Nowadays it seems like we are all somehow dealing with stress.
In modern, busy life full of stimuli especially in the big city, we are constantly "on" which causes a lot of pressure.
A bit of stress is fine and in some cases it can even be good for you, but if it lasts too long and is intensive, it is not pleasant and can eventually have serious consequences for your health.
Fortunately, there are natural ways to lower your stress levels and provide some extra support during the transition to a more mindful, less stressful lifestyle.
Adaptogens can help you with this. They are herbs and mushrooms that help your body and mind deal better with stress by regulating the way your body responds to stress.
They are widely used in Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese medicine. Examples of adaptogens are Ashwagandha, Reishi mushroom, Rosea rhodiola, Tulsi and Cordyceps mushroom.
In this article I will tell you more about what adaptogens can do to regulate stress, what stress really is and how our body deals with it.
What is stress?
Stress is the body's response to perceived threats or challenges and disrupts our natural balance.
The more sensitive we are to stress, the more intensely our body will react to it to protect us against (potential) danger.
Stress can appear in the form of:
Physical stress such as an accident, injuries, training too hard, not moving enough and lack of sleep.
Emotional stress such as sadness, anger and fear.
Chemical stress such as toxins, air pollution, an unhealthy diet and lifestyle, and medications.
When the body is stressed, it triggers a combination of physiological responses that involve multiple systems, including the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and the sympathetic-adrenal-system (SAS) axis.
The HPA axis is responsible for regulating the body's long-term stress response. When a stressor is perceived, the hypothalamus in the brain releases a hormone called corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH). This hormone then stimulates the pituitary gland to release adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), which travels to the adrenal glands and triggers the release of stress hormone cortisol.
Cortisol helps the body respond to stress by increasing blood sugar levels, suppressing the immune system, and increasing blood pressure.
The SAS axis, on the other hand, is responsible for the body's immediate stress response.
When a stressor is perceived, the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is activated, leading to the release of the hormone adrenaline from the adrenal medulla.
Adrenaline causes an immediate increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration, preparing the body for a "fight or flight" response.
Both the HPA and SAS axes are important for the body's stress response, but they differ in their timing and duration of response.
The SAS axis produces an immediate response that lasts for a few minutes, while the HPA axis produces a slower, more sustained response that can last for hours.
When stress becomes chronic or prolonged, it can have negative effects on the body and mind, including increased risk of cardiovascular disease, depression, and other health problems.
It is important to be aware of stress and to make conscious adjustments that reduce stress through for example exercise, nutrition, meditation, time in nature and if necessary, therapeutic treatments.
The three primary systems involved in managing stress
The nervous system:
This system consists of the voluntary nervous system and the autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system controls the physiological processes in our body and how we deal with stress. It consists of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).
The SNS is responsible for the "fight or flight" response to stress, while the PNS is responsible for the body's relaxation response.
The endocrine or hormonal system:
This system includes the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and the thyroid and it regulates the release of hormones, such as stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline.
The immune system:
This system enables proper functioning of the body. It plays a role in regulating inflammation and the body's response to stress, among other things.
Chronic stress weakens the immune system, making the body more susceptible to infection and disease.
The neuroendocrine system is a collaboration between the nervous system that sends signals and the endocrine system that responds by producing hormones. It is a complex network of neurons, endocrine glands and organs that work together to regulate various physiological processes in the body.
The neuroendocrine system plays an important role in regulating various physiological processes such as growth and development, reproduction, metabolism and the immune system.
Disturbances in the neuroendocrine system can lead to various health problems such as hormonal imbalances, metabolic disorders and stress-related conditions.
The body responds to stress by the adaptive response to restore homeostasis, the state of equilibrium and stability within the body. This response involves several physiological processes that work together to restore normal functions and protect the body from further damage.
When the body experiences stress, the hypothalamus in the brain signals for the release of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, by the adrenal glands.
Stress hormones then activate the body's "fight or flight" response, which prepares the body to respond to the stressor.
This response generates an increased heart rate, increased blood pressure and increased blood sugar levels, which give the body energy to deal with the stressor.
Once the stressor has disappeared, the body activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the relaxation response and the body's recovery. This response helps restore normal functions and return the body to a state of balance and stability.
The adaptive response involves several processes, including the immune system that protects the body against infection and disease.
How do adaptogens work to balance stress?
Adaptogens are natural substances such as herbs and mushrooms that help the body adapt to stress, whether physical, mental or chemical.
They support the entire neuroendocrine system and target the adrenal glands in particular.
Adaptogens help to increase resilience to stress in the following ways:
Adaptogens regulate the HPA axis and SAS axis
Adaptogens help regulate the HPA axis and SAS axis, which are responsible for the body's stress response. When the body is stressed, they are activated and stress hormones such as cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine are released.
Adaptogens help regulate this response and prevent excessive release of these hormones.
Adaptogens support the adrenal glands
The adrenal glands produce stress hormones such as cortisol.
Adaptogens support the adrenal glands, helping them to function properly and preventing the excessive production of cortisol.
Adaptogens support the adaptive response
When stressed, the body responds with the adaptive response to promote homeostasis.
Adaptogens stimulate the adaptive response and help minimize some of the damage related to stress by boosting the body's defenses.
They help maintain homeostasis during stress this way.
Adaptogens have an anti-inflammatory effect
Chronic stress can lead to inflammation in the body, which can cause various health problems.
Adaptogens have anti-inflammatory properties and can help reduce inflammation in the body.
Adaptogens support immune function
Stress can weaken the immune system, making the body more susceptible to disease.
Adaptogens contribute to healthy immune function and help protect the body.
Adaptogens regulate different systems
Stress has an impact on various systems.
Adaptogens help regulate under- or over-activity of the central nervous system, blood sugar metabolism, immune system and mitochondria functions (the conversion of energy from food by cells).