“Adapt or Die": Easing Chronic Stress Naturally

By Holly Lucille ND, RNLicensed Naturopathic Doctor

Posted on | By Holly Lucille ND, RN

When it comes to dealing with chronic stress, there are those who explode, those who simmer and stew in it, and those who simply swallow it. 

From This Episode:

Shut Down Your Stress!

If you see yourself as one of these types, which ever one it might be, the sad news is that you are not alone. A national survey, released a few years ago, by the American Psychological Association found that one-third of Americans are living with extreme stress and nearly half reported their stress levels had increased within the past 5 years.

This chronic state of stress is causing a myriad of health issues that we don’t realize. The stress hormones elicited during the time of a stressful event are meant to be protective; however, when they are overproduced due to chronic stress, the same hormones can promote cellular damage and accelerate detrimental changes in the body that lead to conditions like persistent fatigue, bone mineral loss, inflammation, hormone imbalances, brain fog, and obesity. 

No matter how you experience stress, it is imperative to do something to help ease the damage that chronic stress can cause! Adaptogens to the rescue! Adaptogens are a class of plant medicines that have the ability to help stabilize the “hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis” and assist you while you are enduring the multitude of stressors in your daily life. Stated more simply, adaptogens help the body fight stress by reducing the production of stress hormones that result in the fight-or-flight response. Adaptogens increase the body’s natural resistance to stress.

The following are adaptogens you can try today:

Siberian Stress Buster

One of my favorite herbs to help people thrive despite stress is eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus), formerly called "Siberian ginseng," though it is not in the ginseng family.  Eleuthero has been found to help reduce the physical responses to stress – those "pit of your stomach" feelings that make challenging days even worse.

This plant medicine has also been associated with improved mental health, increased physical endurance, stronger immune health, and reduced levels of cortisol – the “fight or flight” hormone that can cause that stressful spiral to get even worse. Scientific research shows that eleuthero may be just the ticket to help you get through those days when you haven’t had enough sleep the night before. Eleuthero can help you adapt to the circumstances and take the day in stride.

A typical dosage of eleuthero is a half-teaspoon to 1 teaspoon of the liquid extract twice a day; or 2 to 3 grams of the powdered root daily; or a half-teaspoon of the solid extract twice daily.

Rhodiola for Relief

Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea) is another one of nature’s amazing herbs. Used in natural medicine for generations, it improves calmness while increasing energy, and concentration. For those times when you feel tired or slightly stressed even before you begin your day, rhodiola can help give you a mental energy boost that can get you started.

Like eleuthero, rhodiola has been clinically studied and shown to enhance concentration and physical stamina.

In one double-blind, placebo-controlled study, rhodiola showed a marked improvement in fighting fatigue, and in another, a significant improvement was seen in participants in the rhodiola group for mental fatigue, physical fitness, and overall well-being. Yet another clinical study focusing on fatigue associated with night duty for young physicians showed an improvement in the rhodiola group for total mental performance – important for anyone working overnight hours, but especially critical in this case. It’s perfect for anyone with an “on-the-go” lifestyle, because it is amazingly effective at reducing acute stress.

Compounds from the root of the plant called rosavins are responsible for rhodiola’s properties. Interestingly, despite the fact that rhodiola can help give you the energy and clarity you need, it does not contain caffeine, nor will it affect your blood pressure or heart rate. That is part of what accounts for the feeling of calmness – you just feel better. And, conversely, it is not a sedative. So even though you’ll get past that “revved up” feeling that stress can bring about, you won’t feel like taking a nap, either.

Because there are many varieties of rhodiola, buy only products that specify on the label that the species used is R. rosea. A typical dosage is 100 mg, three times a day

Say Ahhhhh With Ashwagandha

A frequently utilized adaptogen in ayurveda is ashwagandha (Withania somnifera).  Traditionally, ashwagandha is used to relieve anxiety, reduce inflammation, and as an anti-inflammatory. Like the other adaptogens mentioned, it is recognized as having the special ability to be simultaneously energizing while being calming as well.

Understandably, these effects make ashwagandha a natural stress reliever. Research studies have found that ashwagandha not only reduces stress by decreasing cortisol levels, it can significantly reduce anxiety as well – by over 50% in one clinical trial. Ashwagandha has also been shown to increase physical energy and stamina, and even relieve stress-related male infertility.

It is able to protect the body from the adverse effects of chronic stress, including stress-induced ulcers, and helps the immune system generate protective white blood cells that are often depleted by constant stress. Ashwagandha can help you resist the damaging effects of stress so you can feel revitalized and recharged.

Ashwaganda is available in powdered form, capsules and as a liquid extract. A traditional dosage is 1 to 2 grams of the dried powdered root, taken three times daily. As a liquid extract, take a half-teaspoon to 1 teaspoon, three times a day. A typical dosage of a standardized extract is 100 to 200 mg, twice a day.

Schisandra to the Rescue

Native to China, schisandra (Schisandra chinensis) has been used traditionally for millennia to slow the aging process, improve concentration, fight fatigue, and enhance immune function. As an adaptogen, schisandra is a potent general tonic, decreasing fatigue, enhancing physical performance, and promoting endurance, so it’s perfect to help you exercise your stress away. While the mechanism of action is not completely understood, beneficial compounds called lignans, found in the seeds of the berry, may be responsible. Schisandra counters stress by reducing the levels of stress hormones in the blood. And, it has strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. 

Several human clinical studies show that schisandra also improves concentration, coordination and endurance. Much like rhodiola, schisandra helps to prevent mental fatigue and increases accuracy and quality of work. In various human clinical studies with people who definitely need to be able to function under stress and lacking sleep, including soldiers, doctors, students, and other groups, schisandra demonstrated superior benefits and helped keep everyone focused.

Schisandra berries are often used as a tea, as an extract, or as a capsule or powder. If using schisandra extract or tincture (1:5), you might take 40 - 80 drops, three times per day, If you wish to make a schisandra berry tea, you might start with 1-2 teaspoons of dried berries. Add them to 8 to 10 ounces of water and simmer for 5-10 minutes; then allow the liquid to steep for another 20 to 30 minutes. You can generally enjoy up to 4 ounces of this liquid up to 3 times per day.

If using schisandra capsules, take one or two capsules containing 400-500 mg, two or three times per day.

Bottom Line: Supplement Your Lifestyle

I believe it is extremely important to identify and start to decrease the chronic stress in your life in order to live the best and healthiest life possible. This doesn’t happen overnight, but the sooner you start to manage your stress, the better. So, while you’re working on it, consider supplementing your life with one of the adaptogens I just walked you through, or better yet, a blend of adaptogens. You can find these mighty and medicinal plants in solid extracts, tinctures or capsules.

Article written by Holly Lucille ND, RN
Licensed Naturopathic Doctor