Traffic, work, trouble at home – it seems no matter where you go, the world finds another way to stress you out. The good news is you’re not alone. Over the past 25 years, stress has increased 18 percent for women and 24 percent for men in America.1
The bad news is that the toll that stress takes on your body is proving to be more severe than doctors once thought.2 Aside from depression and anxiety, stress can manifest itself through cardiovascular disease, lower cognitive functioning, and diminished immune systems. New research even suggests that critically high levels of stress can even contribute to premature death.
Researchers now understand that stress can cause an imbalance among the body’s hormones and signaling molecules, leading to a host of physical problems. In fact, between 75 and 90 percent of visits to primary care physicians are in some way related to stress.
Since you can’t eliminate all the stressors in your life without going completely off the grid, it’s probably better to reduce its impact on the body by maintaining healthy hormonal balances.
How Stress Affects Your Mind and Body
You may have heard of cortisol – it’s the stress-induced hormone that can save your life, but breaks down your body over extended periods. Cortisol is released during times of high stress (i.e., life-threatening situations). By increasing blood pressure and decreasing digestive secretions, it allows the body to focus exclusively on survival.
Though it might help you outrun a tiger, it’s not as good in today’s concrete jungles. The hormone has both short- and long-term effects, both of which are highly damaging to your body’s well-being.3
In the short-term, cortisol can hijack your thyroid and adrenal glands, leading to a sense of fatigue, anxiety, and irritability. Ever wondered why your stressed out friends are less fun to be around? Cortisol could be to blame.
Cortisol is also known as the “aging hormone.” When your body is in a constant state of stress, it causes weight gain, loss of bone density, increased risk for diabetes, and a higher chance of developing heart disease. It truly is a silent killer.
Adaptogens: These Ancient Herbs
Are Nature’s Stress Busters
The human body is very complex. At any point, you could feel exhausted or over-energized, tunnel vision-ed or unfocused, stressed or completely uncaring. Adaptogens are herbs that help your body maintain homeostasis (or its natural state of balance). Scientists and doctors have long been intrigued about adaptogens' “bidirectional” effect on the human body, and their seeming “intelligence” at providing the correct amount of needed energy or calm.
Ethnobotanist James Duke, PhD speculates4 that these adaptogenic herbs have evolved in such harsh climates that they must fight stress in their own lives. The same compounds that reduce plant stress might also be functional in reducing stress in humans as well.
Though scientists continue to study the mechanism by which adaptogens work, there is no doubt as to their efficacy. Past research has shown adaptogens to have varied benefits by normalizing: adrenal function, stress hormone production, energy levels, immune function, neurotransmitter production, and the immune system.
Adaptogens to the Rescue
Adaptogens are nature’s secret to fighting back against stress. So while we can’t make traffic disappear, we can change how we decide to react to it. Far less risky than prescription pharmaceuticals yet proven in their effectiveness, adaptogens are our best (and secret) weapon in the war on stress.
Though these herbs may be new to us, Eastern medicine has long recognized the health benefits of adaptogens.5 Ashwagandha, rhodiola rosea, and reishi mushroom are a few of the most popular. Each herb has its own mechanism by which it can improve mood, energy, or stress.
So while there’s no magic pill that will make you skinny, young, and carefree overnight, adaptogenic herbs might be the closest thing we’ve got. If you’re living with chronic stress, adaptogens might just be the answer you’ve been looking for.