The human body has a highly developed built-in stress response system, otherwise known as fight or flight, that has adapted throughout time to help us recognize and remove ourselves from imminent danger. At its core, it’s triggered by the release of the hormone cortisol, which triggers a cascade of stress response systems throughout the body. In acute states, stress is actually quite helpful. However, life in the modern western world has proven detrimental to the human body, and its inability to cope with higher levels of cortisol has led to states of chronic stress and the many health problems that can accompany it. The fight or flight system is ignited by an increase in cortisol levels, which then triggers the sympathetic nervous system, as well as your adrenals, to start going into overdrive. This causes an increase in blood pressure and a decrease in digestive secretions. It’s essentially designed to help you (try to) outrun a tiger, or some of the other dangers of antiquity. In normal life, you see the tiger, react to the tiger, get away from the tiger, and your cortisol levels then can begin to regulate and your body can go back to normal. However, many of us are in states of chronic stress, with near-constant increased levels of cortisol to the point where our adrenals are completely taxed and our digestive systems start to go haywire. This poor state often leads to adrenal fatigue, which can cause much bigger problems if left untreated, and quite honestly tends to lead to a low overall quality of health. There are many ways to try to mitigate the negative effects of chronic stress, and in natural medicine, we often turn to a group of herbs called adaptogens.
Adaptogens work by trying to regulate the body’s physiological responses to stress while also working to try to return it back to a normal state. Basically, adaptogens help balance, restore, and protect the body from states of chronic stress. There are many different types of adaptogens out there and I’m only briefly going to introduce you to three of my favorites. I highly encourage you to do more of your own research if you’re like me and may be experiencing higher levels of stress than normal.
1. Holy Basil/Tulsi: I’ve already written an entire blog post about this herb and it’s honestly one of my favorites. As you may know, it’s been used in ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years. Science has since found that many different phytochemicals found within tulsi have been identified as anti-stress compounds and have also been found to lower blood pressure. Tulsi also helps soothe the gastrointestinal lining and has been found to prevent gastric ulcers. As an added bonus, tulsi is delicious, smells wonderful, and is currently growing aplenty here at the farm!
2. Ashwagandha: Ashwagandha is really having a moment in the natural medicine world. It’s been used for thousands of years as a medicinal herb and has been studied in scientific settings for decades. It’s been found to effectively improve overall resistance towards stress as well as increased quality of life. One study found that ashwagandha supplementation prevented lipid peroxidation and gastric ulcers.
3. Licorice root: Licorice root not only helps regulate the body’s response to stress but also may help improve the immune system! Licorice root supplementation has been associated with a decrease in stress hormone levels, especially cortisol. It’s also been found to help aid in weight-loss as well as decrease unhealthy androgen and testosterone levels in women. However, it should be pointed out that licorice root has been known to affect blood pressure and potassium levels and therefore isn’t recommended for long-term use in those with hypertension.
Eating real foods from quality sources, getting deep and consistent sleep, and staying active are the best ways to help protect yourself from chronic stress. I recommend adding adaptogens to your daily routine as a way of taking your health and your quality of life back into your own hands, especially during periods of increased stress (like say a global pandemic, just off the top of my head!). I encourage you to do more research into adaptogens and find your favorite one that works for you!