What can be done? We don’t suggest this is the only way to help, but we are a botanical company, and we know many botanicals are natural born stress busters. So, you may want to consider them…but how do botanicals like ginseng battle stress in humans? You may have heard of adaptogens.
There has never been greater interest in adaptogens than there is now, impressive given it’s a category where reputable science is only now emerging in peer reviewed journals.
The famous adaptogenic plants scientifically recognized are Ashwagandha, Eleuthero (Siberian ginseng), Ginseng, Holy Basil / Tulsi, Jiaogulan (southern ginseng), Rhodiola and Schisandra.
The food, pharma and cosmetic sectors are all making plays on adaptogens from pills to coffees to juices, gummies, energy bars and even skin care cosmetics. At the same time, they are boosting research investment to further investigate adaptogen mechanisms-of-action, safety, health outcomes and more.
With stress being a feature of the lives of all generations from Baby Boomers to Generation Xers to Millennials, demographic buy-in is proving to be broad.
Adaptogens are plant components that enhance survival chances by improving adaptability to stress. They modify a plant’s stress-response to help maintain homeostasis, which are the internal processes that actively keep the balance. Think of them as ‘stress vaccines’; they reduce the impact of stress in plants. They can have the same effect in human bodies.
The body’s natural self-protection against stress consists of three stages:
This figure shows how adaptogens (dark blue line) reduce stress sensitivity and prevent the body going into exhaustion.
A possible mechanism-of-action is their influence on synaptic activity. Synapses are the sites in your brain where neurons communicate. The more intensively they communicate, the stronger they become, a concept known as synaptic plasticity which is important for learning and memory. Adaptogens enhance synaptic plasticity, thereby decreasing vulnerability to neurodegeneration and its associated stresses. They even stimulate neurogenesis.
Chronic stress impacts the prefrontal cortex, the youngest part of the brain responsible for learning abilities, decision making, judgement, social interaction, impulse control and empathy. Some call it the brain’s headquarters.
The prefrontal cortex inhibits the amygdala, an older part of the brain responsible for negative memories and emotions such as anger, fear, sadness and aggression control. The amygdala also activates the hypothalamus and the stress-axis.
Yale Uni researchers discovered how stress can lead to loss of brain volume and promote emotional and cognitive problems as a consequence. Prolonged exposure to cortisol (the stress hormone) destroys synaptic connections in the prefrontal cortex.
Too much cortisol lowers dopamine and serotonin levels by damaging their receptor sites. The two neurotransmitters play a part in feelings of happiness and satisfaction, along with sleep, appetite control, libido, decision making and addiction control.
And it’s not just the brain. The nerve circuit surrounding our intestines, better known as the second brain, can also be damaged by chronic stress.
Panax ginseng has been used in Eastern medicine for thousands of years as an all-purpose supplement promoting health, vitality and longevity. In China they call it the ‘king of herbs’ and the ‘herb of eternal life’. It is also one of the most researched adaptogen sources.
Panossian A. Understanding adaptogenic activity: specificity of the pharmacological action of adaptogens and other phytochemicals. Phytochemicals in Medicine and Food. 2017, pp.49-64.
Panossian A, Wikman G. Effects of adaptogens on the central nervous system and the molecular mechanisms associated with their stress-protective activity. Pharmaceuticals. 2010, pp.188-224.Panossian A., Seo E-J., Efferth, T. Novel molecular mechanisms for the adaptogenic effects of herbal extracts on isolated brain cells using systems biology. Phytomedicine. 2018
Mora Marco J. The Complete Ginseng Handbook. Contemporary Books, 1998.