Adaptogens for a Stress, Anxiety, Depression, Fatigue and Immune Support
What are Adaptogens
Adaptogenic herbs are herbs that allow the body to adjust to stress. It essentially helps you resist the stress, whether it be physical or a biological response. For example, adaptogens can be useful for those coping with daily work stress, anxiety or depression, stress from training/long bouts of exercise or the stress placed on the body during injury, healing and surgery.
They can enhance the body’s natural response, and help balance the body. Some of these herbs can have a strengthening effect on the adrenal glands. This is important because the herb can have the action of relieving stress.
These herbs can affect the brain, nerves, endocrine glands, and the immune system by helping re-regulate, normalize and enhance function. There are multiple theories as to what is occurring and even scientists are unsure of how these substances work.
Adaptogenic Herbs for Stress and Mood Support
As you will see from the list below, you can kill two birds or more with one herb meaning you may be able to choose one herb to address your depression, fatigue and immune system. While medications often have one purpose, herbs can be used for many different conditions and ailments.
There are many supportive Adaptogenic herbs; this is a short list of some of the more well-known herbs. For anxiety and depression, a class of herbs called nervines can also be very useful.
Check with your doctor prior to adding in any herbs to your regimen as herbs can interact with medications.
What You Should Know About Herbs Before You Make a Purchase
Always start with one herb at a time. It is best to do this rather than buy a blend. Often the blends have lower doses of each herb or have extra ingredients you may not need. Also, if you have a reaction to the product you won’t know which herb it was. Start low and slow. Work up to the amounts mentioned.
Adaptogens are best used for 12 weeks and then take a 2-week break or switch to a different adaptogen, as your body can adapt to the herb over time, thus reducing its effectiveness for you. We all react differently to herbs so it may take a few tries to find the right herb for you and your health concern.
Purchase a reliable product. Many cheaper or store brand herbal products have been found to not contain the amount stated on the label and in other instances they do not contain the correct parts of the herb. For instance, if you are going to use Rhodiola, you want a product that uses the root, not other plant parts. Brands that I like include Gaia herbs, Herb Pharm, and Bayan Botanicals. I’m sure there are other high quality brands but it pays to do some research first. The dropper on a one ounce tincture bottle is equal to 30 drops. This way you don’t have to constantly count drops!
Don’t rely on just herbs. If your body is under a great deal of stress, support the body with whole nutrient dense foods as well. While an herb can do wonders, it needs the support of a nutrient rich diet too.
All the herbs or supplements in the world won’t help you if you continue to “eat like crap”.
Adaptogens for Depression
Since herbs can have a direct effect on the nervous system they can enhance mood
- Asian ginseng root (less frequently leaf): This is one of the most studied herbs in the world. It is considered one of the most stimulating herbs. For this reason, it makes a great herb for those who are exhausted. Use it for insomnia, fatigue and depression. Tincture: take 20-40 drops up to 3x per day. Capsule: powdered herb take 2 400-500 mg. caps 2-3x per day. For powdered extract take one capsule of 400-500 mg. 2 times per day. Start out with a lower dose and work up to the 400-500 milligram dose as for some people who have anxiety or insomnia this herb may be too stimulating. Speak with your doctor first if you are taking warfarin, MAOI antidepressants, or blood sugar medications.
- Holy basil plant (Tulsi): Use of holy basil can prevent increased corticosteroid levels that indicate elevated stress levels. It can be used as a “natural antidepressant” for situational depression such as coping with a traumatic event such as death of a loved one. Tincture: 40-60 drops 3 times per day. Tea: add 1 tsp. of dried leaf to 8 oz. of hot water. Let it steep for 5-10 minutes. For therapeutic benefits, drink the tea up to 3 times per day.
- Rhodiola root: This herb is known to enhance energy, improve alertness, reduce fatigue and improve depression. It can be a good herb to use also for ADHD and for someone who is recovering from a head injury. It can support someone who has a depleted immune system due to chemotherapy, radiation or from excessive physical training. It can be useful for someone suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome. Tincture: 40-60 drops 3x per day. Avoid Rhodiola if you have bipolar, or are paranoid. From some it can cause insomnia.
Adaptogens For Anxiety
Adaptogenic herbs, because of their effect on the nervous system, can relive stress and anxiety
- Ashwagandha root: This is one of my personal favorite herbs. This is a calming adaptogen and is also useful for stimulating the thyroid gland. It is useful for anxiety, fatigue and stress induced insomnia. Avoid this herb if you are sensitive to nightshade plants as this herb is in the nightshade family. Do not use it if you have hyperthyroidism. It can increase the effects of barbiturates. Tincture take 30 drops 3-4 times per day, as capsule take 400-500 mg. twice a day.
- Schisandra (fruit and seed): This herb is calming and can aid in stress induced asthma or stressed induced palpitations. . It can provide a feeling of alertness without the stimulating effects that you would get from caffeine. It also supports the immune system. (People who suffer from acute and chronic stress can have a weakened immune system). Tincture: 40-80 drops 3-4 times per day. Capsules: 1-2 400-500 mg caps, 2-3 times per day. Do not take if using barbiturates.
- American ginseng (root and less often leaf): This can be useful for those with mild to moderate adrenal fatigue. It can also be useful to reduce symptoms of jet lag. Tincture: 60-100 drops 3 times per day. Capsule: 2, 500 mg. caps 2 times per day. Do not use if taking warfarin.
- Ashwagandha: see information under anxiety
- Asian ginseng: see information under depression
- Eleuthero root and stem bark: This is a mild herb and thus good for the young and the old. It is unlikely that it will cause overstimulation and this is an herb that can be taken long term. It strengthens the immune system and provides stamina. You can use it when under a great deal of stress at work. It can help improve alertness and cognitive function when dealing with work related stress. Tincture: 60-100 drops 3-4 times per day. Do not use with cardiac medications
- Shatavari root: this is a good herb to try for fatigue, chronic fatigue syndrome, and to support the immune system. It is also considered a nutritive tonic. It is also a diuretic. Tincture: 40-80 drops 3 times per day. Avoid if you have diarrhea and bloating.
For Immune support
Stress weakens our immune system. Adaptogenic herbs can help strengthen the immune system and improve the immune response.
- Eleuthero: see information under fatigue
- Holy basil: see information under depression
- Rhodiola: see information under depression
- Shatavari: see information under fatigue
- Schisandra: see information under anxiety
Choose an herb that can address more than one issue you are having. Start out with one herb only and start out low and slow. Seek guidance from your holistic health professional or doctor before adding in herbs to your regimen. When adding in herbs, give it time. Support the body with a whole foods diet too.
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Gaby, A.(2006) The Natural Pharmacy. Revised and updated 3rd edition. NY: Three Rivers Press
Hoffman, D. Medical Herbalism. (2003) The science and practice of herbal medicine. VT: Healing Arts
Mars, B. (2007) The Desktop Guide to Herbal Medicine. CA: Basic Health Publications
Moore, M. (1996) Herbal Tinctures in Clinical Practice. 3rd Edition. AZ: SW School of botanical Medicine
Skenderi, G. (2003) Herbal Vade Mecum. NJ: Herbacy Press
Winston, D. & Maimes, S.(2007) Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief. VT: Healing
If you are sick and tired of feeling sick, tired, fatigued, depressed, anxious and more and have given up hope then Karen’s simple, effective, individualized and sustainable approach may be what you need.
Karen Brennan, MSW, CNC, Board Certified in Holistic Nutrition and Herbalist is the author of Tru Foods Depression Free Nutrition Guide; How Food Supplements and herbs can be used to lift your mood and owner of Tru Foods Nutrition Services, LLC.
For more information visit www.trufoodsnutrition.com
As a nutrition professional, Karen does not treat, cure nor diagnose. This information is for educational purposes only.