Health Canada outlines daily dietary requirements for vitamins, minerals and macronutrients necessary for Canadians to be healthy. These values are determined according to scientific data to meet adequate nutrient levels for 97-98% of healthy individuals within a particular life stage and gender;1 however, a 2012 report by Health Canada shows that a large percentage of individuals fail to meet acceptable levels through diet alone, particularly for magnesium, calcium, vitamins D and A.2 In addition, values are meant as a general guideline for the healthy population to generally prevent deficiency and fail to provide guidelines for those that require additional amounts.
Summer is winding down and it’s back to work and school for the majority of us. With the hectic pace and high responsibilities of modern society, it’s no surprise that most of us may already feel somewhat stressed and tired, even after a relaxing summer vacation!
Generally speaking, our body has an amazing ability to cope with stress. The adrenal glands release cortisol and other hormones to increase blood sugar and give us that immediate and quick acting fuel to handle stress. This is obviously great news! But too often our bodies end up relying on cortisol for long-term use. This is not such great news for our health because we are in a constant state of resistance. The result is fatigue, anxiety, weight gain, poor concentration, low sex-drive, poor immunity and a generally worse version of yourself with an inability to effectively perform your day-to-day tasks.
The best way to prevent and treat these negative effects of stress is to take time for yourself, exercise regularly and ensure proper nutrition. Yet occasionally, these foundations aren’t possible or just aren’t enough to balance your adrenal hormones and neurotransmitters (chemicals in our brain are responsible for regulating mood). Sometimes your body needs a helping hand.
Our adrenals glands need basic nutrients such as Vitamin C and B-vitamins to function properly. In addition, there are many herbs that have been shown to help the body adapt to stress (conveniently, these herbs are referred to as “adaptogens”). These adaptogens are unique in the sense that they help to modulate and balance cortisol levels.
Ashwagandha (also known as Withania somnifera or Indian Ginseng) is one of the most widely recognized adaptogens that has been used in ayurvedic medicine for centuries. It is considered a tonic for improving overall vitality and energy.
When it comes to tackling stress, ashwagandha has been found to increase stamina and physical endurance, while helping to maintain vitamin C levels in the adrenal glands. Ashwaghanda also appears to have GABA-mimetic activity, meaning that it activates GABA receptors that are responsible for calming the mind and body. This gives the herb an anti-anxiety effect, which is very important because anxiety often accompanies high stress. Finally, ashwagandha has been found to protect against stomach ulcers, a well-known consequence of stress. Among its many indications, this therapeutic plant has also been studied and effectively used to improve memory, sleep and sexual function.
Rhodiola (full name Rhodiola rosea) is another herbal tonic with similar indications. It has been clinically studied and found to increase physical endurance in sport and activity, enhance stress resistance and increase work productivity. In addition, rhodiola improves memory, attention, learning and mood (ie depression and anxiety) by preventing the breakdown of key neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin and acetylcholine. These beneficial effects have been studied and confirmed in Olympic level athletes, high school students, medical students and physicians that were all able to perform better under stressful circumstances. For the everyday individual, perhaps the most enticing finding is that rhodiola has a significant energy boosting effect in cases of stress-related fatigue, when compared to placebo.
Don’t let stress get the best of you this season, and make sure you’re relaxed and recharged as you head into the fall months!
Consult a qualified healthcare practitioner to ensure that these ingredients are safe for you.
Singh et al. An overview on ashwagandha: a rasyana (rejuvenator) of ayurveda. Afr J Tradit Complement Altern Med 2011; 8(S): 208-213
Hung SK, Perry R and Ernst E. The effectiveness and efficacy of rhodiola rosea L.: a systematic review of randomized clinical trials. Phytomedicine 2011; 18: 235-244