic pain, sleep deprivation, insomnia, emotional distress, or just about any circumstance that excessively stresses and depletes the nervous system (Stauber). It supports a revitalized libido after feeling like it has been lost due to overworking and stress. It can also be a crucial tool in a woman’s hormonal cycles, pre and post pregnant and works to strengthen hair, skin, nails, teeth and bones.
Ajala, Tosin O. “ The Effects of Adaptogens on the Physical and Psychological Symptoms of Chronic Stress.” Discovery: Georgia State University Honors College Undergraduate Research Journal | Georgia State University, 2017, scholarworks.gsu.edu/discovery/.
“Ashwagandha Materia Medica.” Golden Poppy, www.goldenpoppyherbs.com/ashwagandha-materia-medica/.
Panossian, Alexander, and Hildebert Wagner. “(PDF) Adaptogens. A Review of Their History, Biological Activity, and Clinical Benefits.” ResearchGate, May 2011, www.researchgate.net/publication/236462312_Adaptogens_A_Review_of_their_History_Biological_Activity_and_Clinical_Benefits.
“Rhodiola Benefits & Information (Rhodiola Rosea).” Herbwisdom, www.herbwisdom.com/herb-rhodiola.html.
Roseland, Jonathan. “Bacopa: the Ayurvedic Adaptogenic Herb That Takes Time...” Medium, Medium, 3 July 2019, roselandj.medium.com/bacopa-the-ayurvedic-adaptogenic-herb-that-takes-time-56ba6e68baac.
Stauber, Lauren. “Herb Article Oatstraw.” Rebecca's Herbal Apothecary, www.rebeccasherbs.com/pages/herb-article-br-oatstraw.html.