Building on my last post, I want to talk about using plants to help support balance in the face of stress. Plant medicines have been used for centuries in every corner of the world to help people flourish. Adaptogens are a class of plant medicines that are used to help people cope and thrive despite living with chronic stress.These plants are exactly what we need right now. These plants help us maintain homeostasis. They appear to balance out the H.P.A. (see last post for a description) axis;they counteract an exaggerated response to stress thereby reducing excessive cortisol levels if too high and when levels are too low can stimulate stimulate hormonal secretions when needed to bring up energy and reserves. What are some examples of adaptogens?
Ginseng is probably the best known adaptogen that heralds from China. Many forms of ginseng are utilized such as Panax (aka Korean) and Siberian ginseng. They contain ginsenosides (the active constituent of ginseng) that are believed to interact with the H.P.A. axis to balance the body’s secretion of cortisol and ACTH. This helps increase one’s energy, stamina, memory, and concentration not to mention resistance to infection by viruses and bacteria. (The product Cold-Fx has capitalized on this unique property of ginseng.) Ginseng is not the most suited adaptogen typically for an individual who is anxious or suffers from high blood pressure or hypoglycemia.
Ashwagandha is sometimes referred to as Indian ginseng. It has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries to combat stress and fatigue and reduce the effects of aging. The active constituents are withanolides. They contribute to the calming effect of the herb. The herb is sometimes used for insomnia and to promote relaxation. Ashwagandha produces positive changes in stress related hormone production, cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Ashwagandha is a classic rejuvenating herb that would be a better choice in an anxious individual coping with chronic stress.
Another Ayurvedic herb that is a beneficial adaptogen is Bacopa monniera. It is a another balancing herb for reducing anxiety levels associated with stress as well as reducing mental fatigue. It helps improve cognitive function in the face of stress.
Rhodiola rosea is a plant that grows in high altitudes throughout Asia and Eastern Europe. It has beneficial effects on neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine so has been shown to be useful in treating depression. It helps prevent depletion of adrenal catecholamines associated with acute stress. Rhodiola also supports thyroid function and helps protect the heart. It is an herb with a good safety profile.
Plants that are supportive in low cortisol function include licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) and black currant (Ribes Nigrum). These plants have anti-inflammatory action and help build up or tonify the adrenal glands. Licorice is contraindicated in high blood pressure but even drinking a cup of licorice tea can gently support adrenal function and support individuals who have low blood pressure. Ribes is my favorite herb to use when people have low adrenal function, are exhausted and suffer from chronic inflammation in the form of arthritis. It is a safe well tolerated herb that has a mild taste.
There are many other adaptogens that are great to support adrenal function- maca root, cordyceps, and holy basil come to mind. It is best to come in for a professional consult so I can match your picture with the plant that best supports you. Salivary hormone testing can be used to provide you with more information on how your adrenal glands are functioning under stress.
References: The Cortisol Connection Shawn Talbott, PH.D.
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