There are many ways in which chronic stress damages the body. One of the most significant ways is the raising of cortisol levels. Cortisol, actually dubbed “the stress hormone”, stimulates the classic “fight or flight” response, putting stress on your nervous and adrenal systems, raising blood pressure and generally speeding up the aging process.
Fortunately, there is a group of herbs known as adaptogens that make it easier for the body to cope with the demands of daily life, thus reducing stress and the resulting higher cortisol levels. Adaptogens don’t have a particular or specific function, but they are known to support the adrenal glands and make it easier for your body to respond to stress. Five of the best adaptogenic herbs are discussed below.
This is probably the best-known of the adaptogens and has been used as such in the East for thousands of years because of its unique abilities. It has long been valued in Chinese traditional medicine for improving mental clarity and concentration as well as energy levels and the ability to withstand stress. It has added benefits, too, like the ability to normalize blood pressure and blood sugar levels (both of which are also effected by stress). (1)
Also called tulsi, this herb has a long-standing history in Ayurvedic medicine, the holitistic traditional healing method practiced in Indian for thousands of years. Scientific studies have come up with preliminary data to suggest that holy basil has properties which help the body to ward off stress, raise energy levels and boost immunity. Like ginseng, it also has the ability to help regulate blood sugar and blood pressure. (2)
This plant is also called Indian ginseng, and though it is not botanically related, it performs many of the same functions as actual ginseng does. It helps to regulate the body’s immune responses and also eases the body’s response to stress as well as making it easier for the body to lower cortisol levels. It is a highly effective remedy and has been used in India for at least 1,200 years. (3)
Licorice root is also a very effective adaptogen, boosting endurance and energy levels and generally easing the effects of stress. It also helps protect the thymus — a small organ which produces T-cells, the active part of the immune system – from damage by cortisol. However, because of its potential effects on the blood pressure, it is best to use this only under doctor supervision. (4)
Like ginseng, astragalus is also a staple in Chinese Traditional Medicine and, like ginseng, can both help to stimulate immunity and make the body better able to cope with stressful stimuli. It actually increases compounds in the body which seek to repair stress-related damage and also inhibits cortisol from binding to receptors. (5)
So if stress is a problem for you and you feel like you need extra support to cope with it, consult with a naturopath or other medical practitioner to discuss if the use of adaptogenic herbs would be appropriate for you. These herbs can all go a long way to protect the body from the harmful effects of chronic stress.