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The adrenal glands, located on the top of the kidneys, secrete hormones - including androgens, glucocorticoids, mineralcorticoids, epinephrine and norepinephrine - that regulate the body's response to stress. If a person experiences a lot of stress, or takes steroid drugs over a long period of time, the adrenal glands will not perform properly, causing chronic fatigue, anxiety and depression. Herbal support for people who are stressed out largely involves supporting the adrenal glands.
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The most notable herbs that support adrenal function are the ginsengs: Chinese ginseng (Panax ginseng) and Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus). Both are often referred to as general tonics because they increase the overall tone of the whole body, and adrenal tonics because they increase the tone and function of the adrenal glands. They can enhance the body's response to stress, prevent the negative effects of stress, increase energy levels, and improve mental and physical performance. Chinese ginseng, which is generally regarded as being more potent than Siberian, may be the best choice for those who are under a great deal of stress, and Siberian ginseng may be a better choice for those experiencing mild to moderate stress. Both ginsengs are considered generally safe for most people when used short-term.
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Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is an important herb used in ayurvedic medicine. It is used as an adaptogen and general tonic, and is often referred to as "Indian ginseng" because of its similarities to ginseng. Like ginseng, it is used for physical and mental stress, nervous exhaustion, fatigue and insomnia. Possible side effects from large doses include stomach upset, vomiting and diarrhea. Long-term safety is not known. People with stomach ulcers and auto-immune diseases should avoid using ashwagandha.
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Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) is another highly regarded herb used to treat conditions associated with diminished adrenal function. Glycyrrhizic acid, an active component in licorice, stimulates adrenal secretion when the exhausted glands are unable to release the necessary hormones. This herb can raise blood pressure. Do not use, or consult your health care provider before use, if you have high blood pressure. All people should avoid using licorice over a long period of time - it may be unsafe when large amounts are used for more than four weeks.
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Golden root (Rhodiola rosea) helps the body adapt to and resist physical and environmental stress. According to Richard P. Brown, MD, author of The Rhodiola Revolution, golden root is both calming and stimulating, which is quite unusual for an herb or drug. It calms the emotional system, and energizes the brain's cognitive functions. "Rhodiola gets rid of the stress that often interferes with concentration and focus, but leaves your mind sharp and able to perform at its peak," notes Dr. Brown. In one study involving 60 students at Volgograd Medical Academy, during an examination period, those who took 100 milligrams of rhodiola extract per day for 20 days had less anxiety and mental fatigue, and much improvement in physical work capacity and general well-being. These students scored higher on final exams than those who took a placebo. Short-term use, for up to four weeks, is safe for most people.
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The following are other herbs that may help manage stress:
St John's Wort - This herbal remedy is often used to alleviate stress, anxiety, depression, seasonal affective disorder and insomnia.
Valerian - Valerian contains several compounds that help relax the central nervous system, and may be beneficial during stressful times.
Kava - Kava is a popular beverage with Pacific Islanders that produces a euphoric feeling without fogging the mind.
Hops - Methybutenol, a chemical in hops, acts like a mild sedative.
Gotu Kola - This anti-stress herb is often used for exhaustion brought on by emotional stress.
German Chamomile - Chamomile can calm frayed nerves, and soothe an upset stomach which is frequently seen during stressful periods.
Rosemary, passion flower, lemon verbena, skullcap, wild yam, lavender, shatavari, punarnava and tulsi may also help in relieving and managing stress.
You can buy most herbs online or at health food stores in the form of dried plant material, capsules, tablets and extracts.
If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, are giving to a young child, have a medical condition or are taking medications, consult a health care provider before using any of the above herbs for stress management.
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Michael Murray, N.D. and Joseph Pizzorno, N.D. "Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine" Prima Publishing 1998
Herbal Support for Adrenal Function by James Rouse, N.D. - http://acudoc.com/Adrenal.PDF
Medline Plus: Licorice - http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/881.html
Web MD: Ashwagandha - http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-953-ASHWAGANDHA.aspx?activeIngredientId=953&activeIngredientName=ASHWAGANDHA
Rhodiola: The Cellular Energy-Boosting Herb by Dave Tuttle - http://www.vohar.com/scanner/rhodiola.pdf
Photo by jwassx / Flickr
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