How to Prevent Stress from Destroying Your Health
Some stress is essential in life to keep your immune system in top shape and to prepare you for dealing with difficult situations. However, most of us are basking in far too much stress. But what exactly are the health consequences of stress? Can they be avoided? Read on to learn how stress impacts your body and how you can prevent it from destroying your health by using adaptogens.
Health consequences of stress
Chronically elevated stress levels are associated with an exhausting list of health problems. Research has linked prolonged stress with:
- Heart disease
- Weight gain
- Metabolic dysfucntion
- Immune-system dysfunction,
- Gut issues (Irritable bowel syndrome, colitis, ectc)
- Worsening of conditions like asthma, psychiatric illnesses, and more.
Does everyone react to stress the same way?
Your stress response is a combination of many factors such as genetic vulnerability, coping style, type of personality and social support. The stress response system is referred to as the hypothalamic-pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis which regulates pretty much every aspect of our well-being. Your early life experiences are especially important for the programming of your HPA axis and there are certain conditions that are especially detrimental to its development. Prolonged exposure to stressful conditions, particularly those that threaten safety, causes a steady spike in hormones that control your body’s response to stress.
People who are exposed to trauma, neglect, or stressful situations in infancy or childhood or even adulthood can develop dysregulation of the HPA axis. Dysregulation means that some people become hyperresponsive to stressful situations. In essence, even minimal stress can send your HPA axis into overdrive.
What exactly is a stress response?
To better understand why stress is so detrimental to your health, it helps to understand what happens during a stress response.
- Stressful Trigger: When you experience a stressful event a part of your brain that processes emotions, called the amygdala, sends a signal to the command center of your brain, called the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus then respond by activating your nervous system to have itself a stress response, also know as your fight-or-flight response.
- The stress system: The two system activated by the hypothalamus are the sympathetic-adrenal medullary axis and the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis.
- The activation of the sympathetic-adrenal medullary axis system leads to a release of adrenalin and noradrenalin.
- The HPA axis signals your pituitary gland to send marching orders for cortisol production. Cortisol, also knowns as your stress hormone, helps boost your body’s ability to deal with stress.
- The stress response: Noradrenalin and adrenalin coursing through your veins leads to all of those familiar stress feelings like – increased heart rate, nervous stomach, sweating, shallow breathing, and feeling ready to fight (or flight). Cortisol increases your body’s access to it’s energy stores (for fighting or flighting).
Under normal circumstances, this process is short-term and gets shut off by your parasympathetic nervous system once the stressor leaves. However, in the case of chronic stress and dysregulated stress responses, your stress response continues to be activated, leading to dysregulation of cortisol, a prolonged stress response, and an array of health issues.
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Can you supplement your way to less stress?
Using habit change and engaging in relaxation techniques are an important part of a stress-reduction plan. For many people, they may not find that it’s enough. Fortunately, there’s a supplement for that!
Adaptogens have entered the chat
Adaptogenic herbs or “adaptogens” are a class of herbs that help the body deal with stress more efficiently. These powerful little supplements help your body in recovering from long-term and short-term stressors by regulating a stable balance in the hypothalamic, pituitary, and adrenal glands. Essentially, they create conditions that make us more resistant to stress.
In addition to helping us build a bullet-proof stress response, adaptogens have other health benefits such as:
- Balancing hormones
- Boosting immune system
- Better sleep
- Boosting mental work capacity
- Improving focus and attention
- Providing neuroprotective elements
- Anti-fatigue properties
- Antidepressive effects
Show me the Adaptogens
In a google search, you’ll find many different hits for adaptogens as they grow in popularity. Here are some of the more common adaptogens and their key actions in the body:
- Astragalus root: helps reduce stress and aging by protecting the structures at the end of chromosomes called telomeres.
- Ashwagandha: Helps the body cope with daily stress and may be esepcially helpful for restoring high quality sleep.
- Siberian ginseng: Can help boost energy and reduce the negative effects of mental fatigue and exhaustion.
- Holy basil: Effective for promoting relaxation and reducing stress and anxiety.
- Rhodiola rosea: Helps lower anxiety, reduces fatigue, and can even help combat feelings fo depression.
- Cordyceps: A powerful fungi that helps restore balance to your hormones and reduce the impact of stress.
- Reishi: Another mushroom powerhouse with medicinal benefits such as helping reduce the impacts of stress, and promoiting healthy sleep patterns.
- Maca: Can help improve mood, libido, energy and help you adapt to stress.
- Bacopa Monnieri: Helps to protect the brain, boosts memory, and enhances cognitive function
- Gingko Biloba: Help boost mood and mental energy while offering neuroprotective properties to the brain.
- Maca: Helps restore wellbeing, balance hormone levels, maintain energy, and support a healthy libido.
How do I Choose an Adaptogen?
If your primary concern is reducing stress the most scientifically supported stress-whipping adaptogens are Aswagandha and Rhodiola Rosea. If you’d like a mental boost, go with Bacopa Monnieri.
Does it feel like your body over-responds to stress? Do your stress levels negatively impact your sleep?
HIGH-STRESS RESPONDER/POOR SLEEPER: Research has shown that Ashwagandha can significantly help with the regulation of cortisol. This is especially helpful in people with HPA dysfunction. So, if you’re a person who feels they may have an elevated stress response– and/or stress is negatively impacting your sleep, go with Ashwagandha. Studies show that 1-3 months with daily doses of ashwagandha with as little as 125 mg reduced cortisol levels by 11-32%.
How Ashwagandha works: Its effects come from substances in the plant called withanolides which can modulate GABA. There is indication that it also helps with sex drive, muscle building, and regulating cortisol. The onset for reducing anxiety can be felt within 2 hours lasting up to 8 hours and effects such as muscle building and hormone regulation are noticeable after about 4 weeks
Dose: ~500-600 mg a day for stress and sleep issues
Are your stress levels out of control? Do you feel close to burnout?
CLOSE TO BURNOUT: Stress leads to fatigue and ultimately burnout. Research has shown that Rhodiola Rosea may be especially helpful for combating both physical and mental fatigue. If you’re extremely busy, overworked, and experiencing mental or physical fatigue – go with Rhodiola.
How Rhodiola Rosea Works: It influences serotonin and norepinephrine levels in the brain, can activate neurogenesis and activates the synthesis of ATP, your body’s main source of cell energy. Some may feel effects within a few days but most users feel full benefits by 30-40 days.
Dose: 100-600 mg daily for up to 12 weeks. Ideally, dose at 5 days on 2 days off to prevent tolerance build-up and keep it working effectively. Take Rhodiola earlier in the day (before 3pm), or first thing in the morning on an empty stomach for best potency.
Are you mainly seeking to increase energy/focus and decrease stress?
BOOST FOCUS: Stress leads to mental fatigue which can make it hard to focus and complete tasks. Research has shown that supplements containing bacopa monnieri can help boost attention, focus, mental energy, and improve cognitive function.
How Bacopa Monnieri Works: Bacopa appears to modulate serotonin, affects levels of acetylcholine, and is a potent antioxidant. Bacopa protects the brain from stress by increasing certain enzymes that help fight damage from free radicals. Benefits from Bacopa Monnieri seem to be most notable after 4-6 weeks of use.
Dose: 300–450 mg per day in capsule form. You can also purchase powder form to make into herbal tea, or mix with other hot beverages.
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Tips for Choosing Your Supplement
You can skip the struggle and check out our Rested Health-approved supplements here. We’ve scoured the internet and found the best sources so you don’t have to. If you’d like to venture on your own, follow these guidelines for choosing a high-quality adaptogen supplement.
You can combine adaptogens with one another or with other health-promoting compounds to increase the benefits. Take a look at your goals and feel free to try combining them when you’re ready. Popular stacks include Gingko Biloba + Bacopa Monneriri, Ashwagandha + Rhodiola Rosea (take Rhodiola Rosea in the morning and Ashwagandha later in the day for best effects), and Gotu Kola + Bacopa Monnieri. You will also regularly find ingredients like black pepper in certain adaptogens in order to aid in absorption.
Are Adaptogens Safe?
There are very few long-term studies examining adaptogens but most experts agree they are extremely safe to take at varying doses.
Do Adaptogens Interact with Other Medications?
Use caution when using adaptogens with the following classes of medications:
Prescription Sedatives, Sleep Aids, and Anti-Anxiety Medicines
Many herbs have calming and sedative properties so these effects can be enhanced when combined with prescription sedatives. Use with caution and note any side effects.
Ashwagandha is known to support and stimulate thyroid function, so it has the potential to bump up thyroid hormone levels if combined with thyroid medications. Have your levels tested to find a balance that works for you.
Diabetes Medications or Drugs that Lower Blood Sugar
Most adaptogen herbs, including reishi and rhodiola naturally help balance blood sugar. If you take these herbs along with glucose-lowering meds, it may cause levels to dip below normal. As with thyroid drugs, rather than avoiding herbs, consider working with your doctor to see if they might enable you to lower your dosage of drugs.
The Bottom Line
Stress can have extremely detrimental effects on your health. You may not be able to avoid the stressors in your life but you can help improve your body’s response to stress by supplementing with adaptogens. Try using some today that target your specific needs and see what works best for you! You deserve it.