We live in a stressed, harried world. Our stress system was not designed for chronic stress. Our Fight-or-Flight system was developed to protect us from the stalking bear rather then the pile of bills that grows daily. Our stress fighting system is meant to be high and active for a short period of time, like running for your life, and then relax and be calm for long periods. However when we keep our cortisol levels at high all the time, it wears out the whole body.
Chronically high cortisol levels lead to sleep disturbance, suppressed thyroid function, insulin resistance, and progesterone and testosterone deficiency. The hippocampus of the brain shrinks. It leads to osteoporosis and immune dysfunction as well as shortens the telomeres of our DNA, which accelerates aging. Stress is killing us.
Rhodiola is an Arctic plant with a root that smells like roses. It was traditionally used in Russia and Scandinavia as an energy and fertility tonic. Modern studies show that extracts of rhodiola improve symptoms of depression, and relieve stress-induced fatigue.
Most interesting is its mechanism of action. By modulating a stress-activated protein kinase called JNK, rhodiola restores the normal sensitivity of cortisol receptors. This was demonstrated in a 2009 Swedish placebo-controlled study. At the end of the 4-week study, participants given rhodiola had measurably lower cortisol levels than placebo, and scored better on scales of burnout and cognitive function.
Researchers propose that the constituents in rhodiola and other adaptogen herbs act like mild stress-mimics. They induce stress protection mechanisms such as heat shock proteins, and modulate the HPA axis. In this way, they inoculate the body against stress, and are a type of hormesis. Hormesis is a biological response whereby a mild stressor (such as exercise or calorie restriction) induces a homeostatic mechanism that protects against other stressors.
We also need to lower the stress levels in our lives, remove some of the commitments, do some yoga and stretching, clean up our mental chatter. But when life gets overwhelming, give yourself some help with natural plants that help stem the cortisol storm.
Idea and Image Source: Dr Laura Briden. ND