7 Adaptogen Herbs To Lower Your Cortisol

Nutrition Specialist By Josh Axe, DNM, D.C., CNS
Nutrition Specialist
Dr. Josh Axe, DNM, DC, CNS, is is a doctor of chiropractic, certified doctor of natural medicine, certified nutrition specialist, and author

Photo by iStock Photo

It’s likely that you’ve heard about the detrimental effects of the stress hormone cortisol. Elevated cortisol levels and chronic stress can affect every physiological system in your body, including your thyroid and adrenal glands. It can make you anxious and irritable, lead to weight gain and bone loss, contribute to diabetes and heart disease risk, and deplete your energy levels.

Cortisol is also known as the aging hormone. When cortisol gets too high, it puts you into a “fight-or-flight” response, which stimulates your sympathetic nervous system and adrenal glands. When this occurs, there is a decrease in digestive secretions and an increase in blood pressure. This puts your body in a state of constant stress, which will burn out your adrenal glands, stress your digestive tract, and cause you to age more rapidly.

So if you want to look younger, feel younger, and be healthy — and heal adrenal fatigue— you must balance your cortisol levels.

So what can help us adapt to stress and lower cortisol? Adaptogens.*

What Are Adaptogens?

Adaptogens are a unique class of healing plants that help support the body.* As naturopath Edward Wallace explains, an adaptogen doesn’t have a specific action. Instead, it helps you respond to any influence or stressor, normalizing your physiological functions.* Marcelle Pick of Women to Women reports that adaptogenic herbs can support your adrenal glands, helping you to respond to stress.*

Eating well, getting proper rest, staying active, writing down what you’re grateful for, and maintaining social connection all help protect you from chronic stress. Adding adaptogens to your routine can make enhance your stress response even more.*

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Top 7 adaptogen herbs

1. Ginseng

Benefit-rich ginseng is the most well-known adaptogen, and Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng) is considered the most potent.* According to Wallace, research has validated the use of Asian ginseng for supporting mental performance and the ability to withstand stress.* This red ginseng also has antioxidant properties, and it can help maintain normal blood pressure and blood sugar levels.*

There are a number of adaptogens referred to as ginsengs that aren’t technically ginsengs, but keep in mind that they have similar composition or effects.*

2. Holy basil

Also called tulsi, holy basil is native to India. Preliminary studies suggest that holy basil may be effective in helping fight fatigue and stress; supporting the immune system; and maintaining normal blood sugar, blood pressure, and hormone levels.*

3. Rhodiola

Rhodiola (rhodiola rosea), or golden root, is a potent adaptogen that has been the focus of much research. Rhodiola helps manage stress-related mental and physical fatigue.* Rhodiola was said to be used by Russian cosmonauts, athletes, and military personnel, and years of study have begun to uncover the very mechanisms by which it acts as an adaptogen.*

Rhodiola rosea contains a phytochemical known as salisdroside, which is thought to calm stress. Rhodiola also helps the body maintain normal levels of stress-resistant proteins.*

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In lab and animal studies it has been shown to support normal patterns of eating and sleeping after stress; manage mental and physical fatigue; and fight oxidative stress.* Rhodiola also enhances memory.*

4. Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha is sometimes referred to as Indian ginseng. Often used in Ayurvedic medicine, ashwagandha supports the immune system.* Ashwagandha has been used in Eastern medicine for more than 2,500 years and can help the body maintain normal cortisol levels.*

5. Astragalus root

Used in Chinese medicine, astragalus supports immunity and helps manage the effects of stress.* It can also reduce the ability of stress hormones like cortisol to bind to receptors.*

6. Licorice root

Licorice root can enhance energy and endurance, support the immune system, and protect the thymus from being damaged by cortisol.* However, its use requires professional supervision because of how it may affect blood pressure.

7. Cordycep mushrooms

Cordyceps, reishi, shiitake, and maitake mushrooms are funguses with antioxidant properties.* They may not be adaptogens in the classic sense, but each has adaptogenic, immune-enhancing properties.*

If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or taking medications, consult with your doctor before starting a supplement routine. It is always optimal to consult with a health care provider when considering what supplements are right for you.

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