Adaptogenic Herbs and The Stress Response
What is Stress?
Stress is a complicated interplay between toxic chemicals, bacteria, viruses, human perception of circumstance, and the HPA axis in the human body. Even something as small as a negative thought can signal the hypothalamus to stimulate the release of cortisol in the adrenal glands. Under this premise, the HPA axis is the only true thermostat and proper regulator of physiology, and it must be constantly stimulated and addressed to assure that it is adapting & recovering properly. Chronic stress has the ability to flip a switch in stem cells that turns them into a type of cell that inhibits connections to the frontal lobe of the brain. Instead of improving learning and memory, these new cells lay down rigid pathways in the brain linked to anxiety, depression, and PTSD.
Although the cerebellum makes up only ten percent of the brain’s volume, it contains more than fifty percent of the brain’s total neuron count. Neuroscientists have been perplexed by this seemingly disproportionate ratio of neurons.i The cerebellum is always on guard to protect your body from danger and prepare you for fight or flight by keeping track of everything going on in your environment. Mitigating the stress response starts with stimulating the cerebellum. There are several ways to stimulate the cerebellum and begin the process of adaptation and recovery. Among them are spinal adjustments, exercise, volitional gratitude, adequate sleep, meditation and the use of adaptogenic herbs.
All science proves that the HPA axis facilitates the stress response. As a major player in the neuroendocrine system, the HPA axis regulates digestion, immune function, sexuality, moods, energy storage (fat) and expenditure (vigor). The HPA axis also triggers activity in the HPT (hypothalamus/pituitary/thyroid) axis which is responsible for metabolism as well as the HPG (hypothalamus/pituitary/gonadal) axis which is responsible for development, reproduction, libido, immune function, and aging. Nutrigenomics teaches us that the foods we eat and the supplements or drugs we take talk directly to our genes—providing us the great opportunity of turning off disease-promoting genes and turning on health-promoting and life-extending genes. In essence, unmanaged stress adds fat to the body, creates an environment of anxieties and thoughts of depression, and can shorten life.
Stress levels can be observed both quantitatively and qualitatively. In fact, stress on the body, mind, heart, or soul can show up in any number of very predictable ways: weight gain, chronic fatigue, memory loss, infertility, high blood pressure, thyroid issues, insulin resistance, addiction, depression, chronic pain, sexual dysfunction, hyperactivity, hormonal imbalances, digestive issues, and neurological degeneration.
The key to managing stress is resiliency, which can be observed in the speed with which the body returns to a place of homeostasis and rest. With a return to homeostasis come feelings of calm, peace, focus, and overall wellbeing. When this state of balance and rest is achieved, the normal and natural physiological adaptations mentioned will resolve themselves, as they are no longer deemed necessary. This happens via a negative feedback loop in the HPA axis that occurs after certain stress enzymes have been quieted in the cells.
What is Resiliency?
Scientists define resiliency as the ability to adapt or “bounce back” in the face of stress— whether that stress be physical, emotional, or psychological. Because these three aspects of humans are intricately connected and indeed overlap, anything that stresses one of these aspects has a “spillover” effect on the others. Resiliency may very well be the most important and powerful asset a person can possess. Why? Because stress is inevitable, pervasive, and damaging to all aspects of human existence. Indeed, it is the source of all dis-ease. The ability of the body to exit the stress response and return to a state of homeostasis is the essence of resiliency.
What are Adaptogenic Herbs?
Phytotherapy refers to the use of plants for their healing abilities. Adaptogens, of which there are sixteen, are a special class of plants that helps balance, restore, and protect the body from the effects of stress. In order to be considered adaptogenic, herbs and plants must meet these criteria:
- The substance is non-toxic to the recipient.
- The substance influences many organs or body systems (non-specific), and acts by increasing resistance of the organism to a broad spectrum of adverse biological, chemical, and physical factors.
- The substance must help modulate system function and promote homeostasis.
In addition, clinical trials of these three herbs in particular show an affirmative effect on the HPA axis—the core mechanism of the human stress response. We are finding that our natural, non-habit forming formula increases the body’s resiliency to stress by increasing its ability to adapt to and recover from stress and return the body to a place of rest and homeostasis. This balance is experienced by the user as focus, concentration, inner calm, and an overall sense of wellbeing. Our formula does this without any negative side effects.
Medical researchers have been studying Ashwaganda for years with great interest and have completed more than 200 studies on the healing benefits of this botanical. Some key examples of the healing effects of Ashwaganda are:
Protects the immune system
Helps combat the effects of stress
Improves learning, memory, and reaction time
Reduces anxiety and depression without causing drowsiness
Helps reduce brain-cell degeneration
Stabilizes blood sugar
Helps lower cholesterol
Offers anti-inflammatory benefits
Contains anti-malarial properties
Enhances sexual potency for both men and women
Rhodiola is used worldwide by herbalists to balance cortisol—the stress hormone. It has been found to help with depression, brain function, and heart health. Arctic root, as the name suggests, is found mainly in the coldest regions of the world. Used frequently in Scandinavian and Chinese medicine, arctic root increases physical stamina, and wards off fatigue and exhaustion due to stress. iii
Cordyceps are several types of mushrooms that have powerful antioxidants that protect mitochondria from stress-induced damage because they actually stimulate the cell to produce proteins that help resist stress and enhance longevity. All adaptogens help regulate the immune and nervous systems and have antidepressant and amphoteric effects on the body. These particular fungi have been used for centuries. In fact, the first recorded use of them is from a 15th century Tibetan text, An Ocean of Aphrodisiacal Qualities. Even modern Western medicine has used several of the varieties of these mushrooms to make pharmaceuticals like cyclosporine (an anti-rejection med used after organ transplants) and Fingolimod (an MS treatment). iv
- The foods we eat and the drugs we take all talk directly to our genes.
- Some drugs stimulate body functions, and some suppress those functions.
- Adaptogenic herbs are unique in their ability to intuitively stimulate or suppress whatever chemicals are out of balance in the body (like cortisol). They do this slowly and gently—without any jolts, crashes, or negative side effects.
- The ability to reduce cortisol levels in the body is key to stopping the corrosive damage of stress. Recently TIME magazine called cortisol “public enemy #1.
- Ashwaganda has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for 2,500 years to boost the immune system and reduce cortisol levels in the body.
- Rhodiola provides a buffer to stress related mental and physical fatigue. Rhodiola was used by Russian cosmonauts, athletes, and military personnel to increase resiliency to stress and to combat fatigue.
- Cordyceps are mushrooms (fungi) that provide powerful antioxidants when consumed. Antioxidants help prevent against the corrosive effects of cortisol on mitochondria, increasing the quality of life; and other things being equal, the quantity of years as well.
- The beauty of our formula is in the “adaptogenic” herbs used that will not allow any “marker” in the body to get too high or go too low, keeping the recipient in perfect balance or homeostasis.
- Our proprietary formula uses only the finest grades of organic, responsibly processed herbs and natural ingredients that are time-tested, safe and adaptogenic in nature, with zero harmful side effects. Third party laboratories repeatedly test each product to ensure the safest and highest quality available.
i Bergland, Christopher. Psychology Today, March 12, 2014.