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Ask the Experts

Adaptogens and Stress

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Ask the Experts

Q: I have been dealing with a lot of stress lately and was told adaptogens may be helpful

Q: I have been dealing with a lot of stress lately and was told adaptogens may be helpful. What are they and how will they help?

The term adaptogen refers to a small, distinct group of herbs recognized for their ability to aid the body in times of stress and anxiety. Traditional Chinese, Ayurvedic, and Western herbal medicines have all made use of their unique stimulating, restorative, and antistress effects.

The most important feature of an adaptogen is its ability to increase resistance to both physical and emotional stress. They also have a normalizing influence within the body while remaining neutral to a properly functioning system.

Two systems come together to produce our response to stress. A portion of the brain, the hypothalamus, and its interactions with the pituitary and adrenal glands influence our sympathetic nervous system, resulting in our overall physical and emotional response to stress.

Adaptogens are able to modulate this response and help regulate the interconnected endocrine, immune, and nervous systems. Prolonged stress can have negative effects on many different areas of the body. Adaptogens serve to reduce the detrimental effects of stress and bring the body back into balance.

Here are a few of the best-known and -researched adaptogens.

Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus)
Herbalist and ethnobotanist David Winston suggests this herb is indicated for the “average” person who is overstressed, lacks sleep, and has dark circles under his or her eyes.

Rhodiola rosea
In a single dose, rhodiola has been shown to be effective against stress and fatigue, allowing for greater mental work capacity.

Cordyceps sinensis
A mushroom used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) to treat kidney deficiencies, it has also long been used by TCM practitioners to increase energy and endurance and to overcome fatigue.

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