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Adaptogens: Amazing Natural Stress Busters

Amazing Adaptogens: Powerful Stress Busters from Nature

by Helen Wells

Expensive new treatments promising to turn back the hands of time are constantly on the market, yet often, the most efficient weapons against stress, ageing and disease, can be found in nature. This is the case of ‘adaptogens’, which comprise a number of plants and roots and which have in common one amazing quality – the ability to boost our ‘non-specific resistance’ to ageing, illness and tiredness. They are called ‘adaptogens’ because of their ability to adapt to our body’s specific needs, helping our system counter anxiety and stress gently, without any jolts or sudden changes.

Adaptogens: A Not-So-New Phenomenon

Adaptogens may sound new to us, but they have been used for thousands of years in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, to boost energy and increase resistance in the face of stressful situations. Today, they are used in many settings, including top drug rehabilitation centers, where an integrated approach to healing is employed. Thus, to battle the anxiety and stress that arises when one attempts to detox or withdraw from harmful addictions, natural remedies are as vital as humanistic remedies. A wide range of therapies are being used, including holistic therapies such as yoga, compassion-based therapies and of course, adaptogens. The fascinating book, Adaptogens. Herbs for Strength, Stamina and Stress Relief, notes, “Adaptogens are important supportive therapies for patients experiencing drug withdrawal regardless of whether they are quitting legal habits such as cigarettes, alcohol or coffee, or illegal drugs such as cocaine, ecstasy or amphetamines…”

Schisandra rubriflora, by Scott Zona at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Kew, UK. This Adaptogen is one of the best natural stress busters out there.

Schisandra rubriflora, by Scott Zona at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Kew, UK. This Adaptogen is one of the best natural stress busters out there.

The Unique Synergy of Adaptogens: Natural Stress Busters

Soviet scientist, I.I. Brekham, explained why adaptogens are so powerful: it’s not just the combination of chemicals, vitamins, acids etc. which are present in adaptogenic plants and roots that are important – so, too, is the unique way all these components are combined. Brekham’s research revealed that some of the many benefits of adaptogens include protection from radiation damage, a boost in antibody levels, increased vitality, natural detoxification of the body, enhanced repair of proteins in cells, and greater endurance. Thus, adaptogens are an excellent ally when it comes to battling ageing, both on the external level and internally. Brekham and other Soviet scientists noted that when we are young, our body is able to adapt naturally to stressors such as harsh weather, pollution etc. but as we grow older, we lose this ability – this is where adaptogens can help – by enabling us to resist the stressors that cause illness.




Essential Requirements for Adaptogens

To be considered an adaptogen, a plant or herb must demonstrate the following characteristics:

  1. It must be non-toxic when taken at a standard dosage.
  2. It must increase our ability to fight non-specific stressors. (i.e. be a natural stress busters)
  3. It must have normalizing abilities (i.e. it should be able to reduce blood pressure in someone with high blood pressure, and increase blood pressure in those whose levels are too low).

Powerful Adaptogens

Some of the most widely researched and lauded adaptogens include:

  • Panax Ginseng: Health expert and best-selling author, Leslie Kenton, notes that this type of ginseng, which boosts the immunity, should be taken in root form – the most powerful are grown in Korea or China and they are best taken when they are at least six years old. If you are unable to find Panax Ginseng in root form, opt for the supplement form, but bear in mind that supplements often have additives and preservatives.
  • Siberian Ginseng: This adaptogen, also known as Eleuthrococcus senticosus,a relatively new discovery compared to Panax Ginseng, is known as the ‘devil’s shrub’. Its roots are also used to resist illness and fatigue, though its effects take a few weeks to build up. Some of its benefits include increased endurance, enhanced sleep and memory, and improved sports performance.
  • Ashwaganda: Known as Indian Ginseng, this adaptogen regulates the immune system and is also used to quell the symptoms of anxiety. It has been used for over 2,500 years in Indian medicine and is often used to lower cortisol (stress hormone) levels in the body. Its efficiency has been proven in randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled studies. For further information, see the study carried out by Chandrasekhar et. al., published in the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine (2012).
  • Rhodiola Rosea: This wonderful extract has the ability to raise or lower cortisol levels in the body, as required by each individual.
  • Schisandra chinensis: This “five flavor fruit” in Traditional Chinese Medicine is so named because it balances all of the healing principles attributed to each flavor.  It has been shown to balance liver function, increase endurance and stamina, and act as a powerful antioxidant.
  • Withania somnifera: This potent adaptogen is especially helpful to moderate the effects of stress on sleep.  Generally it helps protect your body from the non-specific effects of stress, meaning it helps your body to deal with stressors and not get ill.

Adaptogens are a great ally for people of all ages; not only do they have no or minimal side-effects, these natural stress busters can help stave off the numerous effects of stress, both on a physical and mental level. Since they regulate the immune system, lower stress levels and soothe pain, they truly are Nature’s powerful healers.

Thanks again to Helen Wells for contributing this piece – Adaptogens are part of my frequent routine because they feel so nourishing on every level. Any time I need a little extra energy, a little more oomph, a better night of sleep or to take the edge off stress. – Amy.



5 Biggest Weight Loss Blockers

So many people struggle with weight loss.  No matter what anyone tells you, it is never easy.  There are always challenges and hardships because in order to lose weight you really do have to change the way you view food, time, yourself and your social habits.  Piece of cake, right? The problem is that in addition to changing lifestyle you have to worry about weight loss blockers. These are hidden things that get in the way of your weight loss goals, even when you’re doing everything right. Here are 5 of the most common.

1.  Sluggish Thyroid

Low thyroid function has become almost “normal” in our society, simply because it is so common.  Your thyroid determines your resting level of energy.  It is basically the gland that controls how fast your engine idles, and it does that via thyroid hormones.  If these hormones aren’t doing their job properly then the resting idle slows and you don’t burn nearly as many calories or have nearly as much energy to do things like exercise.  This makes low thyroid one of the biggest weight loss blockers. You could be at risk of low thyroid function if you have any of these:

  • Chilly, get cold easily, cold hands and feet
  • Tired, slow moving, slow thinking, sluggish feeling
  • Dry skin, dry hair, brittle or coarse hair, puffy looking face
  • Depression, lack of motivation, increased need for sleep

Of course the best thing is to have your doctor test your thyroid hormones, but many people experience symptoms of low thyroid, including weight gain or difficulty losing weight, when they are within normal limits.  Usually what that means is that your thyroid doesn’t have any major problem, but is slowing down enough to give you warning signals. These things can help to re-balance your thyroid and increase it’s performance:

  • Limit your soy intake – excess soy slows down thyroid function
  • Increase your iodine – either with a supplement like iodoral, prolamine iodine or kelp supplements or by eating more sea vegetables.  Your body can’t make thyroid hormones without iodine and the receptors for your thyroid hormones don’t work without iodine so this is really important.
  • Check yourself for wheat sensitivity, gluten sensitivity or celiac disease – dairy sensitivity can also be an issue. Un-managed sensitivities can wreak havoc on your thyroid.  If you don’t know how to check those things then read up on it here.




2.  Hormone Imbalance

Your thyroid isn’t the only player in this game.  Unfortunately, all of your hormones play some role in metabolism, fat distribution and use, hunger, satiety and general weight management. This includes estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, insulin, adrenal hormones and hunger hormones like leptin and ghrelin.  You may have these types of hormone imbalances if:

  • Your body shape has changed (like from pear to apple) or the areas where you are gaining weight are different
  • Your menstrual cycle (in women) or sex drive (both genders) has suddenly changed
  • You are seeing weight packing on around the waist, stomach and back
  • Your stress level has spiked lately or you’re not sleeping because of stress
  • Your blood sugars and triglycerides have been increasing lately

This isn’t a complete list, but it’s the most obvious signs. If this is the case work with your doctor or practitioner to get to the root of the problem.  Until you address the hormones the weight isn’t going to go anywhere.  Some simple things you can do to help begin to address any hormone problem naturally are:

  • Exercise – this is your great regulator and can decrease stress levels, change sugar processing and even help to balance your sex hormones.
  • Water – boosting your water intake helps your body to regulate hormones better and to detoxify them more effectively.
  • Fiber – increasing fiber allows the hormones that you eliminate via your liver to attach to fiber in the gut and actually be eliminated from the body – you can read more about it here.  Without the fiber you tend to pull the hormones back into your bloodstreams to be recirculated.
  • Balance your diet – reducing carbs, which are sugars and starches, will help your body to cope with your hormones far more effectively.  In the long-term this is one of the most effective things you can do for your weight. Eat frequently and every time you eat make sure you’re getting protein, fiber, low carbs and moderate fat.

3. Food Sensitivities

Eating a food you’re sensitive to raises your resting level of inflammation, keeps your body in a state of panic and makes it much harder to lose weight.  Part of the problem is that one symptom of the food sensitivity is a craving for that food (the food you’re sensitive to) that has nothing to do with what your body actually needs, or even hunger.  It’s literally an addictive response to the inflammation created by that food. The inflammation and the addiction both help you to pack on the pounds and act as huge weight loss blockers. Finding and eliminating your food sensitivities will not only help you drop those unwanted pounds, but also help reduce any symptoms you may be having.  Find out more about eliminating your food sensitivites!

Get rid of your weight loss blockers and find reasons to love your measuring tape again. © Ragne Kabanova | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Get rid of your weight loss blockers and find reasons to love your measuring tape again. © Ragne Kabanova | Dreamstime Stock Photos

4. Check Your Medicine Cabinet

Drugs are among the guiltiest of guilty parties in the weight loss game.  Anti-depressants, steroids, birth control pills, hormone replacement therapy, and some anti-psychotic medications.  There isn’t really a test for this – just think about any medication changes you may have had in the 1-3 months before you started gaining weight.  There may be other drugs you can switch to that would give you the same benefits without the extra pounds, but sometimes there aren’t. Talk with your doctor about this one – sometimes you just have to try a few things before you find the one that’s right for you.

5. Poor Sleep.

If you’re not sleeping then you’re not losing weight.  It’s just a simple fact.  Poor or inadequate sleep causes an increase in hunger, more carb cravings, a decrease in the hormone that makes your body feel “full” and it slows down your ability to lose fat.  Basically this means that even if you’re doing everything else right, if you’re not sleeping then you’re going to have a hard time shedding the pounds. Sleep is complex and takes time and work to fix, but here are a few basic tips and if this isn’t enough, check out the sleep post:

  • Keep your bedroom DARK and restful.  No loud TV, block out lights and even LED lights.   Your body really is meant to sleep in the dark.
  • Try to begin “winding down” a couple of hours before you actually go to bed.  Dimmer light, quieter atmosphere, no work and calming activities like yoga, meditation, reading, journaling or cozy time with your partner are great for this time of day. Did I mention no work?  That includes the last minute email checks too!
  • Developing a sleep routine can be helpful, almost a sleep ritual.  This helps you get into the state of mind for sleep.
  • If you are having sleep problems that are more complicated then talk to your doctor or practitioner.  Sleep is a big deal and your health and happiness suffer in every way without it.

The biggest thing to remember with weight loss is don’t give up.  Sometimes it just comes down to finding that one key to unlocking your body and then the pounds just melt away.  I’ve seen it happen many times – one of my patients fixes their inflammation, their hormones, or their sleep and all of a sudden the pounds come off without any other changes.  Weight loss blockers can add frustration, create stress and keep you discouraged so if your weight isn’t moving then it’s time to look for the blocks. Just keep trying to listen to the signals your body is sending you!



Get Good Sleep, Because Good Sleep is Hard To Find

Everyone wants good sleep, but let’s face it – most of us really don’t sleep like champions. Actually, thanks to modern living, most of us get pretty lousy sleep. Huh. It’s kind of the one area where humans are moving steadily backward. Seems like a good time to reverse the trend because let’s face it – everything is better if sleep is better (I’m getting that lesson drilled into me currently by my fantastic, but sleep disruptive, newborn.)




This, just for the record, is not my sleep disruptive newborn, but it is a sleepy white puppy from dailycuteness who looks like good sleep is on the menu.

This, just for the record, is not my sleep disruptive newborn.  It’s a puppy from dailycuteness who looks like good sleep is on the menu. I want this type of good sleep.

Small Steps to Good Sleep

  1. Make sure your sleep environment is totally dark. This means no nightlight, no TV, no light coming in the window, no bright alarm clocks. Focus especially on the blue-spectrum lights which are more sleep-disruptive than the red end of the spectrum.  Seriously my bedroom looks like a crazy person lives here (ahem. Quiet in the peanut gallery) because all of the lights that indicate my various electronics are on are covered with layers of tape so I don’t have little blue and green lights all over the room.
  2. Caffeine only before noon.  This includes sodas and iced tea, and even dark chocolate if you’re especially sensitive. My favorite case of “cured” insomnia involved a mechanic, who in answer to the question “how much water do you drink in a day” replied “three pots” meaning that the only drink the shop where he worked was coffee and he had three pots per day (!!) Sometimes, looking at the simple things really is the best.
  3. Exercise. Exercise helps everything.  Really everything.  For most people it is best for sleep to exercise in the morning, but some people respond best to evening exercise. As with everything else, try it at home and see what your body likes best. Remember 10 minutes is more than none, so don’t feel bad about just doing 10 minutes if that’s all the time you have.
  4. Cut down on the sugars and starches in your diet. If you’ve read anything from this blog you probably know I’m not a fan of the carb-heavy diet and here’s one more reason. Carbohydrates stimulate cortisol production, especially when they are eaten right before bed. Eating a carb-heavy meal is likely to put you to sleep at first as your blood sugars rise, but when they quickly start to drop it can wake you up at night and prevent you from getting into deeper sleep stages.  Make sure the last meal of your day is mostly proteins and not so many starches and sugars.
  5. Melatonin before you go to bed – between 1 and 10 mg depending on your body’s response.  When you get the right amount of melatonin you will fall asleep easily and generally stay asleep well.  Too much produces extremely vivid dreams or nightmares as well as a groggy feeling in the morning like you’re not ready to get out of bed. If you notice those symptoms just decrease your dose. In general, the amount of melatonin that you need decreases over time and typically you will be able to sleep well without it  within a few months.  The typical starting dose is 3mg and you can use more or less depending on your needs. This is the hormone your body naturally produces to help you feel sleepy, but if you’ve been sleep deprived for a while it gets used first to help protect your brain from oxidative damage so there is less left over for sleep.
  6. Eliminate food sensitivities. Food sensitivities are one of the biggest hidden causes of sleep disruption that I encounter with my clients.  Eating a food to which your body is sensitive increases inflammation and your internal stress levels, which raises cortisol (one of your stress hormones, but also the hormone that wakes you up and gets you going in the morning)  and prevents restful sleep. It also makes pain levels higher, if you have pain that prevents you from sleeping, simply because of the increased inflammation. Eliminating food sensitivities takes some work at home but it’s entirely possible (and free) you just have to know how.
  7. Warm milk before bed. Skip this, of course, if you have a milk or dairy sensitivity.  Warm milk before bed (or hot chocolate with real cocoa) is wonderful.  Milk contains a protein called casein that acts as an opiate and sedative, which helps you to sink into sleep more easily. Mama really did know best.
  8. Protein rich foods for the evening meal.  In addition to cutting down on sugars and starches, boosting the protein for the last meal of the day makes a huge difference to sleep. Protein digests and is converted to sugar slowly so your body isn’t stimulated to wake up because of hunger or fluctuations in blood sugar levels.
  9. Numb out as you fall asleep. This is one of my favorite things. I had insomnia as a child and my father was able to help me overcome it using this technique.  As you lay down for sleep find a comfortable position and then focus on a heavy feeling in your body.  It is almost the feeling you get when you go to the dentist and have your mouth numbed – that heavy, numb, overly-large feeling.  Start thinking of that feeling in your toes and feel it gradually creep up your feet to your ankles to your calves and up your body slowly all the way to your head.  At first you may have to go through the cycle slowly from toes to head a few times, but this is an effective way of shutting down your brain and blocking out the thoughts that can sometimes keep you awake.  The more you use the numb out, the easier it will become.  Now if I have a hard time sleeping, I numb-out and I can barely make it past my knees before I’m asleep.
  10. Eliminate noise or add a loud fan.  If your sleep environment is noisy then do everything you can to either make it quiet or to mask noise changes.  Some people don’t notice noise when they sleep, but most people will rouse, at least partially, in response to noise. Even if you don’t wake up fully, noises can change your sleep cycles and interfere with deep sleep. If you live in a noisy area or have a noisy house then getting a loud fan or white noise machine (or app) can really help to cut down on the disruptions.

Of course there are a million other things you can do for sleep, but these are some of the basics of good sleep hygiene that can help to get you on track for many better nights in the future.  Good sleep = good day.