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  • Northeast Wisconsin
  • December 2017
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It’s the most wonderful time of the year, so why am I so stressed?— Ashwagandha as an adaptogenic herb

We often think of stress as a bad thing: we are “stressed out” because we have too many things to do and it leads to a feeling of burnout or fatigue. But good things can also cause stress: a new home, new baby, vacation, family coming home for the holidays. This kind of stress, also known as eustress, is a positive form of stress that can have a beneficial effect on health, motivation, performance, and emotional well-being. When we are in a state of eustress, endorphins are released. These are the same chemicals that are responsible for “runner’s high” — they make us feel good! However, sometimes even these good stressors add up and eventually the scale is tipped so that we experience too much of a good thing and we burn out.

So, how do we tip ourselves over to eustress from distress in this busy, commercialized and yes, downright stressful time of the year?

First, let’s take a look at what is involved with stress and stressors. There are important stress hormones that our bodies produce and use when they need them, such as in an emergency situation. These hormones are epinephrine and norepinephrine, and they are often referred to as the “fight-or-flight” hormones that are released when the body is under extreme stress. During this type of stress, much of the body’s energy is used to combat imminent danger, and these hormones help the body muster the energy it needs to either stay and fight or take flight. The neat thing about these hormones is that as soon as you stop needing them, they stop being produced — they don’t hang around in your system causing havoc, instead they go away once the crisis has been averted.

There is a third hormone, however, that isn’t so accommodating. Cortisol is consistently being created and released by the adrenal glands in response to minor stressors. The problem with this is that unless you have a physical way of releasing stress — moving, physical activity, dare I say exercise? — the levels of cortisol continue to build up in your body. Eventually, the adrenal glands become fatigued. Some common signs of chronically elevated cortisol levels include mood swings, forgetfulness, anxiety, difficulty concentrating and weight gain. Sound familiar? We tend to shrug this off by saying stress is a part of life, but chronically high cortisol can be quite dangerous to your health.

One of the ways to seek support for our bodies in times of chronic stress is to utilize adaptogenic herbs. As their name suggests, adaptogens help the body adapt to stress, regardless of its cause, by normalizing cortisol levels and supporting those tired, overused adrenal glands.

In addition to lowering cortisol and supporting adrenals, research suggests that adaptogens: have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties; naturally enhance our mood by working to lower anxiety; have antidepressant properties; help normalize the immune system, the nervous system, and blood sugar metabolism; and, improve energy, stamina, muscle tone and strength.

Perhaps the most important of the adaptogens is ashwagandha (withania somnifera), an herb that has long been used in the Ayurvedic tradition, and in more recent decades has been adopted into Western herbal practice. It is thought to be one of the most effective adaptogenic herbs for lowering cortisol levels, with both calming and energizing effects. Recent studies have shown that ashwagandha may be effective in reducing anxiety, while its anti-inflammatory properties have shown promise in studies linked to rheumatoid arthritis. In one trial, it was found to increase four immune system cells, indicating a change in immune cell activation.

Ashwagandha isn’t necessarily the tastiest of herbs, so finding good ways to disguise it in great-tasting, healthy foods is a fabulous way to incorporate this adaptogen into your daily life.

Note: This information is not intended to suggest that you should replace any current treatment with ashwagandha. Always discuss your care with your trusted health care provider.

Ashwagandha Date Treats

Recipe from Alchemy of Herbs: Transform Everyday Ingredients into Foods and Remedies That Heal

Recommended eating: 2-3 per day • Yield: 40 balls

Ingredients

1½ cups pitted and chopped dates

2 tablespoons cocoa powder

1/3 cup ashwagandha powder

2/3 cup unsweetened coconut flakes (plus extra for rolling)

¼ cup tahini

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

½ teaspoon orange extract

1 teaspoon cinnamon powder

1 teaspoon ginger powder

Directions

  1. Soak pitted dates in 2 cups hot water for 30 minutes.
  2. Strain dates well.
  3. Place dates and remaining ingredients into a food processor. Blend until it forms a consistent paste.
  4. Chill the mixture in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
  5. Roll the paste into teaspoon-size balls and roll in coconut.
  6. Store in refrigerator and eat within one week. 


References: “Anxiolytic-Antidepressant Activity of Withania Somnifera Glycowithanolides: An Experimental Study.” Bhattacharya, S.K., Bhattacharya, A., Sairam, K., and Ghosal, S. Phytomedicine. 2000.

“Efficacy & Safety Evaluation of Ayurvedic Treatment (Ashwagandha Powder & Sidh Makardhwaj) In Rheumatoid Arthritis Patients: A Pilot Prospective Study.” Indian Journal of Medical Research. Kumar. G., Srivastava, A., Sharma, S.K., Rao, T.D., and Gupta, Y.K. 2015.

“Adaptogens in Medicinal Herbalism: Elite Herbs and Natural Compounds for Mastering Stress, Aging, and Chronic Disease.” Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions/Bear. Yance, D.R. (2013).

“Alchemy of Herbs: Transform Everyday Ingredients into Foods & Remedies That Heal.” Carlsbad, CA: Hay House Inc. de la Foret, R. 2017.

T. Heather Herdman, RN, PhD

T. Heather Herdman, RN, PhD is co-owner of Sweet Willow Naturals in Green Bay, where we have over 140 organic herbs and 70 organic spices available for you to craft your own products, or to simply enjoy as tea. Our store focuses on education and we have many classes to help you learn about herbs, aromatherapy, nutrition, and self-care – focusing on safe information backed up by research and experience. We also offer wellness coaching and massage – stop in today! For more information, visit http://www.sweetwillownaturals.com or email [email protected]

Website: www.sweetwillownaturals.com
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