3 Adaptogens That Help Your Body Adapt to Stress
Resiliency — bounce back ability — is a good trait to have. It helps us to recover from the rough spots on life’s road. The mental aspects of resiliency can be learned, to some degree. And the physiological aspects of resiliency can be enhanced with botanical medicines, called adaptogens. An adaptogen is, simply, an herb that helps your body adapt to stress, rather than succumb to it. In Chinese, Russian and Indian culture, adapatogens have been used for centuries as general tonics, to strengthen immunity, improve sexual vigor and athletic performance, and as “anti-aging” therapies.
Here’s what you need to know about three of the most popular adaptogens:
Ashwagandha is an Indian plant that is used extensively in Ayurvedic medicine. Research shows it can help to protect parts of your brain from stress-induced changes. It also seems to reduce stress hormones secreted by the adrenal gland, and to reduce secretion of lactic acid, the biochemical created in muscles when they are heavily used. It can reduce anxiety. And it mobilizes a number of infection-fighting white blood cells, stimulating lung function and relaxing smooth muscles so you can breathe easier. It’s also reputed to improve sexual function.
If you’re tense, nervous and hyperalert, you can take ashwagandha during the day. For others, it’s best to take it at night, since it can make you sleepy. It can take up to 3 to 4 weeks before you begin to experience the full effects of ashwagandha. It’s the kind of herb you can take daily during a period of recovery from stress, then, ease off or even stop. Since ashwagandha can stimulate the thyroid gland, it’s best not to take it if you’ve had hyperthyroidism or an autoimmune disease such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. So it’s best for people with low immunity, frequent infections, especially respiratory infections, as well as people recovering from surgery or illness (who also have anxiety).
It’s important to take a high quality product if you’re taking ashwaganda, since herbal products can vary widely in potency and quality. Look for one that provides 450 mg of ashwagandha root extract, standardized to a minimum of 4.5% total withanolides, the highest standardization available.
Rhodiola rosea, or roseroot, is an herb that has been used in traditional medicine in Russia and the Scandinavian countries for centuries. It’s been used by athletes, astronauts, even aging politicians. Nowadays, it is more likely to be used by people who are sleep-deprived or doing night shift work, by athletes who need to increase endurance and shorten recovery time, people with chronic fatigue syndrome, or even those undergoing stressful medical treatments. (Get your doctor’s OK first.)
Rhodiola is said to increase energy, stamina, strength and mental capacity, and to the body adapt to and resist physical and mental stress. It is used for improving athletic performance, improving sexual function, and reducing depression and anxiety. In one study, 50 milligrams of rhodiola, twice a day, reduced mental fatigue and improved well-being in students during an examination period. In another study, 170 milligrams a day reduced feelings of fatigue and improved mental performance in night shift workers. Research does show it has significant central nervous system activity, reducing depression. However, if you take too much, it can make you jittery, or cause dizziness or dry mouth. People who are both anxious and depressed should take a gentler adaptogen, such as ashwaganda. Don’t take it if you are also taking muscle relaxants or antidepressants.
The quality of rhodiola products on the market varies considerably. A good rhodiola product meets USP manufacturing requirements and contains a standardized extract of rosavins, the most active ingredient in rhodiola. A dose of 500 mg of rhodiola root extract, standardized to contain a minimum 3% rosavins, has been proven to provide the best results for improving mood, endurance and mental performance.
This herb is considered an all-around favorite, with broad, safe use for increasing resistance to environmental stress, as a general tonic, stimulant, diuretic and digestive aid. American ginseng is also used for acute respiratory illness, improving stress resistance, preventing the effects of aging and improving stamina. Some people take it during the winter months to help them resist colds and flu, especially if they are in an environment where daily exposure is likely, such as school teachers and health care workers. Research does show that taking 200 milligrams of American ginseng twice a day over a 3-4 month period during flu season decreases the risk of developing symptoms of an upper respiratory tract infection such as the common cold or flu, and reduces the symptom severity and duration of symptoms when infections do occur.
American Ginseng is generally considered safe, but if you take a blood thinning drug, such as warfarin, you should not take American ginseng.
As with other herbals, products very widely in strength and potency. A good ginseng product will contain a standardized extract of the herb’s most active ingredient, ginsenosides and meet USP standards for manufacturing. A dosage of 1,000 milligrams a day is considered effective.