Natural Energizers: A Better Boost
Ashwaganda: Indian Ginseng
An herb from India used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine, ashwaganda (Withania somnifera), also known as Indian ginseng, is increasingly being integrated into Western herbal practice. A versatile adaptogen, ashwaganda can enhance the immune system, boost energy, calm the stress response, and reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol. It can also enhance memory and mental acuity due to its antioxidant effect and ability to increase acetylcholine-receptor activity. On top of all this, it's an aphrodisiac!
Ashwaganda also increases thyroid hormone levels and basal body temperature speeding up the metabolism in some people. In a study on animals with arthritis, ashwaganda proved better at reducing symptoms than hydrocortisone, suggesting that it has potent effects on adrenal hormone balance.
Ashwaganda (Withania somnifera)
How it works: Acts as an adaptogen; stabilizes cortisol levels; acetylcholine enhancer.
Positive effects: Energizes and calms; reduces high cortisol levels; enhances libido, memory, and cognition.
Dosage: 300 mg two to three times daily.
Licorice: Balancing Act
Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) provides support for the adrenal glands, helping with mild adrenal insufficiency and hypoglycemia. It is also used in women for its estrogen-balancing properties. It stimulates the adrenal cortex to elevate cortisol and adrenal sex hormones by preventing their breakdown. So if you take licorice, the cortisol you make lasts longer. While we have repeatedly talked about cortisol as negative, it is essential in the short-term handling of stress. Only under chronic stress does it become a problem.
Licorice helps to raise low blood pressure, which often accompanies chronic fatigue, but this can also lead to hypertension (high blood pressure) in susceptible individuals. To avoid this side effect, the deglycyrrhinized form is used in many instances, such as in treating ulcers, but then the hormonal effect is lost.
How it works: Adaptogen; prevents the breakdown of cortisol, thereby raising cortisol levels.
Positive effects: Improves adrenal function, including raising low blood pressure.
Cautions: Can raise blood pressure in susceptible individuals. Not recommended for those with raised cortisol levels.
Dosage: 500 mg twice a day, morning and midday, not in the evening.
The glossy red or black cap of this Chinese mushroom looks unusual, especially to Western eyes. Inside are phytochemicals (plant chemicals) that make it one of the most respected tonics in herbal medicine. In Asia, especially in China and Japan, it has been revered for 5,000 years. Chinese reishi mushroom (Ganodermum lucidum) is often used to modify or enhance the effects of other stress-fighting herbs. With multiple benefits, it has no significant side effects.
You can use it to calm your mind, sharpen your thinking, and energize you when you feel fatigued. Reishi can even lower high blood pressure. Says herbalist Christopher Hobbs: "I often take reishi myself and have experienced immediate calming and sleep-promoting effects. I have noticed an amazing feeling in my chest with some reishi extracts, as if my heart area has 'opened up.' This unique effect, while not scientifically proven, is entirely enjoyable and often is accompanied by a feeling of immediate serenity." This certainly sounds like a natural high!
How it works: Adaptogen; stabilizes adrenal hormones.
Positive effects: Both calms and energizes.
Dosage: In tincture form (20 percent), 10 ml three times a day; as tablets, 1,000 mg, one to three tablets three times a day.
Rhodiola (Rhodiola Rosea)
Another amazing adaptogen from the East with a long history of use is rhodiola. Growing in the Arctic regions of eastern Siberia, it is also called Arctic root. Folklore says that "those who drink rhodiola tea regularly will live more than 100 years." Chinese emperors, in search of the elixir of life, would send expeditions to Siberia to bring back this potent herb.
But it isn't all folklore. Modern science has confirmed that rhodiola has many proven benefits. Among them are its ability to improve energy, balance stress hormones, improve mood, and boost immunity. As an adaptogen, it appears to be at least as powerful as ginseng, and it protects against high levels of the stress hormone cortisol. However, rhodiola also stimulates both mental and physical performance. For this reason, it was used in the Soviet Union to improve athletic powers.
Rhodiola's effects on the brain are perhaps the most interesting. Numerous studies have shown it to improve concentration, especially in tired individuals. In one proofreading test, those taking rhodiola decreased their number of errors by 88 percent! It also helps the brain produce serotonin, which is a key "happy" neurotransmitter. In one study, 128 people suffering from depression were given 200 mg of rhodiola. Two-thirds of the patients (65 percent) had major reduction or complete disappearance of their symptoms. On top of this, rhodiola boosts immunity and has proven anticancer properties.
As with other herbs, make sure you are getting the real thing. There are many plant varieties of rhodiola, but the one that works is called Rhodiola rosea. While it has many active ingredients, the key components are called rosavin and salidroside. So it is best to take rhodiola supplements that are standardized and can therefore guarantee at least 2 percent rosavin and 1 percent salidroside.
From NATURAL HIGHS: Supplements, Nutrition, and Mind/Body Techniques to Help You Feel Good by Hyla Cass and Patrick Holford. Copyright © Hyla Cass, M.D., and Patrick Holford. Used by arrangement with Avery, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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