Updated: Dec 27, 2019
Three things in life are certain, death, taxes and stress. A fact of life is that stress is unavoidable and highly individual but there is actually quite a bit that you can do to decrease your stress response. The key is focusing on how to quickly bounce back when you experience stress before it begins to affect our immunity and mental health. The holiday season is not only the peak time for colds and flu but stress, and there is definitely a connection.
Stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline have been shown to decrease our lymphocytes' (white blood cells that fight infection) response to foreign invaders. Cortisol and adrenaline are also known to affect our digestion and gut function (1). A big part of our immune system is in our gut (2) and it is no wonder that stress is directly linked to an increase in colds, flu, sinus infections and upper respiratory infections. When we have a decreased ability to fight off these common invaders you'll be especially susceptible. If you frequently get sick this is a sign that your immune system is functioning less than optimally.
Of course lot of factors play a role in getting sick such as more exposure to sick people, personal hygiene, air humidity, nutrient status, your age and the strength of your immune system. You can't control all of these factors but once again the goal is allow your body to bounce back quickly from stress which will allow you to limit stress as a factor.
One group of plant-based nutrients that are commonly overlooked when it comes to limiting stress and boosting immune function are adaptogens. This class of phytonutrients have a broad range of benefits, with two of those benefits being especially ideal for the holiday season and winter months. Let's dive into the three adaptogens worth trying.
Bacopa monierri is an herb that grows primarily in tropical Asian regions and has been used for thousands of years for stress, anxiety and has even been researched in cell and animal studies for it's benefits with certain types of cancers. Human studies confirm that it does in fact boost brain function in a variety of ways. Bacopa has shown that it can alleviate anxiety, stress (3), boost learning, memory and attention (4). Bacopa has strong compounds, called bacosides, which exert antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects and have been shown to boost immune function as well (5). Bacopa provides the ideal combo of stress-reducing and immune-boosting effects you need to bounce back quickly from stress and a reduce your chance of getting sick.
Ashwagandha root (Withania somnifera) is another herb with potent adaptogenic properties. Ashwagandha has also been used for thousands of years, initially in India, and has an abundance of research that points to its ability to reduce cortisol, boost the immune system, lower blood sugar levels, reduce stress and anxiety and even help improve sleep quality, male virility and thyroid function (6). Ashwagandha contains, withaferins, compounds that have been shown to produce anti-inflammatory effects in cell, animal and human studies (7). In a study published in the Journal of the American Nutraceutical Association chronically stressed adults who supplemented with ashwagandha had significantly greater reductions in cortisol, compared to the control group. Those taking the highest dose experienced a 30% reduction, on average (8).
Holy basil (Ocimum sanctum), also an adaptogenic herb native to Southeast Asia, has been used for many centuries and shown to enhance the body’s stress and immune responses as well. Holy basil contains a multitude of active compounds ranging from essential oils, flavonoids and polyphenols (9). In addition to mental and emotional stress, holy basil shows that it helps with physical stress by decreasing pain responses, boosting metabolism, reducing cholesterol, blood pressure, and reducing time to fatigue during physical challenges (10). A comprehensive review of 24 human studies revealed positive therapeutic effects of holy basil on cognition, immunity and metabolism (10).
Supplements are available containing combinations of the adaptogens that were covered. The recommended dosages can vary based on conditions being studied, combinations of other synergistic nutrients and the quality of the herbs. As a general rule herbs should be taken in multiple doses throughout the day with food. Teas, spices and ointments may also be available but due to the bitterness and poor taste of many adaptogenic herbs it may be a challenge to include in recipes and drinks at a dose that provides a therapeutic benefit.
NuAdapt and TruAdapt from Ortho Molecular Products are high quality products designed to decrease the stress response, while boosting brain function and enhancing immunity. You can purchase either one below:
1. Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K., Garner, W., Speicher, C., Penn, G. M., Holliday, J., & Glaser, R. (1984). Psychosocial modifiers of immunocompetence in medical students. Psychosomatic Medicine, 46(1), 7-14.
2. Fields, H. (2015). The Gut: Where Bacteria and Immune System Meet. Retrieved December 2019, from: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/research/advancements-in-research/fundamentals/in-depth/the-gut-where-bacteria-and-immune-system-meet
3. Kumar, N., Abichandani, L., Thawani, V., Gharpure, K., Naidu, M., & Venkat Ramana, G. (2016). Efficacy of Standardized Extract ofBacopa monnieri(Bacognize®) on Cognitive Functions of Medical Students: A Six-Week, Randomized Placebo-Controlled Trial. Evidence-Based Complementary And Alternative Medicine, 2016, 1-8. doi: 10.1155/2016/4103423
4. Kongkeaw, C., Dilokthornsakul, P., Thanarangsarit, P., Limpeanchob, N., & Norman Scholfield, C. (2014). Meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials on cognitive effects of Bacopa monnieri extract. Journal Of Ethnopharmacology, 151(1), 528-535. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2013.11.008
5. Abdul Manap, A., Vijayabalan, S., Madhavan, P., Chia, Y., Arya, A., & Wong, E. et al. (2019). Bacopa monnieri, a Neuroprotective Lead in Alzheimer Disease: A Review on Its Properties, Mechanisms of Action, and Preclinical and Clinical Studies. Drug Target Insights, 13, 117739281986641. doi: 10.1177/1177392819866412
6. Bharti, V., Malik, J., & Gupta, R. (2016). Ashwagandha. Nutraceuticals, 717-733. doi: 10.1016/b978-0-12-802147-7.00052-8
7. Dubey, S., Yoon, H., Cohen, M., Nagarkatti, P., Nagarkatti, M., & Karan, D. (2018). Withaferin A Associated Differential Regulation of Inflammatory Cytokines. Frontiers In Immunology, 9. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2018.00195
8. B. Auddy, J. Hazra, A. Mitra, B. Abedon, S. Ghosal, and S. L. City, “A standardized Withania somnifera extract significantly reduces stress-related parameters in chronically stressed humans,” Journal of the American Nutraceutical Association, vol. 11, pp. 51–57, 2008.
9. Cohen, M. (2014). Tulsi - Ocimum sanctum: A herb for all reasons. Journal Of Ayurveda And Integrative Medicine, 5(4), 251. doi: 10.4103/0975-9476.146554
10. Jamshidi, N., & Cohen, M. (2017). The Clinical Efficacy and Safety of Tulsi in Humans: A Systematic Review of the Literature. Evidence-Based Complementary And Alternative Medicine, 2017, 1-13. doi: 10.1155/2017/9217567