There’s a lot of information going around right now about how to support the immune system with herbs and supplements. That’s great, yet we need to also be addressing one of the main causes of immune system dysregulation: stress. One of the best ways to counteract the negative effects of stress on the body is by taking adaptogens.
Adaptogens are herbs that help the body better respond to stress. They work by affecting the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and by tonifying the nervous system. Basically, they affect the parts of the body most involved in responding to and dealing with stress, be it physical, emotional, or environmental. Most adaptogens also have immune system benefits.
Adaptogens are currently being studied for their effects on depression, fatigue, anxiety, inflammation, toxicity, and more, and have been used for centuries by natural healers for their ability to protect the nervous system.
Today I’m going to discuss the top 5 adaptogens I most often prescribe in my Integrative Medicine practice. As with any new addition to your healthcare regimen, it’s best to check with your healthcare provider before starting to make sure the herb is right for you and won’t interact with any of your medications. For dosing, I recommend starting with the smallest dose possible the first dose to make sure you don’t have any negative effects from taking it, and then follow the instructions on the product you choose for regular dosing.
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)
Ashwagandha is an herb from Ayurveda. It helps with anxiety, insomnia, joint & muscle aches, fatigue, and exhaustion. It also seems to have a balancing effect of the immune system and helps with low thyroid function. Ashwagandha has a rejuvenating effect on the entire body. It helps support deep sleep and improves brain function.
Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosis)
Eleuthero is a form of ginseng, but doesn’t have the stimulating or short-acting effects of other types of ginsengs. It helps when feeling overstressed as it can reduce cortisol (stress hormone) levels. Eleuthero helps in stopping the inflammatory response that happens with chronic stress and helps keep you going mentally and physically. It can also be helpful to reduce stress headaches and help you sleep during stressful times.
Holy Basil (Ocimum sp.)
Holy Basil (Tulsi) is another herb from Ayurveda. It helps with improving memory, fatigue, depression, anxiety, some respiratory issues, and may help protect the gut from stress-induced conditions. It seems to help increase endurance and improve immune system function. There are several different forms of Holy Basil in the Ayurvedic tradition, each with subtle differences.
Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum)
Reishi is known as the “mushroom of immortality”. It’s helpful for overall wellness, balanced energy, and for calming the nerves. It’s a powerful immune system booster and is being studied for possible effects on cancer. It likely protects the liver and helps to decrease overall inflammation in the body. I use it often when a person’s spirit seems disrupted.
Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea)
Rhodiola helps with stress, depression, impaired brain function, fatigue, and to improve immune function. Many countries consider it a rejuvenative plant. Rhodiola can be somewhat stimulating so should be used with caution in nervous anxiety and it may cause insomnia in some people. It’s better for those who are feeling depleted with very low energy.
Each of these herbs has many other uses. This is in no way an exhaustive list. I’m focusing on the functions that might be most helpful during these trying times. There are also many other adaptogens available. These are my favorite five. I hope they can be of use to you during this stressful period in our lives. Herbs are a mainstay of my primary & specialty care practice. For more information on becoming a patient, please click here.