Life is hard enough when you have all of the energy you need to face the seemingly endless obstacles that are thrown your way. But when you feel tired, stressed, or simply worn down all of the time, just getting through each day can be overwhelming.
Eating a nutrient-dense, real food diet, sleeping for 7–8 hours a night, getting plenty of exercise and not sitting too much, managing your stress, and brining more pleasure, connection, and play into your life are all crucial to recovering your energy—and your life.
But what happens when you’re doing all of these things and you’re still exhausted and worn down? What if you have trouble falling asleep, or wake up a lot throughout the night? Or what if, despite your best efforts, you just feel like you need a little extra support?
Why diet and lifestyle changes aren’t always enough
That’s where a supplement can be helpful. Let’s face it: we live in a high stress world. If you’re like most of my patients, every day you’re juggling the demands of a job, family, kids, running a household, engaging in your local community, and a continuously growing list of responsibilities and obligations.
What’s more, the pace of life seems to be getting faster every year. Modern technologies like the internet, email, and social media have revolutionized communication, but they’ve also led a flood of information and even more demands on our time.
And for many of us, these demands on our time are exceeding our capacity to deal with them, draining us of the energy we need to express our skills and talents and have a fulfilling and rewarding life.
The system in our body that governs our tolerance of and response to stress, as well as our energy levels, is called the HPA axis. You can think of the HPA axis as your “battery pack”. Over time, the daily stresses of life—from problems at work, to financial difficulties, to marital strife, to a chronic illness or injury—run your battery down. And as your battery runs down, your energy plummets, we become more sensitive to stress, and our body starts to fall apart.
But here’s the good news: there is a class of plant medicines called “adaptogens” that support the HPA axis, increase your body’s ability to handle stress, boost energy levels, improve sleep, and strengthen your immune system.
Adaptogens have been successfully used in both Ayurvedic and Chinese Medicine to battle fatigue, low energy, and the effects of chronic stress. What’s more, recent scientific research has confirmed that these traditional medicines are both effective and safe.
The best herbs for fighting stress and fatigue
Over the past several years, I’ve spent countless hours digging through research studies to find the best options. Even more importantly, I’ve had the chance to experiment with them in my work with hundreds of patients to determine which ones are most effective for people just like you.
There are many plants that function as adaptogens, but I’ve found the following six to be the most effective:
Eleuthero (aka Siberian ginseng)
Eleuthero is a type of ginseng plant found in northeast Asia. It has been used in traditional systems of medicine to increase energy and vitality and strengthen the immune system. More recently, Russian and Chinese athletic programs have used Eleuthero to improve athletic performance and enhance recovery from training and illness.
Ginseng (aka Panax ginseng)
Ginseng is a slow-growing plant native to North America and eastern Asia. It has been used for thousands of years in Traditional Chinese Medicine to improve cognitive function and mood, boost energy, boost libido, and reduce the harmful impact of stress. Modern research has shown that it may slow the aging process, enhance memory, and improve athletic performance. Note that Ginseng can be quite stimulating for some people, and interfere with sleep.
Rhodiola is a plant that primarily grows in cold areas of the world, like the mountains of Central Asia and Europe and the Arctic. Rhodiola has been (and still is) used in Russia as a tonic and remedy for fatigue, poor attention span, decreased memory, and mitigates the effects of stress. Modern research has found that Rhodiola acts as an antioxidant, enhances immune system function, and can increase sexual energy.
Holy Basil is a member of the mint family originally from India. It has a long history of use in Ayurvedic medicine for chronic stress, fatigue, weak immune function, anxiety, depression, and blood sugar problems. Recent scientific studies have shown that Holy Basil is a powerful antioxidant that also has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
Schisandra is a shrub that is native to east Asia. Like Ginseng, it has been used for thousands of years in China, where it is believed to prolong life, slow the aging process, increase energy, fight fatigue, and boost libido. Modern research in the US and Europe suggests that Schisandra also has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and is particularly helpful for improving cognitive function, relieving anxiety, and treating insomnia.
Red Reishi is a mushroom that is used medicinally in China. In fact, its use dates back 4,000 years, making it one of the oldest botanical medicines we know of. Red Reishi was traditionally regarded as an energy booster, pain reliever, immune regulator, and nervous system tonic. More recent scientific research has shown that it reduces inflammation and is effective for anxiety, high blood pressure, insomnia, asthma, and a wide range of other chronic conditions.
How should you take these nutrients and adaptogens?
Since each adaptogen has unique effects, I recommend choosing a formula that contains several of them. That way you get not only the individual effects of each plant, you also get the synergistic effect of all of the plants together.
As you can imagine, there is a tremendous difference in the potency, efficacy, and safety of adaptogenic herbal formulas available on the market. For example, tinctures are generally more potent than capsules or tablets; but not all tinctures share the same strength. Some contain two parts of the plant to one part alcohol and water, whereas others might contain one part plant to give parts alcohol or water—a 10-fold difference in potency!
Where the plants come from and how they’re harvested also makes a difference. Whenever possible, choose organic and/or wildcrafted herbs. Not only do they tend to be more effective, they are also free of pesticides and other chemicals that may cause harm.
Finally, make sure to choose a reputable company that follows Good Manufacturing Processes (GMP) and has their products regularly analyzed for quality control. Unfortunately, there are a lot of unsavory companies out there selling low-quality, potentially dangerous herbal products.
Which product do I recommend?
As a clinician who works with patients, and a trained herbalist, I’ve had the opportunity to try many different adaptogen formulas. Some haven’t worked well at all, some were just okay, and others were quite effective.
But the one I’ve had the most success with and currently use in my practice is called Stress Manager from Herb Pharm. Stress Manager contains high-quality, custom wildcrafted or organic herbs that are harvested at their optimal potency and then promptly extracted after being shade-dried. It contains five of the adaptogens from my list above, including:
- Holy Basil
- Red Reishi
Herb Pharm is one of the most reputable suppliers of botanical products in the world. Most of their herbs are either organic or wildcrafted (i.e. cultivated wild in their natural environment) in Southern Oregon.
Stress Manager is a little more expensive than some other products on the market, but it’s also considerably more potent and higher in quality. This means you’ll get better results, and may even save money over the long-term because you won’t have to take as much to get the same effect.
How much should you take?
The optimal daily dose of adaptogens will depend on a variety of factors, from the extent of your fatigue and stress, to your individual response to the formula.
That said, I can give you some general guidelines.
Start with 10 drops three times a day, diluted in about 1/2 inch of water, with the last dose before 3pm. So, for example, you could take your first dose right when you wake up, your second dose in the late morning (around 11am), and the last dose after lunch, between 2–3pm. The herbs in this formula can be stimulating, and taking them too late in the day may interfere with your sleep.
Over the next one to three weeks, gradually build up to the full therapeutic dose of 30–40 drops (approximately one full dropper) three times a day. If you experience agitation, jitteriness, or sleeplessness, reduce the dose you are taking (and try increasing again later, if you wish).
How long should you take them?
I recommend taking adaptogens for a minimum of two months. Adaptogens are powerful, but their effect is cumulative and builds over time. They don’t work like caffeine or other stimulants, which give you a quick jolt but actually end up making the problem worse over time (because they tax the adrenals). Instead, they address the underlying problem by gently regulating the HPA axis and improving your resilience and tolerance of stress. The results may take a little longer this way, but they’ll also be a lot longer lasting.
The length of time you should take adaptogens depends on the severity of your symptoms, how long you’ve experienced those symptoms, and the level of stress in your life. If your symptoms are mild and relatively recent, you may only need to take adaptogens for two or three months. If your symptoms are more pronounced and longstanding, you may need to take adaptogens for a year or longer.
That said, some of my patients prefer to take adaptogens on an ongoing basis to help insulate them from the effects of their stressful lives. I think that’s fine, but I do recommend taking one week off every 3–4 months.
Who shouldn’t take adaptogens?
Adaptogens are not recommended for pregnant or nursing women, or children under the age of twelve, without supervision by a medical practitioner.
If you are taking medication for depression, anxiety, or another behavioral or mood disorder, check with your physician before taking adaptogens.
A special offer for members of the ChrisKresser.com community
As a gesture of gratitude for joining this community, I’d like to offer you a 30% discount off your first order of Stress Manager.
To take advantage of this, simply click on the button below and use the coupon code “CKSTRESS-020216” during the checkout process.