Updated: Sep 4, 2020
The human meat suit has a beautifully constructed mechanism for managing stress on an acute level as a result of evolutionary adaptations; also known as the “fight or flight” response. Unfortunately, modern stressors have placed most of society in a state of constant flight or fight (whether real or perceived) which plays a large role in homeostatic imbalances leading to the abundance of inflammatory and chronic diseases seen in the modern day.
The stress response is largely regulated by an eloquently designed system called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis and the trigger of the HPA leads to the pushing of proverbial internal bodily switches that result in the hormonal release of cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine to circulate throughout the body. Although these hormones are beneficial in shunting the body’s reserves to allow for immediate responses to threats (such as the need to run away in terror from a Freddy vs. Jason looking character coming at you with a dull butter knife), the chronic state of flight or fight leads to exhaustion of the HPA axis which in turn causes a down-regulation of this mechanism and adverse effects as a result of the constant circulation of the above stated hormones. For example, acute releases of cortisol improves cognitive performance but chronic levels of it has shown to impair memory. What causes a chronic state of flight or flight? Oh, you know......... Maybe the big work project that's due in a couple days, the looming thought of your mother coming into town for an unwelcome visit or your teenage daughter dealing with hormonal fluctuations by using you as her own personal punching bag...... Ring any bells?
Therefore, the outlook on the stress response has become a great deal more intricate and complex as it is no longer the result of the primitive need for safety as it pertains to food, water or shelter. But rather the influences of the modern world that also ties in perceived stress, past experiences, nutritional status and genetic influence.
Herbal nutraceuticals are gaining traction as a naturopathic remedy to best manage and support one’s Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal axis from over stimulation. A plethora of research has shown that when used at efficacious doses and in adjunct with proper nutrition and lifestyle habits, they provide lifespan-enhancing benefits and help increase one's stress resistance.
A few of these herbs include:
(1) Cordyceps: a fungi species that is an inflammatory inhibitor and acts to lower serum (blood) cortisol by impeding the inflammatory pathway that is often triggered by stress leading to the HPA response that is associated. Studies have shown that an efficacious dose of 3-9 grams of the ground mushroom per day provide these positive impacts.
(2) Magnolia: the bark of the plant causes drowsiness and promotes sleep which is often disrupted due to melatonin release downregulation as a result of HPA dysfunction. Additionally, studies of supplementation use for 4-weeks resulted in lowered serum cortisol levels and improved mood parameters including depression, anger, fatigue and confusion. Magnolia is often found as a proprietary blend with Phellodendron (found from the bark of another plant medicine) dosed at 250mg taken 3 times per day.
(3) Mimosa: a plant that characterized as a phytoseratonin, which means a plant-derived serotonin source. Serotonin in hominids (that's you and me) is the signaling molecule in the brain that regulates mood, happiness and anxiety. Mimosa provides an exogenous source of this signaling molecule to support any down-regulation of your body's natural formulation of rainbows and butterflies. A recommended dose of 3-6 milliliters through liquid extract or 500 milligrams in a gel capsule has been seen to be effective.
(4) Ashwagandha: also known as Indian ginseng is sourced from a small evergreen shrub and has an astonishing repertoire of health benefits. Both animal and human studies have shown positive outcomes with the use of this herb for its anti-stress mechanism via its GABA mimetic (i.e. a GABA "mimicking") property, which means that it induces the same reaction as GABA -- a signaling molecule that aids in the regulation of emotions such a fear and anxiety by promoting a more calming and sedative effect. Additionally, improved GABA signaling also helps with cognition and mental acuity. Ashwahandha may even help with mitigating stress-related weight gain as seen in a study that used 300mg of the herb's root daily.
With stress being unavoidable these days, being proactive in managing its deleterious effects by simply supporting the body with naturally occurring plant medicines is something that can be easily added to one's daily routine. And let's be honest here.... Who couldn't use a little support with regulating the stress-o-meter when mom comes into town in all of her glory and unsolicited "advice"......
Sidebar: with the use of any plant medicines, it would always be advised to seek guidance from an herbalist or individual well-versed in naturopathic remedies to ensure that the use of these herb do not cause any potential adverse effects or drug contraindications.