Chronic stress is nasty. Over the long run, when your adrenal glands pump out abnormally large amounts of the stress hormone cortisol, your blood pressure and blood sugar go up, your immunity response goes down, and your body becomes more vulnerable to infections and heart disease.
Unless you’re a hermit or unusually enlightened, you (along with everyone else) deal with a multitude of daily pressures at work, at home, and on the road. You might even be addicted to stress, feeling that you must respond to every ping from emails and texts instead of disconnecting for downtime and a good night’s sleep.
A mindfulness practice (meditation or prayer, yoga, regular walks) can help. So can a group of supplements called adaptogens. These remedies bolster stress-resistance by shifting biochemistry and, as the name suggests, helping you adapt to a whirlwind existence.
“Adaptogens are an important part of a healthy stress-management regimen,” says Mindy Green, an herbalist and aromatherapy expert in Boulder, Colorado. She points out that many of these herbs (listed in order of likely benefit) can be ground up and added to foods, such as soups, as well as taken as supplements.
For accuracy, look for the herbs’ Latin names on product labels.
Originally investigated by Russian scientists more than 50 years ago, rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea) is widely regarded as one of the best adaptogenic herbs. In a recent four-week Swedish study of 60 people, researchers reported that rhodiola supplements reduced burn-out fatigue and improved general mental performance, particularly concentration. Other studies confirm rhodiola’s stress-reducing effects, and a 2014 study published in The Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine noted that the herb also relieved symptoms of severe depression—working as well as a leading drug but with few side effects.
Dose: 500–1,000 mg daily.
Also called Siberian ginseng, eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus) appears to regulate the immune response, boosting immunity while also protecting against stress-induced inflammation (which can exacerbate aches and pains). Some research suggests that eleuthero can improve athletic performance, as well as enhance feelings of well-being and overall quality of life in seniors.
Dose: 200 mg daily.
Part of traditional Ayurvedic medicine, ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) can lessen fatigue in people suffering from chronic stress and serious diseases. The herb helps people feel rejuvenated and improves cognition.
Dose: 500 mg daily.
This herb (Glycyrrhiza glabra) is de rigueur if you have true adrenal exhaustion, characterized by chronic fatigue, low blood pressure, and dizziness when standing. The body needs some cortisol to buffer occasional or mild stress. Though commonly misunderstood, adrenal exhaustion means your body has lost its ability to produce even normal amounts of cortisol; people with this condition typically down large amounts of caffeine to make it through the day. Licorice root works by inhibiting the body’s breakdown of cortisol, so normal reserves can be replenished. Use a nondeglycyrrhizinated (nonDGL) licorice root tincture before bed. Do not use if pregnant.
Dose: Follow label directions.
Maitake, shiitake, and reishi, the three most popular adaptogenic mushrooms, are all nutritionally rich and enjoy a long-standing reputation in Traditional Chinese Medicine as energy enhancers. All of these mushrooms have antitumor effects, so they may be particularly beneficial for people dealing with the stress and fatigue of chronic disease. Eat fresh maitake and shiitake as you would any mushrooms (they’re great in stir-fries), or take any of the three in supplement form.
Dose: Follow label directions.
Remember: It’s a good idea to talk to your health care provider before starting a new supplement.