When life hits the fan, I call in superpower backup. This adaptogen is my favorite to beat stress and adrenal fatigue, hands down.
It’s the one remedy for stress that I swear by. Well, there are more than one. Yoga, daily walks outside, quality sleep, and high-protein foods are a few others. You’ll soon see why this herb is my go-to for myself and my clients.
But first, let’s grasp the origin and effects of stress to better understand the importance of addressing it.
Stress is a primal response built into all of our minds and bodies to alert us of danger and quickly escape from, or survive in, said danger. But the thing is, we’ve trapped our bodies into stress mode when we’re not being chased by lions or paying taxes. Our primal response button stays on for so long that it becomes stuck.
Our bodies are not meant to live within this stress mode for longer than seconds at a time. But who switches back into cool, calm, collected Cathy mere seconds after stress is triggered?
Let’s talk about what this prolonged stress means for your body.
When you become stressed, your endocrine system engages that primal fight vs flight, or freeze mode. More specifically, your brain sends signals to your endocrine system to release hormones that will help you run away in high alert, store fat in case of imminent starvation, and all other ways our caveman ancestors needed to survive their harsh living conditions.
Why keeping your endocrine system fired up for a prolonged period isn’t a good thing:
1. Your hormones can become unbalanced
2. Your brain’s stress signals confuse the rest of your body’s systems as they strain to maintain overall harmony
3. Your body gets stuck in a pro-inflammatory loop that can lead to premature aging and chronic disease
4. You become chronically fatigued
This fatigue could lead to serious illness if it continues for a long period and goes untreated. That, and living in a constant heavy fog isn’t enjoyable in the slightest.
Let’s focus on the part of your endocrine system I like to directly address to help your whole body respond to stress without damaging your health: your adrenals. These are two triangular-shaped glands that sit atop your kidneys. They produce essential hormones including:
- regulates sugar levels, metabolism, blood pressure and stress response
- balances the potassium and sodium levels in your blood for healthy blood pressure
- AKA epinephrine, the main hormone secreted by your adrenals, it increases body temperature, respiration and heart rate
- AKA norepinephrine, it widens pupils and lungs, constricts blood vessels to non-essential organs, and increases heart rate
When you hit a stressful road bump and can’t seem to let the stress go once the moment has passed, how do you get the message to your adrenals that the sky is not actually falling?
Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic herb from India, also known as Indian Ginseng or Winter Cherry. Adaptogens are metabolic regulators which make sure all hormones function at their best (and don’t overdo it) when stress knocks on the door. Ashwagandha is the queen of all adaptogens, ticking every box in the adaptogen checklist (1):
- Decreases stress-induced damage
- Safely produces a beneficial effect
- Does not cause any negative side effects, like withdrawal syndromes
- Does not influence normal bodily functions more than necessary
See why I love this mega-herb? Because ashwagandha isn’t the most delicious herb (its name translates to “from the horse” because it tastes a bit like dusty hay)…
Here are 5 more reasons why I’m in love with ashwagandha:
1. It’s been extensively studied and concluded to be an antioxidant, anticancer, anxiolytic, antidepressant, cardioprotective, thyroid modulating, immunomodulating, antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, cognitive enhancing and hematopoietic agent (2).
2. Chronically-stressed animals received this herb in a study, and their degenerating brain cells (caused by the stress) were reduced by 80% (3).
3. Another study, of humans, resulted in increased energy, better sleep, less fatigue, a greater sense of well being, up to 26% lower levels of cortisol, lower blood sugar levels and better lipid profiles (4).
4. Extensive studies at a Japanese research institute concluded that “ashwagandha helped promote the growth of both normal and damaged nerve cells, suggesting that the herb may boost healthy brain cell function as well as benefit diseased nerve cells” (5).
5. While you’re rescuing your poor little adrenals and subsequent endocrine system, this herb supports your immune, neurological, and reproductive systems. I just love a one-stop-shop, don’t you?
This herb comes in pill or powder form as a supplement, or you can gnaw on the dried root (if you’re hardcore). I prefer taking my ashwagandha in pill form to skip the whole “this tastes like dusty hay” experience. The amount I take depends on a number of factors, including the amount of stress I’m under. I can help you find your perfect personalized dosage. My current go-to brand is NOW Ashwagandha (I like it most because it meets strict standardization standards).
Beyond ashwagandha, other nutrients that are important for adrenal health include vitamin C, B vitamins, and the amino acid tyrosine. I can’t say enough about the importance that regular sleep, stress management, and a diet that stabilizes blood sugar all have on our adrenal health and stress response, too!
I want to hear about your zen toolkit. What are your favorite supplements or methods to relax your body and mind? Share in the comments below!
As you’ll quickly come to know about me from working together or reading more of my articles, one health challenge originates across your body and life experience. If your body is suffering from stress, one soak in a salt bath isn’t going to dissolve its symptoms and repair the damage. You and I will cast a larger net and tend to every bit of your systems that need some TLC.
RESOURCES: 1. Panossian A, Wikman G. Evidence-based efficacy of adaptogens in fatigue, and molecular mechanisms related to their stress-protective activity. Curr Clin Pharmacol. 2009;4:198–219. [PubMed]
2. Anishetty S, Chandrasekhar K, Kapoor J. A Prospective, Randomized Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study of Safety and Efficacy of a High-Concentration Full-Spectrum Extract of Ashwagandha Root in Reducing Stress and Anxiety in Adults. Indian J Psychol Med. 2012 Jul-Sep; 34(3): 255–262.
3. Jain S, Shukla SD, Sharma K, Bhatnagar M. Neuroprotective effects of Withania somnifera Dunn. in hippocampal sub-regions of female albino rat. Phytother Res. 2001 Sep;15(6):544-8.
4. Unpublished study, 2005. NutrGenesis, LLC. 5. Tohda C, Kuboyama T, Komatsu K. Search for natural products related to regeneration of the neuronal network. Neurosignals. 2005;14(1-2):34-45.