Work deadlines are having a party on your calendar; your parents are having a meltdown, and, oh, it appears that the coronavirus is still around–wracking havoc on the global economy and healthcare system. Meanwhile… You're feeling stretched way too thin. And if asked how you feel, the top 3 words that come to mind are: 'depleted,' 'burnt-out,' and 'fatigued.' It's the perfect setup for a complete system shutdown. And you know it.
Of course, you've probably already experienced a slew of nasty effects from chronic stress; insomnia, heart palpitations, anxiety, and even feelings of depression are just a few examples. But did you know things could get worse? Seriously. Research shows that chronically elevated cortisol levels (i.e. your stress hormone) can increase your risk for long-term health issues like heart attack and diabetes (1, 2, 3)! Worried? Thankfully, it appears that adaptogens can help your body recover from chronic stress, improve stress-related disorders, balance cortisol levels, and boost the immune system.
What Are Adaptogens?
Adapto… What? As foreign-sounding as adaptogens sound, the truth is that there is nothing complicated about them. These are simply non-toxic plants and herbs that help your body resist all kinds of stressors–whether physical, chemical, or biological (4). And even though adaptogens have only been gaining interest and attention in the wellness industry in recent years, there's nothing new about these 'stress adaptors.'
Humankind has used adaptogens to help raise our body's resistance to stress for thousands of years. Many ancient Chinese and Ayurvedic remedies (e.g. ashwagandha) used to correct imbalances and support health are the same plants that we now refer to as adaptogens (5, 6).
How Do Adaptogens Help With Stress And Depression?
Today, there's increasing evidence showing these ancient remedies can help the body better adapt to stressors and challenging environment. Perhaps more impressively, studies have pointed at adaptogens' ability to improve attention, increase endurance, and fight fatigue (7). But of course, herein lies the question: how, exactly?
There are many different adaptogens, with each said to have its own specific action. Generally, though, they all work at a molecular level by interacting with the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and the sympathoadrenal system–both of which are involved in your body's response to stress (8, 9). Studies show adaptogens may tweak your body's hormone production and physiological responses to stress, ensuring that your body functions as it should. In other words: adaptogens 'hack' the stress response in the body, so you perform better and feel better despite what's stressing you out.
All that's great. But… What's the link between adaptogens and depression prevention? The answer is that in addition to resulting elevated cortisol levels, sustained stress also causes a reduction in serotonin and other neurotransmitters in the brain (e.g. dopamine)–which is known to be a risk factor for depression (10, 11, 12, 13, 14).
Stress can also make you turn to unhealthy, negative coping strategies, including drinking or withdrawing from social relationships, which can intensify symptoms of depression. Interestingly, many of the brain changes during an episode of depression resemble the effects of severe, prolonged stress! And so, adaptogens' protective effects against stress reduces the risk of depression.
Best Adaptogens For Stress Management
A note of caution here: because adaptogens aren't regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)–just as it is with other supplements, you really have to be careful when purchasing these herbs. Some adaptogens have been scientifically-studied more than others. To help you out, here's a list of the most research-backed adaptogens for stress management.
#1 – Rhodiola Rosea
Rhodiola Rosea, also known as golden root, is a flowering herb from Siberia that grows well in dry and cold artic climates (15). The medicinal compounds of this herb come from the root of the plant–and 2 of the most potent active ingredients identified are rosavin and salidroside. Numerous studies have been conducted on Rhodiola Rosea's health benefits, and the most promising has been its adaptogenic effects.
According to a 2012 study published in Phytotherapy Research, research participants given 400 mg of Rhodiola extract daily experienced significant improvements in stress symptoms, including fatigue, exhaustion, and anxiety after just 3 days (16). What's more, in a 2017 clinical trial published in Neuropsychiatric Disease & Treatment, researchers found Rhodiola to improve many associated measures of burnout–including stress and depression (17).
#2 – Oats (Avena Sativa)
Now, you might have known that oats are incredibly high in fiber and protein compared to other grains–making them a healthier choice (18). But did you know it's also an adaptogen that can help your body and mind stay healthy and balanced? And it's all because of its high tryptophan content. This amino acid helps produce the neurotransmitter serotonin, which plays a crucial role in mood and emotions (i.e. stress regulation) (19, 20).
Even better, it appears that tryptophan may have a calming effect on its own. According to a 2006 study published in the Journal of Psychiatry Neuroscience, participants who took tryptophan supplements for 15 days were perceived as more agreeable by their study partners at the end of 2 weeks than those who took the placebo pills (21). Time to eat more oats?
#3 – Schisandra Berry
Schisandra (Schisandra Chinensis) is a deciduous climbing vine native to China and Russia that thrives in almost all soil types (22). The seeds of its purple-red berries contain lignans, which are substances believed to exert beneficial effects on health. One of Schisandra berries' significant benefits is their ability to resist mental fatigue (as is seen in times of chronic stress). According to a 2009 review of studies from Sweden, the Schisandra can stimulate the adrenal gland and the production of hormones like epinephrine. These physiological changes translate to increased mental alertness, energy, stamina, and feelings of well-being (23). Definitely one of the best adaptogens available for stress management.
#4 – Ashwagandha
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is a member of the nightshade family of plants and goes under several under names, including Indian ginseng, Indian winter cherry, or poison gooseberry. Impressively, research has shown that ashwagandha may help reduce cortisol levels. For example, in a 2008 study performed on chronically stressed adults, researchers found that those who supplemented with the herb experienced more significant cortisol reductions than the control group (24). Several controlled human studies have also shown ashwagandha to effectively reduce symptoms in people with stress and anxiety disorders (25, 26, 27). Scientists believe it does so by regulating chemical signaling in the nervous system–and, as a result, block the stress pathway (28).
#5 – American Ginseng
Being chronically stressed can be extremely draining. This is where American ginseng comes in–this traditional Chinese medicine remedy has been shown to help fight fatigue and promote energy. Various animal studies have linked the compounds found in ginseng, like oligopeptides and polysaccharides, with lower oxidative stress and higher energy production in cells, which could help fight fatigue (29, 30, 31). A 2013 study published in PLOS ONE found that individuals with chronic fatigue given American ginseng experienced less physical and mental fatigue–as well as reductions in oxidative stress–compared to those taking the placebo (32). A 2010 study also found that 400 mg of American ginseng supplementation daily for 8 days improved participants' calmness and math skills (33).
#6 – Holy Basil
Surprise, surprise! Holy basil isn't only a quintessential ingredient in the famous Thai street dishes you're familiar with–but it's also a research-backed adaptogen! Arguably one of the most delicious adaptogens for stress management, of course. And impressively, according to the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, this aromatic exerts antidepressant and anti-anxiety properties comparable to antidepressant drugs and diazepam (34)! Furthermore, a 2011 study found that individuals who took 500 mg of holy basil extract daily felt less stressed, depressed, and anxious (35). They also felt more social.
Should You Combine Adaptogens For Maximum Stress Relief?
By now, you must be convinced of what adaptogens can do for you. These herbs can help protect your body from the adverse effects of stress. But what about dosage? And, because each adaptogen affects your body differently, should you blend them for the complete Zen experience? Not really. Especially if you don't know what you're doing. If you haphazardly throw in a bunch of adaptogens together without taking the appropriate dosage in mind, you can end up throwing some aspects of your system out of whack. You may end up getting biofeedback like sleep disturbances or headaches–things that you're trying to avoid in the first place!
So, what can you do if you want to try out adaptogens safely? There's an easy solution. And that is Dr. Danielle's Stress Lift . This proprietary herbal blend–consisting of the best adaptogens for stress management–takes into account appropriate dosages, so you don't have to worry about doing the math. Or the research. Just pop a few capsules and thrive during your day, every day.