Adaptogens for Stress, Anxiety, and Fatigue
It’s been a rough year and many of us could use a boost to our energy and stamina, and better stress resistance. You may be feeling the effects of changes in job status, strain on relationships, issues with child care, or fear of the future even though you have remained healthy during COVID.
So what can we do to make sure our stress does not get out of control? Adaptogens are a class of herbs that can increase resistance to stress caused by physical, chemical, or biological agents. Because of this they help the body react better to stress of any kind. They also provide a general tonic for overall health.
Adaptogens have a normalizing effect on the body. If a bodily function is weak they will strengthen it. Conversely, if a function is overactive, they will calm it. In other words, they help us Adapt.
The majority of adaptogens are the roots of various plants; A plant root conveys nutrients and provides a base upon which the plant can grow. As such, they can provide a wide range of nutrients and support us “from the ground up”. Adaptogens can make you feel stronger, healthier, and less stressed out.
Here are some of my favorites:
Panax (aka Asian) Ginseng
Medicinal use of ginseng dates back thousands of years. It has traditional use in Korea, China, and Russia. As such, its uses have been well researched and include:
- Increased energy
- Enhancement of athletic performance and endurance
- Improvement of male erectile function
- Better mental performance and reaction times in middle-aged subjects
- Improvement of pulmonary function in severe respiratory disease
- Immune-modulating effects
Use ginseng if you need an overall energy boost, better recovery from athletic pursuits, support for lung capacity, and increased resistance to infection.
Studies have shown that doses of up to 1 gram are safe for 6 months. High doses of caffeine with high doses of ginseng may prove too stimulating. So be careful using ginseng if you drink a lot of coffee.
There are currently no known major drug interactions with ginseng. As ginseng may have a blood-thinning effect, use caution if you will be having surgery soon, or have a bleeding disorder.
Rhodiola Rosea (aka rose root or golden root)
Rhodiola is another one of my favorite adaptogens. Native to the highlands of Europe and Asia, it has been used medicinally for years in both Russia and Scandanavia. Like other adaptogens, it has a wide range of uses:
- Increased physical endurance
- Resistance to altitude sickness
- Relief for fatigue and depression
- Improved resistance to infections
- Support of proper mood, anxiety, and emotional regulation by affecting the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain
For bouts of depression, increased resistance to cold weather, increased oxygenation in the body, and to combat fatigue, use rhodiola. Because of these qualities rhodiola is found in many adrenal support supplements.
Typical doses of rhodiola are 200-600 mg per day, and this range of doses has been used safely in research for up to 12 weeks. It is recommended that you take it on an empty stomach before breakfast or lunch.
Rhodiola has no known major interactions with medications. However, if you are on immunosuppressant medications speak with your doctor before using rhodiola. There is some evidence that it can stimulate immune function. Since rhodiola can also have an effect on neurotransmitter levels, it is not recommended for those with bipolar disorder.
Ashwagandha is a small shrub grown in dry areas of India, the Middle East, and Africa. Ashwagandha root is one of the most prized medicines in the practice of Ayurveda. I once had a doctor tell me that he treated patients in India and used ashwagandha for every condition—the patients thought he was brilliant!
Here is a sampling of its uses:
- Stress and anxiety relief
- Thyroid hormone support
- Immune modulation
- Sexual dysfunction
If your lack of energy could be due to low thyroid function, stress or anxiety, or lack sleep, reach for ashwagandha. For sleep, ashwagandha is commonly combined with magnolia bark, passionflower, lemon balm, hops, or jujube.
Typical doses are 250-1000mg and these doses have been used in clinical studies up to 10 weeks. There are no known, major drug interactions. However, there is some evidence that ashwagandha can increase immune function and as a result, those on immunosuppressant drugs should speak with their doctors before using it.
Maca is a root vegetable that is part of the cruciferous vegetable family. It is grown in the Peruvian Andes where it is a staple of the diet. This root is often given to hikers and travelers to the area to help with stamina and altitude sickness. Maca root has the following effects:
- Increases energy and stamina
- Supports libido for both men and women
- Reduces chronic fatigue
- Supports post-menopausal hormone levels
- Improves athletic performance and endurance
Choose maca if you have lost your zip! It can improve stamina, perhaps by supporting hormone levels. Maca is well known as an aphrodisiac and increases sex drive over time.
Typical doses of maca are 1-3 grams daily and it has been used safely in research studies for up to 4 months. Since maca may affect estrogen levels, those with a history of estrogenic cancers should avoid using it.
Reishi is a type of fungus that has enjoyed long-standing use in Chinese medicine. It promotes good health and longevity, and as such is known as the “mushroom of immortality”. Reishi has a special affinity to the immune system, and has a tonifying effect on the whole body.
Here are some of its myriad effects:
- Reduces stress
- May reduce stress-associated hypertension
- Regulates immune system to reduce allergies
- Supports lung issues such as cough, bronchitis, and asthma
- Acts as an antiviral against the flu, HPV, herpes, and shingles
Choose reishi if you sense that stress weakens your immune system, or causes you fatigue. It has a supporting effect on the lungs, and is often mixed with cordyceps mushroom to tonify the lungs. This results in better oxygenation, and in turn more energy.
Typical doses of reishi are 1-2 grams, and this dose has been used safely in research for up to one year. There are no known major interactions with medications.
Adaptogens are truly nature’s panacea for increasing your “get up and go”. So don’t just pick any adaptogen, pick the one that’s right for you.
The beauty of adaptogens is that while you are using them to fix one issue, they often fix something else too. Choose one of the above adaptogens to support you in these stressful times, and to benefit you in multiple other ways!
Need help choosing one that’s right for you? Talk to one of our staff, or book an appointment with our nutritionist, Lynn Bednar.
Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. Monographs. http://naturaldatabase.therapeuticresearch.com/home.aspx?cs=&s=ND. Accessed September 5-7, 2020.
American Botanical Council. ABC Clinical Guide to Herbs and Monographs. https://abc.herbalgram.org/site/SPageServer/?pagename=Herbal_Library. Accessed September 5-7, 2020.
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