Feeling stressed? Fatigued? Anxious about day-to-day life? It’s no wonder when the world around us is getting more complicated by the minute.
The American Psychological Association’s 2015 “Stress in America” survey found that more adults than ever before are experiencing extreme levels of stress. And this stress has a negative impact on both mental and physical health.
According to the highly regarded Mayo Clinic, chronic activation of your stress-response system can put you at risk for a whole host of unwanted conditions.
But don’t let this research make you more stressed! Mother Nature has a tremendous team of powerful natural remedies for stress, called adaptogenic herbs, that can help you manage your stress from the inside out.
How Do Adaptogenic Herbs Work?
Adaptogenic herbs work by stabilizing and balancing a critical “feedback loop” in your body called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, or HPA axis.
Specifically, when your body is under stress, your brain signals your hypothalamus to release a hormone called CRH, which travels to your pituitary gland stimulating the release of ACTH, which goes to your adrenal glands and stimulates the release of cortisol (the “stress hormone”) and adrenaline.
When you’re under constant stress, the HPA axis can become overworked and less able to maintain healthy homeostasis. But, with the help of adaptogenic herbs you can keep your HPA axis working efficiently and effectively, reducing the impact of stress on your body.
For these reasons, I often prescribe adaptogens for my patients who tend to burn the candle from both ends and are stressed out, as well as for those who are suffering from fatigue.
What Are the Best Adaptogenic Herbs for Stress?
Studying botanical medicine was one of my passions in medical school, and adaptogenic herbs were my favorite class of herbs to examine and learn about.
I was fortunate enough to regularly visit my school’s botanical medicine garden and witness how these adaptogenic herbs grew, and then prepare and use tinctures or teas with them to experience their incredible health benefits firsthand. To this day, adaptogens are the number one class of herbs that I prescribe to patients and take personally.
These are the top adaptogenic herbs I recommend:
- Ashwagandha: Also called Indian Ginseng, this is my favorite adaptogenic herb and the one I prescribe most often to patients in my practice. Ashwagandha is prominent in Ayurvedic tradition and is known for both its calming and balancing properties. That’s what makes it the perfect choice for patients who are anxious or are suffering from sleep issues. Ashwagandha is very safe and can even be taken by pregnant and breastfeeding mothers (with doctor’s approval of course!). It’s even in the top supplement I recommend, Keep Calm. Recommended dosage: 125 mg a day.
- Rhodiola. Much of the research on this adaptogenic herb has been conducted on Russian athletes. It has been shown to improve endurance and physical stamina and is also helpful for sleep issues, irritability, headaches, and fatigue. Like other adaptogens, rhodiola is very safe and helpful for dealing with chronic stress. I will often recommend rhodiola to someone who is feeling mentally fatigued or who needs a boost in cognitive function. Plus, I often recommend it to women who are struggling with symptoms of PMS. Recommended dosage: 300-600 mg a day.
- Licorice Root: This adaptogenic herb helps to modulate your natural levels of cortisol—a primary adrenal hormone, also known as the “stress hormone.” I use licorice root for patients who are feeling burned out with severe fatigue, are experiencing chronic inflammation particularly in the intestines, and for those suffering from viral illnesses. If you have hypertension you should consult with your doctor first as it can elevate blood pressure. Recommended dosage: Varies widely depending on the preparation. Check the bottle for dosage recommendations.
- Panax Ginseng: This adaptogenic herb has been used for centuries in Traditional Chinese Medicine as a Qi tonic and is helpful for conditions characterized by immune system depletion, exhaustion, or dysfunction. I would not, however, recommend this adaptogen if you have anxiety because it could worsen symptoms. Recommended dosage: 250-750 mg a day.
- Eleutherococcus, Schisandra, Cordyceps, and Holy Basil: I use these lesser known adaptogens, along with ashwagandha, rhodiola, and licorice root. I’ve found them to be very helpful for patients who want to improve their vitality, energy, cognition, and endurance. I often think of schisandra if I want additional liver support on board, cordyceps for additional immune support, and holy basil for additional blood sugar regulation. Recommended dosage: Dosages vary depending upon the herb used. Check the bottle for dosage recommendations.