Stress and its Impact on the Body
Canadians have been dealing with increasing levels of stress over the last few years and the Covid-19 pandemic has only aggravated the situation. Indeed, according to Nanos Research, consistent or constant stress has been felt by more than twice as many Canadians in the last two years, far more than what it was before. Unfortunately, chronic stress is associated with a variety of illnesses and health conditions such as high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, insomnia, digestive issues and heart disease. Research has also shown a clear connection between chronic stress and a weakened immune system. Fortunately, adaptogens can help.
Adaptogens to the Rescue
Adaptogens are plant substances (often herbs) and mushrooms that can impact how our body deals with stress, anxiety, and fatigue. Indeed, adaptogenic plants and mushrooms can positively impact one’s response to a variety of stressors both by increasing our body’s resistance to stress as well as by helping us better deal with stress. These compounds also help us recover from short- and long-term physical or mental stress. Some adaptogens go above and beyond by bolstering immunity and others still can enhance mental performance and cognition, balance moods and relieve mood-based symptoms such as anxiety.
How Adaptogens Work
Adaptogens, like heat-seeking missiles, can return the body to a state of balance (homeostasis) and they do this by either increasing or decreasing specific chemical reactions within the body, according to its needs. Research, in fact, tells us that adaptogens interact with the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which is a complex system of glands, hormones and receptors that is key to maintaining balance in the body, as well as is directly implicated in the stress response and energy metabolism. More concretely, adaptogens can balance the HPA axis regulating up or down as needed. For instance, if we’re stressed (elevated cortisol), adaptogens will respond by reducing cortisol levels. If on the other hand, we’re feeling chronically fatigued with low cortisol, an adaptogen will increase our level of cortisol via the adrenal glands.
Adaptogens are meant to help our bodies build our resilience and mitigate the effects of stress on the body. Thus, by strengthening our internal systems, adaptogens naturally promote vitality, stabilize mood and improve performance and focus.
Unlike caffeine and other stimulants which provide a very transient boost of energy, focus, performance and concentration, but inevitably lead to a crash, adaptogens actually support the body long-term. Caffeine, of course, is also associated with insomnia, nervousness and restlessness, stomach upset, nausea and increased heart rate and is known to deplete the body’s reserves of vitamins and other key nutrients.
Ashwagandha – This is one of the most important herbs in Ayurveda and is traditionally used as an adaptogen. Ashwagandha has been shown to affect cortisol production and the stress response and is also recognized as a nervine used to relieve stress, increase energy and improve concentration and memory.
Astragalus – A plant that has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries and is often promoted for its effects on the immune system, liver and cardiovascular system. It is also a potent adaptogen recognized for its ability to mitigate the effects of various stresses, including physical, mental, or emotional stress.
Medicinal Mushrooms – Mushrooms are one of the most scientifically studied superfoods. Research shows that different types of mushrooms have incredible benefits for your brain, hormones, immune system, energy levels, mental acuity, mood, etc. Reishi, Chaga, Turkey Tail, Lion’s Mane, and Cordyceps are all known to offer robust adaptogenic support to the body’s natural stress response.
Rhodiola – This is a potent adaptogen that has been the focus of much research. Studies show that rhodiola provides a biological defence against various forms of stress. Rhodiola has also been shown to exert anti-fatigue effects that increase mental performance and concentration and decreases cortisol in those suffering from burnout.
Schisandra – This is an adaptogen that is used to help increase energy and resistance to stress in cases of mental and physical fatigue related to stress. Schisandra is also thought to have a positive impact on the heart, lungs, and kidneys.
Siberian ginseng (Eleuthero) – This is a relative of ginseng and a potent adaptogen known to help protect the body from the effects of chronic stress. Other uses of eleuthero include heart disease prevention and relief from symptoms of low mood and anxiety.
Disclaimer: The information in this article is intended for educational and informational purposes only and should not be considered as a substitute for medical advice. Please consult your practitioner prior to taking herbs or nutritional supplements.
Roos Jonsin is a Canadian naturopath and researcher dedicated to helping people live healthier lives through education about vitamins, herbs, and nutritional supplements. Roos also consults with suppliers and manufacturers with product development and marketing. National Nutrition is Canada’s leading health & nutritional supplements store, also voted as the Best Health Food Store in Canada by the experts at Canadian Health Food Association.