Dr. Kassam Stress: Understanding it & Top 3 Herbs To Manage It (ND Recommended)
Stress: Understanding it & Top 3 Herbs To Manage it
Considering the summer we’ve all had, today’s post will focus on understanding the impact of stress on our bodies and will provide you with some stress busting tips. Acute stress experienced as a short episode can actually be beneficial by motivating us and improving mental and physical performance. The body has mechanisms in play to adapt to stress. Internal and external stressors are controlled by the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. This system works to create homeostasis - the body’s ability to maintain a state of balance that is needed to function and survive. These mechanisms exist to deal with acute stress.
When stress becomes long-term or chronic, it can lead to HPA axis dysfunction which alters the body’s normal stress response. Chronic stress is detrimental to our bodies and has been shown to accelerate aging, deplete immune function, increase whole body inflammation, may also lead to hormonal imbalances and also affect overall quality of life. Unaddressed chronic stress can lead to conditions like, anxiety, depression, hypertension, heart disease and chronic fatigue syndrome.
Common signs that stress has become chronic and is impacting health include:
It is important to understand the different stages of HPA dysfunction to be able to clarify which stage you may be at.
3 Stages of HPA Dysfunction:
Stage 1: Alarm Phase
Stage 2: Resistance Phase
Stage 3: Exhaustion Phase
Constantly feeling tired and fatigued can make reaching for caffeine and/or sugar quite easy. However, they don’t fix the lack of energy for very long, and often will result in energy crashes soon after consumption. So, what can help us manage stress & increase energy levels? Adaptogens!
What Are Adaptogens?
Adaptogens have been used in traditional medicine for centuries and work on the basis of prevention. They are a class of plants that help to recharge the adrenal glands and provide them with some additional support. Adaptogens can support both the brain and body. They help to increase our resilience to stress and protect us from chronically high cortisol levels, which can leave you feeling energized and calm. There are many different adaptogens out there and the one/s you choose must match the stage of adrenal dysfunction.
How Do Adaptogens Work?
Adaptogens help to re-adjust the HPA axis and help the body to re-attain homeostasis.
My 3 Top Adaptogens To Consider:
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)
Ashwagandha has been used in India for 6,000 years and is found in the dry areas of India, the Middle East, and some parts of Africa. Some of you may know it as Withania somnifera or Indian ginseng.
Ashwagandha is composed of many medicinal compounds like amino acids, fatty acids and choline. The root smells like a “Ashva” which is the Indian word for a horse and consuming it is said to “give the power of a horse!”. That is why it is called Ashwagandha.
Thus far, research studies have shown that the benefits of Ashwagandha can be:
Ashwagandha is best suited for Stage 1 + Stage 2 HPA dysfunction where the ‘wired but tired’ feeling is observed and is best taken before bed. Avoid taking Ashwagandha in the daytime. Do not use this herb if you are pregnant or have an autoimmune disease. The recommended dose is typically 300-500 mg/day.
Rhodiola (Rhodiola Rosea)
Rhodiola Rosea is a Russian herb that works by increasing the release of serotonin, the ‘happy hormone’ in the body. It is used by a lot of females to provide a little extra support emotionally, physically and mentally.
The benefits of Rhodiola can be:
Rhodiola is best for Stage 2 of HPA dysfunction. It is best to take if you are looking for a little more mental stimulation. The recommended dose is typically 200-400 mg/day.
Licorice root also known as Glycyrrhiza Glabra, acts synergistically with cortisol. It is one of the most used herbs in Traditional Chinese medicine and is specific for people with adrenal exhaustion (Stage 3). Its main medicinal properties come from the ingredient, glycyrrhizic acid, which inhibits the breakdown of cortisol. This helps to balance cortisol levels in the body and is particularly useful for Stage 3 adrenal dysfunction.
The benefits of Licorice root include:
Licorice is best indicated for Stage 3 HPA dysfunction as it helps to raise cortisol levels. It is best taken in the morning for sustained energy. Aim for 1-4 grams/day
Caution: Licorice can cause salt retention, elevated blood pressure and hypokalemia. Do not take Licorice if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Make sure to speak to your healthcare practitioner prior to use!
A great thing about adaptogens is that they can be used individually or in combination formulas. Picking one adaptogen or multiple adaptogens depends on your stage of adrenal dysfunction. While adaptogens work great to help the body adapt to stress and fatigue, it is also essential to address the root cause of your stress. Always go back to the basics - eat a healthy, balanced diet, exercise regularly and use mindfulness practices like meditations or yoga to help manage feelings of stress. Adaptogens work best when taken for a minimum of 3 months and as always speak to your Naturopathic Doctor or health professional to see which one/s would be best for you!
Choudhary et al. (2017). Efficacy and Safety of Ashwagandha Root Extract in Improving Memory and Cognitive Functions. J Diet Suppl. 14(6):599-612.
Agnihotri et al. (2013). Effects of Withania somnifera in patients of schizophrenia: A randomized, double blind, placebo controlled pilot trial study. Indian J Pharmacol. 45(4): 417-418.
A Standardized Withania Somnifera Extract Significantly Reduces Stress-Related Parameters in Chronically Stressed Humans: A double-blind, randomized, placebo controlled study. (2008). JANA.
** Disclaimer: The advice in this article is for informational purposes only. It does not replace the care of a Naturopathic physician.