Adaptogen-ing to Stress – Top Four Herbs for Stress Management
Stress – we all have it, but for some, it’s a persistent issue that can wreak havoc on multiple (and many) body systems. With proper stress management being a key to better HPA axis function, here is a closer look at the additional support that can be provided by adaptogenic herbs, a botanical category which can be associated with supporting overall well-being.
Belonging to the pepper family, ashwagandha is found in India and Africa, and used in their traditional medicine as a rejuvenator and for enhancing energy and well-being. As an adaptogen, there are many animal studies showing it’s anti-stress activity. Human studies have also suggested that ashwagandha may be helpful for reducing the effects of stress, including mental and emotional stress, as well as supporting healthy mood, and calm. In a double-blind study of people experiencing stress, supplementation with 300 mg per day of a concentrated ashwagandha extract for 60 days significantly decreased perceived stress, compared with a placebo.*
Eleutherococcus senticosus a.k.a “eleuthero”, belongs to the Araliaceae family and is also known as Siberian Ginseng. It grows in Siberia, China, Korea and Japan and has been used in traditional Asian medicine for centuries to invigorate qi and increase energy and vitality. Russian research was the first to describe human studies showing stress supporting effects in humans, and describe its adaptogenic actions. A double-blind study of healthy elderly people reported that those who took 60 drops per day of an eleuthero liquid extract (concentration not specified) scored higher in some quality-of-life measures after four weeks, compared with a group taking placebo.*
Ginseng, from the root of plants in the genus Panax, is a member of the Araliaceae family, commonly grown on mountain slopes in Asia, but includes American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) as well. It’s been used for centuries in Traditional Chinese Medicine for overall health and well-being. A 2017 review published in the Journal of Ginseng Research concluded that “when a person faces a stressful environment, ginseng can improve their response by regulating the function of the HPA axis.” There have been thousands of studies on ginseng, to try to understand its mechanisms of action, and many studies examining its effects related to energy and fatigue. In a double-blind trial, people taking a daily combination of a multivitamin-mineral supplement (MVM) with 40 mg of ginseng extract (standardized for 4% ginsenosides) for 12 weeks reported greater improvements in quality of life measured with a questionnaire compared with a group taking only MVM. One study suggested that Asian ginseng can support feelings of well-being in nurses working night shifts. A 2017 review published in the Journal of Ginseng Research concluded that “when a person faces a stressful environment, ginseng can improve their response by regulating the function of the HPA axis.”*
While there are upwards of 50 species of rhodiola, it is the fragrant root of the species Rhodiola rosea that is historically used in traditional practices. In a double-blind study, 100 mg per day of standardized rhodiola extract was given to medical students during a stressful exam period. Those taking the extract reported a better sense of general well-being and performed better on tests of mental and psychomotor performance. Another double-blind study of military cadets performing a 24-hour duty showed that 370 to 555 mg of rhodiola extract per day significantly reduced mental fatigue, as measured by several performance tasks. Another double-blind trial confirmed the effectiveness of rhodiola for stress-related fatigue.*
While these herbs help support the body’s ability to handle stress,* it is important to include other stress relieving strategies into any protocol, including adequate sleep, exercise and proper diet as well as mind-body medicine.
- Bhattacharya S, Goel R, Kaur R, Ghosal S. Phytother Res 1987;1:32-39.
- Grandhi A, Mujumdar AM, Patwardhan B. J Ethnopharmacol 1994;44:131-5.
- Dhuley JN. J Ethnopharmacol1998;60:173-8.
- Bhattacharya SK, Muruganandam AV. Pharmacol Biochem Behav 2003;75:547-55.
- Sotaniemi EA, Haapakoski E, Rautio A. Diabetes Care 1995;18:1373-5.
- Caso Mardsco A, Vargas Ruiz R, Salas Villagomez A, Begona Infante C. Drugs Exp Clin Res 1996;22:323-9.
- Spasov AA, Wikman GK, Mandrikov VB, et al. Phytomedicine 2000;7:85-9.
- Shevtsov VA, Zholus BI, Shervarly VI, et al. Phytomedicine 2003;10:95-105.
- Olsson EMG, von Scheele B, Panossian AG. Planta Med 2009;75:105-12.
- Deyama T, Nishibe S, Nakazawa Y. Acta Pharmacol Sin 2001;22:1057-70 [review].
- Brekhman II, Dardymov IV. Annu Rev Pharmacol 1969;9:419-30 [review].
- Singh N, Bhalla M, Jager P, Gilca M. Afr J Tradit Complement Altern Med. 2011; 8(5 Suppl): 208–213.
- Arring NM, Millstine D,, Marks LA, Nail LM. J Altern Complement Med. 2018 Jul;24(7):624-633. doi: 10.1089/acm.2017.0361. Epub 2018 Apr 6.