Adaptogens are plants and mushrooms that help the body balance and adapt to physical, emotional, chemical, and environmental stressors. These potent botanicals increase resilience, protect against acute and chronic stress, and even help to regulate the endocrine (hormone) and immune systems. This article will dive into the best adaptogens for stress and hormone balance. By the end of this read, you’ll understand what adaptogens are, how they work on our stress system and improve adrenal function, and how to use them for a better you!
What are Adaptogens
While the term ‘adaptogen’ has only existed since the late 1940s, these plants and mushrooms have been used and revered for centuries. In Chinese herbal medicine, adaptogens are called ‘qi tonics’ or herbs that support life force. In Daoism, they are referred to as ‘tonic herbs.’ In Western herbal medicine, some herbs that fall under ‘trophorestorative’ and ‘nutritive tonics’ are adaptogens.
Modern clinical research proves what history has been telling us all along.
For herbs and mushrooms to be considered an adaptogen, they need to have these three qualifications:
- Non-toxic. Adaptogenic herbs are safe and non-toxic, with no contraindications or significant side effects.
- Produce a non-specific response in the body. Adaptogens have a general positive impact on stress, including environmental, psychological, physical, etc.
- Have a normalizing impact on the body. The adaptogens medicinal constituents perform as needed to help return the stressed physiological conditions to a normal, balanced state.
How to Adaptogens Work
Adaptogens are powerful allies to our nervous, endocrine, and immune systems. The nervous and endocrine systems are so closely connected that they are sometimes referred to as the neuroendocrine system. This system deals with chemical communication in the body via hormones.
The nervous system is in charge of bringing homeostasis to internal responses—to keep us safe and healthy, both mentally and physically. Then there is the endocrine system and the HPA axis within it. Think of the HPA axis as your body’s internal stress system of complex communication between the hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal glands.
Here’s a brief review of how the HPA axis works:
The hypothalamus is the command center of the brain. It communicates with the rest of the body via the autonomic nervous system and the inflow of hormones. It oversees everything that happens and then informs the pituitary gland, its personal assistant, what to do. From there, the pituitary gland tells target organs to enlist particular biochemical processes in the body’s tissues and organs, including the lungs, kidneys, liver, intestines, etc. The pituitary gland will also tell the adrenal glands to release stress hormones like cortisol.
Cortisol is the most well-known stress hormone and the primary hormone released by the adrenals. Cortisol often gets a bad rap, but this hormone is crucial for regulating blood pressure and cardiovascular function. It also helps the immune system to respond to infection and inflammation.
The bad rep of cortisol comes in when there is oversecretion. Too much cortisol suppresses the immune system and can cause anxiety, inflammation, PMS, infertility, sex hormone imbalance, insulin resistance, weight gain, insomnia, and adrenal fatigue (AF). AF is where we will focus today because it is also at the root of many symptoms.
Stress and Adrenal Fatigue
The problem today is that most people are stuck in a chronic state of stress. When our adrenals are constantly pumping out cortisol, every bodily process is disrupted, and our adrenals are put in overdrive.
AF is the all too common syndrome most people (especially women) have who feel run down and unable to keep up with life’s demands.
AF can happen after long periods of stress or trauma. Adrenal gland function is also impacted by:
- Poor eating habits
- Marital stress
- Prescription medication
- Unwanted employment
Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue
- Difficulty getting up in the morning
- Chronic fatigue for no reason and not helped with sleep
- Craving salt/sugar foods and stimulants
- Reduced ability to handle stress
- Poor sex drive
- Increased PMS
- Brain fog/memory issues
- Easily irritated
- Mild depression/anxiety
- Wired/energized post-dinner
- Hit an afternoon slump around 3-4 pm
Healing from adrenal fatigue requires radical lifestyle changes. The first is to reduce and manage stress. The thing is, this doesn’t just mean doing deep breaths when your boss frustrates you or setting boundaries on plans (both of which are important). It also means taking into account the different kinds of stressors.
- Biological: bacteria, mold, viruses, parasites
- Chemical: chemicals, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, heavy metals, dust, fumes, synthetic drugs
- Environmental: pollutants, xenoestrogens, electromagnetic, radiance, fluoride, lead, mercury, pesticides, etc.
- Psychological: relationships issues, lifestyle change, trauma, depression, grief, fear, anxiety, lack of motivation, etc.
- Physical: intense activity, accident, healing, etc as well as drugs, alcohol, processed and refined foods
- Spiritual: out of alignment, lack of purpose
Cleaning up and managing each of these stress areas is essential for healing from adrenal fatigue and balancing hormones. One of the best and simplest (not to mention, most delicious) ways to do this is by incorporating adaptogens into your daily routine.
Best Adaptogens for Stress and Hormone Balance
While adaptogens target multiple centers in the body, they primarily impact the neuroendocrine system. Think of adaptogens as having an intelligence of their own: they know where to go and what to do once they get inside the body. Because they work so intimately with the HPA axis, each adaptogen will uniquely impact a person’s physical, mental, and spiritual bodies.
Most adaptogens have a powerful positive impact on the hormones, helping to balance and heal. One of the reasons for this is their affinity for the adrenal glands. Let’s dive into some of the best adaptogens for your health.
The health benefits of ashwagandha are vast, well-researched, and clinically- proven. Ashwagandha can do everything from supporting the brain and nervous system function and strengthening adrenals to balancing hormones and boosting libido. While many people think the root is mainly for men, the benefits of ashwagandha for women are vast.
In clinical trials, 3000mg of ashwagandha twice a day improved acute and chronic stress, well-being, and happiness. Other scientific studies showed that potent extracts of ashwagandha improved hormonal imbalances, mood swings, anxiety, and depressive tendencies.
When formulating our Beauty Collagen Complex, we knew we had to include this potent adaptogenic herb to help tamp down inflammation and stress. For some, getting past the taste of ashwagandha is difficult. Our formula is a delicious vanilla honey flavor, making getting your daily dose a cinch.
Another incredible adaptogen found in our Beauty Collagen Complex, Schisandra, is fabulous for tamping down stress and supporting skin, liver, and reproductive health. Let’s face it, when you’re stressed, your skin shows it. Hormonal acne is one of the hallmark signs of adrenal fatigue. Unfortunately, stress and AF can often lead to period and fertility issues. Schisandra to the rescue.
Research shows that Schisandra inhibits oxidative stress, the foundation to nearly every chronic disease and the culprit of healthy cell death and aging. Some other benefits of Schisandra include its ability to balance hormones, nourish the adrenals, and support healthy reproductive hormone function.
Maca is one of my favorite adaptogens for supporting the adrenals. Thanks to its ability to tone and nourish the HPA axis, it can help get to the root cause of adrenal fatigue and start the healing there. With maca, you can have more resilience for everyday stressors. You can also reduce cravings (a common symptom of adrenal fatigue), support liver function (fabulous for flushing out excess estrogen and balancing hormones), and uplift mood and brain function.
Ah, the cordyceps mushroom. Nature’s pre-workout. Cordyceps is incredible for supporting energy levels and a healthy stress response, especially in those suffering from adrenal fatigue. Research has also shown that cordyceps serve as a potent stress and inflammation inhibitor.
While not technically considered a primary adaptogen but a secondary adaptogen, reishi still has powerful adaptogenic qualities. In fact, many herbalists still consider it one of the best. This queen healer mushroom is incredible for regulating the nervous system, calming the body, and boosting resilience. When we’re stressed, our immune systems are compromised. Reishi’s powerful immunomodulating abilities help to support immune function. That’s why we include the mushroom of longevity in our Organic Immunity Greens powder.
Eleuthero is an adaptogen traditionally used to support stamina, athletic performance, and immunity. It’s been revered in Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda as a powerful medicine for the body and mind. And fun fact: it was used by Russian Olympians in the 60s and 70s!
When we are overly stressed or struggling with adrenal fatigue, energy is non-existent. Eleuthero can help support natural and consistent energy levels.
Holy basil, or tulsi, is one of my favorite adaptogenic herbs for tamping down stress immediately. Whenever I feel overwhelmed or anxious, a cup of holy basil tea makes me feel supported and resilient. Research also shows that holy basil can help deal with chemical, environmental, and physical stressors.
What are the benefits of Rhodiola? For starters, Rhodiola is a powerful adaptogen and a great natural antidepressant. It has been shown to improve symptoms of burnout and adrenal fatigue, which can occur after long bouts of chronic stress. One study looked at 118 people with stress-related burnout who took 400 mg of Rhodiola a day for 12 weeks. Participants showed a clear improvement in both stress and depression.
This sweet adaptogen is amazing for stress and great for gastrointestinal issues and internal inflammation. Many people with adrenal fatigue and chronic stress suffer from digestive problems, cravings, and food sensitivities. Including licorice in your daily routine may be able to help with stress-related cravings, digestive issues linked to anxiety and overwhelm, and more.
I hope this article has helped you understand what adaptogens are and their vital role in healing from stress, adrenal fatigue, and hormonal imbalances. If you want to get started on your adaptogen journey, make sure to check out our Beauty Collagen Complex, which features ashwagandha and Schisandra. Our Organic Immunity Greens has got your reishi dose covered.