What Are Adaptogens?

Adaptogens are natural substances that work with a person’s body and help them adapt; most notably, to stress. Adaptogens are a natural ally in dealing with persistent stress and fatigue because they work with regulating important hormones.

Adaptogens offer several other health benefits, including…

  • A boost for the immune system
  • Support for managing a healthy weight
  • Increased physical endurance and mental focus
  • Reduction in discomfort caused by poor health
  • Encouraging a balanced mood

All these benefits can come from something as simple as adding adaptogens into your regular diet. While there are a number of ways to increase your adaptogen intake, consuming adaptogenic herbs is arguably one of the best.

14 Powerful Adaptogenic Herbs

There are a number of naturally adaptogenic herbs that you might consider trying on for size. They can be taken in capsulated supplement form, brewed in teas, or simply cut up and used to spice up a meal. For maximum health benefits, it’s best to include a healthy variety of these herbs in your diet. Here are some of the most popular adaptogenic herbs and their traditional uses.

1. Asian Ginseng

This herb, also called Panax Ginseng, supports physical endurance, mental clarity, and has antioxidant properties that support heart health and your immune system. Studies show it’s safe to consume.

2. Holy Basil

A member of the mint family, this herb has soothing properties and has been used for centuries for good health. Its antioxidant properties support heart health and normal lipid profiles. It’s also a powerful weapon against stress.

3. Milk Thistle

The active compound in milk thistle, silymarin, supports liver health and metabolism that helps manage the hormones associated with stress.

4. Ashwagandha

Also called Indian Ginseng, studies from India shows that those who take this herb enjoy dramatic improvements in how they handle – and feel – stress. It’s also taken to keep the mind sharp, and for energy.

5. Rhodiola Rosea

This herb is popular among the Sherpas who work on Mt. Everest because of the way it supports regular energy levels and fights altitude sickness. Studies also show it helps encourage normal cortisol levels as well as energy levels.

6. Ginseng Eleuthero

Commonly called Siberian Ginseng, the Eleutherococcus senticous is known for not only its adaptogenic properties but also as a natural energy booster.

7. Rosemary

You’ve probably used rosemary in your cooking, but this herb does a lot more than add flavor and fragrance to your meals. Research shows two of its compounds, caffeic acid and rosmarinic acid, support heart, digestive, and liver health. Traditional medicine from around the world has used it for centuries to relieve stress.

8. Aloe Vera

Researchers have taken renewed interest in aloe vera as a powerful herb and superfood. Two of its compounds, acemannan and aloctin A, support immune and adrenal health.

9. Gotu Kola

Long used in both traditional Indian and Chinese medicines, this herb stimulates blood flow, helps reduce swelling, and is a powerful antioxidant.

10. Astragalus

The Chinese have used astragalus traditionally to encourage good health and fight stress. Its active compound, called TAT2, protects against aging, supports detoxification, and is nutrition for the kidneys.

11. Moringa Oleifera

The seeds, leaves, roots, and oils of the Moringa Oleifera plant are used throughout Southeast Asia an ingredient in many common dishes. As part of traditional medicine, it supports the immune response, eases swelling, and promotes energy and adrenal health.

12. Schisandra

This herb has been used in traditional Chinese Medicine to promote good health and overall wellness. Research shows it has powerful antioxidant properties that help your body stay balanced.

13. Bacopa

This popular Ayurvedic herb has been used for centuries to support brain health like memory, focus, and thinking.

14. Licorice Root

This herb has traditionally been used to promote many aspects of wellness, including normal metabolic function.

adaptogen-editedHow Do Adaptogens Work?

Now that we’ve mentioned some common herbal sources for adaptogens, let’s take a look at how adaptogens actually work. First of all, it’s important to understand that stress is only meant to exist in short bursts. It is a hormonal response that may have been responsible for helping some of your own ancestors escape from hungry lions (or maybe even face them!). Think about stress as what is commonly called your “fight or flight” response.

Today, most of us don’t have to worry so much about lions. However, most modern-day stresses are ongoing. When your adrenal system remains in a constant active state, it throws your body out of balance. Constant stress can wreak havoc on your body, especially on your digestive system and energy levels.

Adaptogenic compounds help mitigate the stress response. They work to bring the hormones of your adrenal system back into balance and overcome adrenal fatigue, a common condition of chronic stress. Studies show adaptogens like Rhodiola Rosea and Schisandra reduce the presence and effect of stress hormones. In this way, they help endurance during physical stress like exercise and return your body to normal when you’re faced with chronic stress.

Think of adaptogens like a thermostat. The keep your body’s stress response at a desirable level, much like the way a thermostat keeps the temperature from becoming too high or too low. They’re good for you all the time, not just when you have a high level of stress.

Adaptogens have broad-ranging effects, but this is mostly because they affect adrenal hormone secretion. In general, we can think of adaptogenic herbs this way: they set an “upper limit” on the signals the nervous system can send to the adrenals, making it harder for the body to crank adrenal response up to 100%. Some herbs, like licorice, keep adrenal hormones in the bloodstream longer: this lets the brain know that there’s plenty of response happening, and it doesn’t need to stimulate more. Others, like Rhodiola and eleuthero, help balance out excessive adrenal stimulation while at the same time containing chemistry that supports the activity of attention- and alertness-enhancing brain pathways. The net result: we feel more alert, but at the same time don’t produce excessive, unhealthy levels of adrenal hormones. Contrast this to the action of stimulant drugs (like amphetamines, or even caffeine): they increase brain alertness, but also crank up adrenal secretions. This is why stimulants make us feel awake, but also sometimes jittery, cold, and clammy: these last effects are the result of excess adrenal hormone secretion, and you’ll never feel them from adaptogens like Rhodiola or eleuthero.

schisandraberry_textOther adaptogens are more calming in nature: they still help set an “upper limit” on adrenal hormone secretion, but also encourage deeper, more refreshing sleep and lack any of the activity on alertness pathways in the brain. By supporting more effective recovery during times of rest, adaptogens such as ashwagandha and Schisandra allow the body to bounce back and we can really notice this during the day: a balanced mood, energy level, and inflammatory response. It’s interesting to note that these herbs won’t ever make you “sleepy” directly: their effects, due in part to limiting the body’s ability to “overdo” the stress response and make sure our adrenals secrete hormones at balanced, healthy levels, are to get us into a more restful place during the evening and nighttime hours, so recovery and sleep can actually take place.

 

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Natural Remedies for ADHD

ADHD stands for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. It is a neurodevelopmental disorder, typically first diagnosed when an affected individual is elementary school age.

It is identified by behavior that makes it difficult for affected individuals to function effectively, or mature and develop as other children normally do. In general, people with ADHD behave in ways that show a pattern of:

  • Hyperactivity: Extremely high and changeable levels of agitated actions
  • Inattentiveness: Distracted, unfocused, unable to complete activities
  • Impulsivity: Acts hastily, without thinking of what could happen as a result

While most children and adults may occasionally behave in ways that seem hyperactive, inattentive, and impulsive, it is the intensity and consistency of this sort of behavior that could result in an ADHD diagnosis.

List of natural remedies for ADHD

General interest in complementary and alternative medicine continues to grow. Particularly in light of concerns about the safety and effectiveness of standard medical treatments, half of all parents of children with ADHD use alternative treatments in some way, according to studies cited in Neural Plasticity.

From taking supplements and avoiding food coloring to breathing exercises, a wide variety of natural remedies have been used to address ADHD and the symptoms that accompany it.

According to studies reviewed in Child & Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics, the natural supplements with the most evidence to support their use are:

  • Polyunsaturated fat supplements: For heart health and a possible reduction in inappropriate behavior and speech
  • Melatonin: May help with problems going to sleep
  • Iron and zinc: Could help to reduce ADHD symptoms when children are not getting sufficient amounts in their diets

Other clinical trials have found that a number of herbal treatments and nutritional supplements may be helpful in treating ADHD, according to a 2016 study. This include:

  • French Maritime pine bark extract, or pycnogenol: May increase visual-motor coordination and reduce hyperactivity and inattentiveness
  • Ginseng: Could reduce hyperactivity and inattentiveness
  • Ningdong: A Chinese medicinal that may be as effective at reducing ADHD symptoms as Western prescription medication
  • Bacopa: An Ayurvedic treatment, which preliminary studies suggested could reduce restlessness and improve self-control in children with ADHD

Combination therapy, in which one or more natural remedies are used in combination with each other or prescription medication, shows promise in addressing the many ways in which ADHD can affect individuals.

However, more research is needed to determine its efficacy and safety, as well as the strength at which it can be used safely in humans if found to be effective.

Lifestyle changes that can help

Some practices – such as biofeedback, exercise, and connecting with nature – are widely considered to be calming. Researchers are studying these activities to see if they really do reduce symptoms of ADHD.

Neurofeedback, in which individuals with ADHD learn how to perform tasks while trying to maintain typical, and not hyper-aroused, brainwave patterns, has shown promising results. However, it is an expensive process and is only in the early stages of development.

Some studies have suggested that studying yoga, particularly it’s breathing, focusing, and relaxation components, can help to relieve certain symptoms of ADHD. Yoga and regular exercise of any kind are also regarded as a helpful and stress-reducing activity for parents and children with ADHD to pursue together.

Other studies have suggested that children with ADHD saw an improvement in their ability to concentrate after spending time in a green space. More research is needed to know how much time individuals need to spend in green spaces to see improvements, and how long these improvements can last.

Diet plan

Parents take their children for a walk.
Children with ADHD may be better at concentrating after spending time in a green space.

Conventional wisdom may link eating lots of sugar with hyperactivity in children, but research does not show this to be the case. Yeast is also not considered a likely culprit in ADHD.

However, eating a healthful, well-balanced diet with lots of fresh fruits, whole grains, and vegetables is beneficial for everyone. Individuals dealing with a complex brain disorder like ADHD will benefit from a sound diet.

Some researchers suggest avoiding the following foods:

  • Soft drinks
  • Fast food
  • Processed meat
  • Potato chips
  • High-fat dairy products
  • Red meat

In addition, since some children may be extremely sensitive to artificial food coloring and preservatives, avoiding exposure to these substances could help to address symptoms of ADHD.

How do recommendations differ depending on age group?

Most individuals with ADHD are diagnosed when they are children, but the condition can continue to affect individuals throughout their lives.

Creating systems for getting ready for school and other regular activities can help children with ADHD to learn how to recognize and feel comfortable following routines. Even something as simple as organizing storage for toys and clothes can help young people to learn how to manage their ADHD.

Adults with ADHD may find that organizational guidance from professionals can help them to manage their lives more effectively. Learning how to use calendars, lists, and reminders to keep on top of events can help to keep people focused and on schedule.

Just as with ADHD in children, treatment for adults with this condition seems to be most effective when it combines medication with therapy focused on changing behavior.

Cognitive behavioral therapy, a form of therapy in which therapists work with patients to alter thought patterns in order to change behavior, has shown encouraging results in trials with adults.

Reasons why people may wish to avoid medical treatments

People with ADHD, as well as their families, may be reluctant to use traditional medical treatment and use prescription drugs due to:

  • Difficulty dealing with side effects
  • The prospect of long-term use of a drug that affects a child’s thinking
  • Worries about becoming dependent on a drug
  • Concerns about potential illegal use of their medication

Stimulants are often prescribed to address behavioral problems associated with ADHD, and this approach is effective in 70-80 percent of children, according to a study published in Neural Plasticity. However, some individuals cannot handle the side effects of these drugs, which can include:

  • Nausea
  • Twitching muscles
  • Loss of appetite
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Stomach pain
  • Headache
  • Anxiety

Since most people are diagnosed with ADHD when they are children, starting medication at this time could mean that children are taking mind-changing drugs for several years, if not their entire childhood. Many parents are not comfortable with this.

Some medications for ADHD can lead to addiction in certain individuals. People with ADHD and their families may be reluctant to use these drugs because they don’t want to risk becoming dependent, or “hooked,” on the medication. Some people may also fear that their medication will be stolen because of its abuse potential.

Individuals with ADHD and parents of children with ADHD are encouraged to discuss their concerns about medication with their healthcare providers and inform their physicians about “alternative” treatments they may be considering.

Overview of ADHD

A child makes a mess of his breakfast cereal.
ADHD is a common disorder that can lead to hyperactivity and impulsive actions.

In 2011, 11 percent of children aged 4-17 were diagnosed with ADHD, making it one of the more common brain disorders, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Diagnosis of ADHD is made after a medical professional gives an individual a thorough evaluation. Medical evaluation and diagnosis usually happen during the elementary school years, although symptoms can appear in 3-year-olds and continue into adulthood.

The disorder is most often treated with a combination of medication and behavioral therapy, which is counseling designed to help people change the way they act. ADHD is not the sort of condition that can be cured, although it can be managed.

It is not a contagious disease, although it may run in families due to a possible genetic link.

Symptoms

The key problems associated with ADHD reveal themselves in a variety of ways. For children, these can include:

  • Inability to pay attention in class
  • Difficulty completing assignments
  • Easily distracted
  • Inability to easily play quietly
  • Frustrated by waiting to take a turn
  • Fidgeting and moving around inappropriately
  • Interrupts games and play activities
  • Squirms in seat
  • Frequently loses things needed for assignments

As children mature, their ADHD symptoms usually begin to moderate and change. In adults and older teenagers, ADHD symptoms are often different from the more common behaviors seen in children. They may appear as:

  • Difficulty organizing activities
  • Feelings of restlessness
  • Interrupting people’s conversations
  • Frequently talking too much
  • Finding it difficult to keep still
  • May avoid projects that call for sustained mental focus

Herbs may help strengthen and tone the body’s systems. As with any therapy, you should work with your healthcare provider before starting treatment. You may use herbs as dried extracts (capsules, powders, or teas), glycerites (glycerine extracts), or tinctures (alcohol extracts). Unless otherwise indicated, make teas with 1 tsp. herb per cup of hot water. Steep covered 5 to 10 minutes for leaf or flowers, and 10 to 20 minutes for roots. Drink 2 to 4 cups per day. You may use tinctures alone or in combination as noted.

Several herbal remedies for ADHD are sold in the United States and Europe, but few scientific studies have investigated whether these herbs improve symptoms of ADHD. One or more of the following calming herbs may be recommended for people with ADHD:

  • Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile). Chamomile may cause an allergic reaction in people sensitive to Ragweed. Chamomile may have estrogen-like effects in the body and therefore should be used with caution in people with hormone-related conditions, such as breast, uterine, or ovarian cancers, or endometriosis. Chamomile can also interact with certain medications; speak with your doctor.
  • Valerian (Valerian officinalis). Valerian can potentially interact with certain medications. Since valerian can induce drowsiness, it may interact with sedative medications.
  • Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis). Lemon balm may interact with sedative medications.
  • Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata). Passionflower may interact with sedative medications.

Other herbs commonly contained in botanical remedies for ADHD include:

  • Gingko (Gingko biloba). Used to improve memory and mental sharpness. Use gingko with caution if you have a history of diabetes, seizures, infertility, and bleeding disorders. Gingko can interact with many different medications, including but not limited to, blood-thinning medications.
  • American ginseng (Panax quinquefolium) and gingko. One study suggests that gingko in combination with ginseng may improve symptoms of ADHD. Use American ginseng with caution if you have a history of diabetes, hormone-sensitive conditions, insomnia, or schizophrenia. It can interact with several medications, including but not limited to, blood-thinning medications.

Medical Reference Guide:

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder; University of Maryland Medical Center