Tension and stress in your body is not a good thing, at least for the long-term. The negative ramifications of an ‘amped’ up or ‘revved’ up body are endless when it comes to your health. Life is challenging, especially during recent times, but there are options to assist you in getting control of your nerves, stress, health, and helping to settle your mind. These ‘gifts’ from God, as I perceive them, come in the form of certain adaptogens which can benefit your body in more ways than one. Are you looking to regain control of your stress, mind, and body? Let’s dive into four powerful options to help you settle things down a bit.
Did you know that in Traditional Chinese Medicine, almost all disease is associated with emotions on some level? This includes every emotion, expressed in a dysfunctional way. Considering that most negative emotions are associated with the stress response in our bodies, it may be wise to pay attention.
An adaptogen is a plant extract or chemical, which can alter the way your body responds to stress, speed up processes, or slow them down with minimal negative impact upon the patient. These beautiful plant extracts have been researched for years and we have written a few articles on the topic of adaptogens. Traditionally, they were researched in science to aid athletes in physical performance, such as the Olympics and other events. In some participants, competition times were improved as was performance, while in others, recovery was increased after an event. However, in more recent times with research, the focus with various adaptogens has been on the HPA or hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis within the body, which is directly associated with the stress response, either acute or chronic.
In times of stress, our bodies can react differently, as each person is different. For some people, mental stress can really amp up their bodies, rev them up and stimulate their sympathetic nervous system which results in overpowering thoughts, wandering minds, anxiety, headaches, increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, sweating, and digestive problems. In others, mental stress leads to them physically shutting down and they literally retreat, going into a state of depression and slowing things down. Quite the opposite but again, people are different.
The tendency is to think the former is more prone to health problems than the later, but in truth, both are susceptible. More so, the former or Type A person is more likely to have an acute problem, such as a heart attack, than the later group, but in the end, both can suffer mentally and physically. Both can have problems falling asleep due to a restless mind and sleep is one of the most important things, next to a proper diet, to allow your body time to shut down, repair and rejuvenate.
No matter how you slice it, dice it, or cut it, as long as you live in this world and interact with it, you are exposed to stress. The levels and intensity of that mental stress is escalating in recent years with the advent of increasing technology and hustle and bustle in the world. This high level of stress impacts not just mental health, but your physical health. It is wise to take advantage of adaptogens and their clinical benefits to overall health.
There are many adaptogens which can benefit health, but when it comes to settling down the mind and allowing the body to heal, there are really four that I personally take advantage of in my life. These adaptogens not only help to ease the mental burdens, but many of them can help to rebuild your body on an energy and strength level. Essentially, the help to counteract the impact of stress and rebuild the body structure, increasing resistance.
Ashwagandha to Benefit Nerves and Rebuild the Body
Ashwagandha is one of the most powerful nerve tonics and rejuvenating agents for your body. It is one of the foremost adaptogens that I use personally, helping to revive my own body, restore strength, help to clear my head and settle my own nerves. Ashwagandha is an herbal plant extract used for centuries to aid overall health and stress. The herb contains many active phytochemicals, but the main ones noted in research to benefit our health are steroidal alkaloids and lactones called withanolides. I have used this herb personally in myself, our personal pets and horses, as well as in veterinary patients over the years with nothing but excellent results.
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) has been used in Ayurvedic medical cultures for centuries to aid in benefitting the nervous system, helping to rebuild the body, and restore balance. Often times, as with seen in chronic stress, our bodies can become quite depleted in physical energy, resulting in not just fatigue, but reduced appetite, body weight, and sexual function. In addition, the nervous system becomes depleted as it has been in over-drive for quite some time. This is not a healthy state to be in for any person and nervous fatigue is closely linked with a host of health problems from cancer to cognition deficits such as poor memory, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s.
In Ayurvedic medicine, ashwagandha is seen as a warming rejuvenative herb that is also settling to the mind, so it can energize a body and calm one at the same time. Some people notice the energizing to mild stimulating properties, while others benefit more from a calming effect.
According to Ayurvedic texts, Ashwagandha is used to: (S.Pole, 2013)
- Increase sexual potency
- Increase strength
- Promote mentation and intellect
- Increase vitality
- Promote sleep
- Prevent wasting and degeneration of the body
- Rejuvenate the body
- Reduce pain and ease breathing
Ashwagandha is viewed in Ayurvedic medicine as aiding to rebuild and strengthen tissue, which means it supports a healthy body weight, aids in rebuilding muscular strength, benefits the heart function, reproductive health and the immune response. It is useful in cases of lung conditions including coughs, allergies, asthma, and other immune related problems.
Ashwagandha is extremely beneficial in nervous problems including stress and anxiety, insomonia, conditions of excessive thinking, attention deficit disorder (ADD), and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It is noted to help relax the body and rebuild the central nervous system in order to help build resistance to stress. It is considered a ‘nourishing’ nervine adaptogen and not a heavy sedative. (S.Pole, 2013)
There are very few contraindications and side effects noted with Ashwagandha. The main contraindication is that considering it is a warming herb, it should be used with caution in ‘hot-natured’ individuals that may be experiencing other problems such as reflux, gastric ulcers, or hypertension. These individuals would benefit from a cooling adaptogen, such as Bacopa or Lemon Balm (discussed below). Ashwagandha may impact blood sugar levels, so those individuals with glucose control issues or on insulin should monitor their levels closely as a reduction in medication may be needed. Additionally, Ashwagandha can also be somewhat drying upon the body, which is easily noticed if your body is dry to begin with. Considering this drying effect, in some cases moisturizing and cooling herbs can be taken along side of the Ashwagandha to help reduce this effect. There are two herbs that come to mind regarding cooling and moisturizing, which are Shatavari Extract and Amalaki (Amla) Extract. These two herbs have their own clinical benefits and can be taken along side of these adaptogens if needed in most cases.
Research benefits of Ashwagandha include:
- Anti-aging properties (Alternative Medicine Review, 2004)
- Immune enhancing and stabilizing properties (AMR, 2004)
- Anti-cancer properties (prevention and therapy) (Polyiyaguru, 2016)
- Benefits anxiety and depression (AMR, 2004)
- Build resistance to chronic stress (AMR, 2004)
- Benefits sugar metabolism and urine output (AMR, 2004)
- Benefits thyroid function and may increase T4 levels (AMR, 2004)
- Anti-inflammatory properties (Mishra, 2000)
How to get Ashwaghanda:
Bacopa monnieri for Stress and Mental Health
Bacopa is another adaptogen that I use personally, often combined with Ashwagandha for a synergistic effect and increased boost to mental health. In Ayurvedic medicine, Bacopa is called Brahmi, referring to the ‘energy of Brahman or universal consciousness‘. Bacopa is primarily used in Ayurvedic medicine for its mind enhancing and nervous system soothing benefits. (S.Pole, 2013)
Unlike Ashwagandha, Bacopa is a cooling herb with benefits to the nervous system and impact of stress. When choosing an herb, it is wise to take note of your own personal body. If you are feeling overheated or running hot, due to anxiety or stress, then a cooling herb would likely be beneficial, at least in the short term. If you are feeling run down, exhausted, and possibly cold, then a warming herb might be the best choice.
According to Ayurvedic texts, Bacopa is known to: (S.Pole, 2013)
- Reduce mental illness
- Increase intellectual power
- Benefit cardiac health
- Rejuvenate the body and nervous system
- Increase longevity
- Promote physical and mental strength
- Build energy
- Settle nerves
- Promote sleep
- Benefit skin conditions associated with nervous conditions
Bacopa is viewed as being a primary nootropic, which means it has been used or clinically supported to benefit the mind, brain, and cognition.
Research benefits of Bacopa include:
- Antioxidant and neuroprotective (Aguiar, 2013)
- Improved cerebral (brain) blood flow (Aguiar, 2013)
- Benefits dementia and cognitive dysfunction (Aguiar, 2013)
- Impact learning and memory (Aguiar, 2013)
- Anxiety reduction (AMR, 2004)
In regard to side effects and cautions with Bacopa, very few have been noted in clinical research. It is a cooling herb in general, so use in cold-natured individuals may induce more ‘cold’ and sluggishness potentially, as well as digestive upset at times. There are no know interactions with medications.
How to get Bacopa:
Lemon Balm for Settling the Nerves
Lemon Balm or Melissa officinalis has been used for centuries for helping to ease the mind, settle the body, and aid in gaining sleep. Lemon balm is a cooling herb that has a relaxing and soothing effect upon the body. It helps to settle the mind, the nerves, and relax your body. It is commonly used as an herbal extract or even as a tea, taken in the evening prior to sleep. As mentioned, it is a cooling herb but it is also a drying herb, which implies it can have a drying effect upon your body in some instances. This may result in increased dryness to the mouth or throat, skin, or even mild constipation at times. This is completely dependent upon the individual and is more commonly seen in those individuals which are moisture depleted initially or considered Yin deficient in Traditional Chinese Medicine. If side effects are noted, such as dryness, then this is an indication that your body is likely moisture deficient and the solution would be either to discontinue the Lemon Balm or add ‘yin-tonifying’ herbs or foods to your regimen or diet to add moisture.
I have used Lemon Balm myself off and on with great results, however, there are times when it is too drying for myself personally. I tend to run a little hot at times, which means that the heat can literally dry up my body, so I benefit from the cooling aspect of the herb but not so much the drying effect. I will mainly use this herb at night to help relax and get a good night’s sleep, but if dryness is a problem, I will personally add in the Cur-OST HU Stomach blend which is very moisturizing to my body, or you can use Shatavari Extract or Amalaki Extract as well.
Lemon balm has an added benefit of being an ‘anti-spasmotic’, which means that it can benefit muscular cramps and intestinal spasms, which are often associated with stress and irritable bowel syndrome.
Research benefits of Lemon Balm include:
- Anti-anxiety benefits (Shakeri, 2016)
- Anti-spasmotic benefits (Shakeri, 2016)
- Improves insomnia (Cases, 2010)
- Benefits cholesterol, glucose metabolism, and general inflammation (Asadi, 2018)
How to get Lemon Balm:
Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) For Mind and Body Health
Reishi is a mushroom which has been used for centuries and heavily revered for helping to ease the mind and rebuild the body. It is considered an adaptogen by many, but in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), it is viewed as a ‘Jing’ tonic, which helps to rebuild our ‘vital essence’ or energy. The mushroom, based on TCM, benefits many organ systems from kidney health to cardiovascular function. It also benefits the mind, often on a very high level, and has been used for such benefits in many seeking higher spiritual levels of understanding. It is not a hallucinogenic mushroom, but can greatly ease the mind and with that, release mental burdens which may be upon it. This then can assist a person during meditation or spiritual practices to relax and concentrate further.
Reishi is most heavily researched for immune related capabilities with benefits noted in many health conditions from allergies to cancer. It is interesting to see this aspect or focus area, because in truth, this was not the only benefit from the mushroom in alternative medicine pathways. Reishi was seen as a ‘tonic’, helping to rebuild the body, and with that, in order to rebuild a body, the mind must be clear, focused, and balanced. So, Reishi can help to settle your nerves, ease restlessness, and improve insomnia and anxiety, while also benefitting depression. When it comes to the focus of most research, being on immune related capabilities, this falls back to the ‘tonic’ capabilities of the mushroom. Reishi or Ganoderma was viewed as being able to rebuild ‘Qi’ or energy in the body, which would equate to immune health and strength. Additionally, research indicates possible anti-inflammatory actions of Reishi, which again correlates with its ability to rebuild the body and enhance overall strength, both mental and physical.
Reishi (Ganoderma) is a very unique mushroom and one that traditionally has been believed to extend life, which may be through it’s tonic capabilities, calming of the mind, and anti-inflammatory benefits. This is a mushroom that I take advantage of myself, often along with Bacopa, to help ease my mind and body. If stress and emotional issues have literally run you down and created a feeling of depletion, then Reishi may be a good option!
How to Get Reishi Mushroom Extract:
So, there you have it, four incredible adaptogenic herbs that can really impact your stress response, settle your body and mind, and help you to rebuild and recover. These are just three of many adaptogens that mother nature has provided for us and it is up to you to take advantage. When it comes to stress, it is always wise to prevent problems and support your overall health, than it is to deal with the consequences. Keep in mind that any person contending with a health condition, from cardiac disease to diabetes or even cancer IS dealing with stress in their body. Chronic stress doesn’t just come from your work place, family, or societal drama. This is why in clinical research, there are so many benefits from these herbs, not just in impacting anxiety or depression, but helping to rebuild and strengthen the body from muscles to immune health. Extremely important but easily forgotten!
Author: Tom Schell, D.V.M, CVCH, CHN