Nutritional Support of Stress-Induced Dysfunctions
Renata Trister DO
Stress is a normal physical response to events that make you feel threatened. When you sense danger—whether it’s real or imagined—the body’s defenses kick into high gear in a rapid, automatic process known as the “fight-or-flight” reaction, or the stress response.
The stress response is the body’s way of protecting you. When working properly, it helps you stay focused, energetic, and alert. The stress response also helps you perform under pressure and motivate you to do your best. But when you’re constantly running in emergency mode, your mind and body suffer. You can protect yourself by recognizing the signs and symptoms of stress and taking steps to reduce its harmful effects.
The Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) Axis
The HPA is a complex set of direct influences and feedback interactions among the hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal glands. It is the primary regulator of this stress response. While stress-induced changes in biochemistry may be beneficial to survival in the short term (acute stress), they present an increased risk of various health challenges in the long term (chronic stress). Research increasingly supports the critical role that stress can play in obesity, diabetes, osteoporosis, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, infectious disease, gastric ulcer, cancer, and gastrointestinal, skin, psychological, and neurologic disorders, as well as immune system dysfunctions.
Combating Stress With Herbal Adaptogens
Lifestyle changes such as stress reduction, relaxation, regular exercise, and a healthy diet can all support a healthy response to stress. Herbs referred to as “adaptogens” have been used over the centuries in traditional medicine. An adaptogen is a nontoxic substance and especially a plant extract that is used to increase the body’s ability to resist the damaging effects of stress and promote or restore normal physiological function. Adaptogens have a variety of beneficial effects, such as increasing energy and stamina, preventing fatigue, enhancing memory and concentration, and improving work performance. These are some herbal adaptogens:
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) – is a rejuvenating herb and one of the most vital herbs in Ayurvedic (Indian) healing medicine. It has been shown to enhance adaptability to both physical and chemical stress. For instance, mice pretreated with ashwagandha and subjected to physical stress showed increased endurance.
Holy Basil (Ocimum sanctum) is an Indian herb with a rich history of treating a variety of conditions. Treatment with holy basil has yielded increased physical endurance, and lowered the stress-induced release of adrenal hormones and cholesterol in animal studies.
Bacopa (Bacopa monnieri) creeping herb whose habitat includes wetlands and muddy shores. It is traditionally used to revitalize nerves and the mind, as well as to help strengthen the adrenals. In animal testing, bacopa has been shown to improve adaptations in sensory, motor, and motivational systems.
Cordyceps (Cordyceps sinensis) is a therapeutic fungus/mushroom found primarily at high altitudes in China and is one of the most valued medicinal fungi in Chinese medicine. Research dating back to 1843 suggests the use of cordyceps to help strengthen and rebuild the body after exhaustion and illness.
Asian Ginseng (Panax ginseng) is greatly valued as a tonic herb that acts to normalize body function and biochemistry. In traditional Chinese medicine, ginseng is used in patients who overwhelmed and exhausted.
Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea) is traditionally used to stimulate the nervous system, decrease depression, enhance work performance, and eliminate fatigue.
Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) is one of the most highly regarded in terms of treating conditions associated with diminished adrenal function.