Stress is a normal, natural response that occurs in the body in response to ‘stressors’, such as environmental conditions (e.g. hot/cold temperatures), stimulating events (e.g. life changes), as well as biological substances (e.g. alcohol). Acute stress is helpful for the body, and aids stimulation of the adrenal glands in the production of hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. These mobilise the body’s resources for use in immediate activity i.e. the ‘flight or fight’ response. Once the stressor has passed, the processes in the body returns to a new state of equilibrium.1
Sometimes, the acute, everyday stress response can become prolonged in the body, which may lead to a ‘resistance’ and progress to an ‘exhaustion’ phase. This means that the adrenal glands are working very hard. This can it challenging for the body to maintain balance, leading to ‘adrenal fatigue’.1
Adaptogens are herbs which can help the body to adapt to and cope with everyday stress, by supporting and tonifying the body. They are particularly helpful for prolonged or long-term stress, and are said to increase resistance to stress on multiple levels. Some popular adaptogens include:
Withania somnifera (winter cherry)
Traditionally, withania has been used in Ayurvedic (Indian) medicine for its adaptogenic properties, and as a rejuvenating and strengthening tonic to help improve the body’s resistance to stress. The effectiveness of withania has been studied using the standardised extract KSM-66®, a high-concentration extract, which may support healthy serum cortisol levels and reduce physical and biochemical stress scores in healthy people.2
Glycyrrhiza glabra (licorice)
Licorice has been used in traditional western herbal medicine (WHM) and Ayurvedic medicine as a tonic and to help with adrenal gland function.1 This is supported by research which shows it may help healthy cortisol function in the body, particularly in long-term everyday stress.3,4
Magnolia officinalis (magnolia) and Phellodendron amurense (phellodendron)
Magnolia officinalis (magnolia) and Phellodendron amurense (phellodendron) are herbs used traditionally for reducing stress and anxiety, with studies showing they may be effective in combination.5 A formulation of these two herbs, Relora®, has been shown to reduce cortisol levels and improved scores for stress and anxiety after it was taken for four weeks in subjects who were moderately stressed.5
Ganoderma lucidum (reiishi mushroom)
Reiishi mushroom is used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) to nourish the heart and body, and strengthen qi and blood to support fatigue.6 It is used in traditional WHM to help increase energy and resistance to stress (in cases of mental and physical fatigue related to stress).7,8 Animal studies also show that reiishi can help to reduce anxiety during times of stress.9
Cordyceps sinensis (caterpillar mushroom)
Cordyceps, used in TCM to support physical stress, has been shown in animal studies to promote increased endurance.10 This popular mushroom can also help to support the immune system.10
There are also many lifestyle changes that can be made to help maintain healthy stress levels in the body, such as:
- a healthy balanced diet including protein, whole grains, vegetables fruit, and good fats
- getting plenty of sleep e.g. at least eight hours per night
- meditation, yoga and mindfulness exercises
- social interaction with friends and family.1
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- Hechtman L. Clinical naturopathic medicine. Chatswood: Elsevier, 2012.
- Chandrasekhar K, Kapoor J, Anishetty S. A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of Ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults. Indian J Psychol Med 2012 Jul;34(3):255-262. Financial sponsor: Asha Hospital: Hyderabad, India.
- Blumenthal M, Goldberg A, Brinckmann J (eds). Herbal medicine: Expanded commission E monographs. London: Churchill Livingstone; 2000.
- Al-Dujaili EA, Kenyon CJ, Nicol MR, et al. Liquorice and glycyrrhetinic acid increase DHEA and deoxycorticosterone levels in vivo and in vitro by inhibiting adrenal sult2a1 activity. Mol Cell Endocrinol 2011;336(1-2):102-109. Financial sponsor: MRC Program Grant/Anti-doping Agency to EAD.
- Talbott SM, Talbott JA, Pugh M. Effect of Magnolia officinalis and Phellodendron amurense (Relora®) on cortisol and psychological mood state in moderately stressed subjects. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 2013;10(1):37. Financial sponsor: manufacturer of Relora® (Next Pharmaceuticals) and conducted by SupplementWatch.
- Koh J, Kim KM, Kim JM, et al. Antifatigue and antistress effect of the hot-water fraction from mycelia of Cordyceps sinensis. Biol Pharm Bull 2003;26(5):691-694. Financial sponsor: Korea and Dongduk universities, Korea.
- PPRC 2010. Pharmacopoeia of the People's Republic of China 2010. Volume I. Beijing (PRC): Chinese Pharmacopoeia Commission; 2010.
- Hobbs C. Medicinal mushrooms: an exploration of tradition, healing, & culture. Summertown (TN): Book Publishing Company, 2003.
- Ding H, Zhou M, Zhang RP, et al. Ganoderma lucidum extract protects dopaminergic neurons through inhibiting the production of inflammatory mediators by activated microglia. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med 2011;2011:156810. Financial sponsor: Ministry of Sciences and Technology of China grants to Capital Medical University, Beijing, China.
- Kumar R, Negi PS, Singh B, et al. Cordyceps sinensis promotes exercise endurance capacity of rats by activating skeletal muscle metabolic regulators. J Ethnopharmacol 2011;136(1):260-266. Financial sponsor: Defence Institute of Physiology and Allied Sciences, Delhi, India.