What stress hormones do to your body and how adaptogens can help
By now, most of us know what stress feels like. Our hearts beat faster, we react to things more intensely, and some of us will have stomach cramping or extra trips to the bathroom. What you’re feeling is actually a surge of stress hormones. You are hardwired to react to stress so that you can avoid dangers like predators, invaders, and attackers. There aren’t many real threats in the modern world, but our stress response activates frequently nonetheless.
When your brain senses a potential danger on the horizon, your adrenal glands, the small glands that sit atop the kidneys, release cortisol, the hormone known as the stress hormone.
Cortisol has a few functions in the body, such as:
- Releases glycogen (stored sugar) into the bloodstream
- Constricts your arteries while other stress hormones increase heart rate
- Suppresses your immune response
- Slows digestion
These changes are useful when you’re being chased by an aggressor. The extra blood sugar gives you energy, your blood pressure rises to deliver oxygen more efficiently, and the processes that run in the background slow down to direct all energy toward fight or flight.
It’s not as useful when you’re sitting in traffic (or sitting at home reading news stories), doing your taxes, or waiting for your performance review. Yet, a lot of us are experiencing a chronic, low-level stress response multiple times a day. Sometimes, we don’t feel “stressed.” Our hearts aren’t pounding, and we don’t feel the surge of alertness that comes with a startle. Still, stress is happening, and it’s interfering with your body’s processes.
A lot of people experience imperceptible stress all day, every day. That wreaks havoc on your body. You can’t go about your life with high blood sugar, high blood pressure, reduced defenses against infections, and disrupted digestion. Over time, it wears on your health.
What to do about frequent or chronic stress.
In today’s world, having a stress management program is as vital as choosing the right diet and exercising regularly. Read this article for techniques you can do to reduce stress in your everyday life.
There are times when a few minutes in meditation or a round of breathing techniques work well in the moment. But it’s not realistic to stay in meditation all day if you’re experiencing chronic stress.
Adaptogens to balance the effects of chronic stress.
Stress takes a real physical toll on the body. Adaptogens are plant supplements that act on your stress hormones to counteract those physical effects and restore balance in the body.
Studies show that ashwagandha reduces cortisol by up to 25% which over time would help restore balance if your system is spending too much time in reactive mode.
You can take ashwagandha in capsule or extract form, and it’s available in most health food stores and natural grocery stores. Ashwagandha tea isn’t the easiest way to take it—the name literally translates to “smell of a horse,” and it lives up to its moniker. But due to its power, we've covered how to use it in elixir/drink form...maybe now's the time to give it a try.
When you’re stressed, your body releases cortisol which suppresses inflammation. When the stressor goes away, your inflammation response can rebound stronger than it was before, and chronic inflammation opens up a whole new can of worms. That’s on top of what your body is already dealing with from stress.
Astragalus is an adaptogen that can restore balance. It boosts a suppressed immune system, while quieting an overactive inflammation response.
Astralagus is also widely available in capsule or extract form.
Rhodiola counteracts stress-induced fatigue and restores fluctuating moods that come from stressful times.
Unlike ashwagandha, rhodiola tastes fine in tea blends. You can also take it as an extract or a capsule.
Reishi mushroom is bitter, so it’s not commonly added to food. Reishi mushroom comes in several forms. You can brew powder or dried pieces to make a strong tea, or you can take reishi as an extract or capsule form. Reishi is also widely available at natural food stores and herb stores.
Schisandra is a berry that grows in cooler climates. Traditional healers have been using it for centuries to treat stress-related fatigue and mood changes, and it can also restore a suppressed appetite.
Schisandra teas, capsules, and extracts are easy to find in natural food stores and health retailers.
How to take adaptogens.
Most plant supplements are best taken when you need them, but adaptogens are unique in that you can take them every day and they generally do not cause adverse effects of reactions. If you decide to incorporate adaptogens into your routine, be sure to use them as part of your stress-management program, not as your entire stress management program. You need to take steps to reduce your everyday stress and use stress management techniques like yoga or meditation to restore balance when stress is unavoidable.