Adaptogens are non-toxic herbs that are marketed as helping the body resist stressors of all kinds, whether physical, chemical, or biological. These herbs and roots have been used for centuries in Chinese and Ayurvedic healing traditions, but today they are experiencing a rebirth. Some, like holy basil, can be eaten as part of a meal, and some are consumed as supplements or infused into teas.
How the Herbs Work to Relieve Stress
Adaptogens interact with the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA), which is our body’s stress response system. Adaptogens can help calm the following areas: the hypothalamus (a small region in your brain), your pituitary gland (found at the base of your brain), and your adrenal glands (which are located at the top of your kidneys and produce the hormone cortisol). Adaptogens have the potential to help indirectly with other health issues, like pain, digestive concerns, insomnia, and more. “Stress sets off a cascade of physical responses that affect immune function, our hormones, our cognitive function system, and our internal clock, called our circadian rhythm, ” researcher says. “If these stressors persist, this leads to chronic illness.”
- For long-term stress: Ashwagandha and Asian ginseng to soothe long-term sources of stress and the hormone imbalances that may result from it. Holy basil, or tulsi, may help lower stress levels.
- For acute stress and anxiety: Siberian ginseng, rhodiola and schisandra may help mediate fight-or-flight stress responses. People use Siberian ginseng to boost the immune system, physical stamina and sexual health; rhodiola is believed to improve energy, physical performance and memory; and schisandra is thought to improve liver function and gastrointestinal problems.
- Adaptogens for immune health: Reishi and ginseng have been found in some small studies to boost immunity.
If you’re looking for a straight dose of herbs, you can sip adaptogen teas or combine tinctures with water. To add adaptogens to the foods you’re already eating, you can buy pre-mixed powder to spice up everything from smoothies to soups to salad dressings. But You can use adaptogens for a few days or weeks to get through a busy time at work. Or take them for a stretch of chronic chaos, when life just keeps handing it to you. Korn recommends rotating the type of adaptogen you’re using after six weeks, though, so that your body can benefit from the subtle differences among herbs.