Contrary to popular belief, stress is not always a negative thing. Stress is designed to help your body prioritize saving your life when a dangerous situation arises. It is your body’s alarm system. If a bear were to attack you, your body would immediately release adrenaline to boost your heart rate and blood flow, as well as cortisol, to increase blood sugar as an energy resource. However, cortisol, the stress hormone, will also suppress other systems that are not needed for immediate survival – digestive, reproductive, growth.
The problem occurs when stress is not caused by truly dangerous situations – for example, stressing about a due date, studying for exams, traffic jams, relationship complications. These are all common stressors, but they will not cause your body physical danger immediately. They are an inevitable part of life and can easily affect your body long-term. Cortisol should lower automatically after a period of stress, but chronic stress prevents cortisol and other stress hormones from lowering.
Chronically high stress hormones can result in:
Feeling fatigued or burned out
Difficulty falling/staying asleep
Feeling tired but wired at night
Muscle tension and/or pain
High blood pressure
In today’s world, it is almost impossible to get rid of all stress. But you can better prepare your body to adapt to stress, as well as replenish nutrients that are easily lost during periods of stress.
Adaptogens for stress
Adaptogens are herbs that support the body’s ability to cope with stress. Whether your cortisol is high or low, these herbs will meet the specific needs of your body. They are a great supplement for anyone going through a stressful period that they cannot control, such as exam periods or busy work schedules.
Rhodiola is one of the most well-known adaptogens for stress. It has been shown to enhance the body’s physical and mental capacity to improve productivity. Rhodiola is particularly helpful to fight stress-related fatigue, also known as the common “afternoon slump”.
This herb supports the body by helping to trigger the proper physiological response to stress. In a study with 64 subjects, ashwagandha has been shown to reduce cortisol levels and improve resistance to stress, even in those with chronic stress.
Ginseng is a medicinal herb that has been used for thousands of years. It is involved in regulating hormones during stress and can help your body reach homeostasis after abnormal physiological changes caused by the stress of everyday life. Did you know that stress can increase the risk of many inflammatory diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes? Ginseng is anti-inflammatory and can protect against inflammatory cytokines induced by anxiety, depression, oxidative stress and disease.
Nutrients for stress
Vitamin C is needed to make stress hormones. During periods of stress, this vitamin is rapidly depleted. When vitamin C levels are low, your body will also view that as a stressor and release more stress hormones. A vitamin C deficiency can easily become a chronic stress cycle.
Vitamin B5 is needed for proper function of the adrenal cortex. B5 prevents the body from releasing too much cortisol at once, to prevent the harmful effects of chronic stress in the body.
There are many supplements on the market that are designed to help your body adapt to stress. Many of them will have a formula containing a variety of the adaptogens and nutrients listed above. An example is Ortho Adapt Vegan by AOR – it is efficient and effective!
Grace Tien is a dietetics and holistic nutrition grad. She creates sustainable, delicious meal plans to help clients with their health goals. Grace specializes in nutrition for healthy periods, you can find out more at @gracetien.ca on Instagram.
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