Cortisol is a stress hormone produced by the adrenal glands. Overproduction of this hormone can lead to many problems including weight gain, muscle loss, nervous eating and anxiety. Herbs that naturally combat stress hormone production are known as adaptogens. Adaptogens are natural substances that improve the response to physical, emotional and/or mental stress without inducing any other changes in unstressed individuals.
Rhodiola rosea has been used traditionally to promote physical endurance and longevity. This wonder herb may also help to manage fatigue, depression and impotence. The chemicals rosavins and salidrosides in rhodiola have a normalizing effect on stress hormones such as cortisol. The Life Extension Foundation reports that a study by GS Kelly, entitled "Rhodiola Rosea: A Possible Plant Adaptogen," showed that the herb can lower the physiological and psychological effects of stress.
Ashwagandha is an ancient Indian herb that exhibits protective effects on the central nervous system. LE.org reports that NutrGenesis LLC did a study on ashwagandha in 2005 in which the participants reported higher energy levels, lower fatigue, better sleep and increased feelings of well-being. In addition, their cortisol levels dropped by 26 percent, accompanied by a decrease in fasting blood sugar levels and an improvement in lipid profiles.
Another Indian herb, holy basil is considered the "Mother Medicine of Nature" due to its many benefits. Also known as Ocimum sanctum, Ayurvedic practitioners also call holy basil "tulsi." The well-respected herbal company New Chapter makes a holy basil product that claims to lower cortisol, decrease inflammation and increase physical and emotional endurance.
Various forms of ginseng have been used in Asia since antiquity. However, ginseng is actually three different plants. Panax (or Korean), Chinese (or Asian) and American ginseng all possess chemical ginsenosides that offer protection from stress. Siberian ginseng, or Eleutherococcus senticosus, is not truly a ginseng plant, but a close relative that offers many health benefits. According to the Life Extension Foundation, all of the ginseng plants have adaptogenic, stress-lowering effects.
Relora is a patent-pending blend of two herbs: phellodendron amurense and magnolia officianalis. A study on Relora, conducted by Dr. Lavalle, showed a 37 percent decrease in cortisol, as well as a 227 percent increase in DHEA (a hormone with anti-stress effects). Relora is said to work with the body to maintain normal stress-hormone levels.