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My top 3 mind healing herbs
Wouldn’t it be great if nature made some plants that could calm our nerves without making us feel like we were on drugs? Something to help regulate our stress while we learn how to meditate? Or just something to make it not so bad that your two-year-old broke another glass bowl again?
The truth is that we are able to self-regulate our feelings or responses to those feelings. It takes a lot of practice and it can be hard for some people, especially those who have never been introduced to mindfulness practice before. But don’t give up hope! Nature did indeed make some herbs that can help us get through the tough times and perhaps give us the opportunity to learn and practice mindfulness.
Adaptogens are herbs that help the body adapt to stress. It is important to regulate and control stress because it is the chronic low-grade chronic stress that can lead to hormone imbalance and inflammation. Stress is a risk factor for a number of diseases, including Alzheimer’s Disease (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25178904). So, yes, reducing your stress can heal not only your mind but also your entire body! I’ve outlined my top 3 adaptogens and why I like them.
- Ashwagandha (Indian Ginseng). Ashwagandha is one of my all-time favorites. It is calming and relaxing and if you have troubles going to sleep it could be something to consider taking at bed time. Not only does this, nature’s valium, help you relax and reduce the stress response, it also has a bunch of other great health benefits. A recent study suggested that it has anti-tumor effect in colon cancer (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29966656). Another recent study suggested that an extract from the leaves of ashwagandha can not only reduce brain inflammation but also reduce some of the behavioral problems that can occur as a result of that brain inflammation (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29846872). This is part of the beauty of using natural alternatives; there can tend to be a number of other health benefits that come along with these things as a side effect.
- Rhodiola (Rhodiola Rosea). Rhodiola is another favorite. This herb has been used for a number of different things including anxiety, fatigue, and depression. Some people take it for increased energy and strength. I find that Rhodiola could be more uplifting as compared to ashwagandha. There are certain companies that actually make a blend of several different adaptogens so you get the benefit of a several different things. These can also be taken separately. Since Rhodiola can be a little more energy boosting, I sometimes suggest taking it in the morning. One study suggested that those who took rhodiola had reduced levels of self-reported anxiety, stress, anger, confusion, and depression just after two weeks (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26502953). That’s pretty impressive if you ask me!
- Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus). Siberian ginseng has been used for ages as an adaptogen. It has been felt to help increase resistance to stress. It could be helpful in those experiencing fatigue or decreased energy, particularly from chronic disease. It has been demonstrated to have anti-oxidant capabilities as well and perhaps this is why it is a good choice in those with chronic illness (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19051347). Not only does Siberian ginseng have immune stimulant properties, it is also felt that it might potentially have anti-tumor activity as well (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26107240). One of the important things to remember with this one is that there are a lot of different kinds of ginseng. Others, like Panax ginseng, may also be considered adaptogens. Just be careful to read the labels and get a pure version of what you are intending to get.
There you have it! My top 3 adaptogens. These are great tools to carry in your toolbox. Herbs can carry a lot of power within them. We need to also remember that herbs are drugs too. Be sure to check on potential side effects as they may pertain to you and ensure that there are no drug-drug or herb-drug side effects that might affect you before you take anything new, just as you would with any other medication. If used properly, these can be great adjuncts to your stress-reducing regimen!
The information contained in this article and on www.thehealthygutmd.com is informational and not meant to be medical advice or replace the advice of a physician. Please consult your doctor with regards to your medical conditions and management.
As an integrative physician, I am often asked about what things can be done that can help improve gut health. With so much confusion about which medications are safe to use and what supplements are best to take, many are left wondering if what they are doing is the best or if they are just wasting their time and money. While there are many things you can do to improve your gut and overall health, I wanted to focus on something we often forget to talk about: social interconnectedness.
Social interconnectedness means your social connections, relationships, and friendships. Yes, you can do things to be healthier that don’t cost you anything. Here are my top 3 tips.
- Kindness. Kindness and compassion are two of the most powerful medicines. Helping others has a much more powerful impact on our bodies than if we just did something to help ourselves. When we are kind to others we are being kind to ourselves. Our heart rate and blood pressure is improved and stress levels are reduced. On the flip side, if we get angry or even have negative thoughts towards someone, we are just creating negative energy against ourselves. We now know that there is a connection between the gut (i.e., our digestive tracts) and the brain and that this is a two-way superhighway. How we think, feel, and act can influence the trillions of bacteria that live inside our gut. Additionally, those bacteria can influence how we think, feel, and act as well. A study performed at UCLA showing that taking probiotics can influence brain activity (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3839572/) helps show us how closely connected our brain and gut really are.
- Breathe. One of the best ways to heal your gut is by taking a few minuteS to slow down and take a few deep breaths. Meditating or yoga doesn’t have to be as complicated as we might think it is. There are so many ways to relax during the day so find what works best for you. Meditation has been associated with lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, lower levels of inflammation, lower blood pressure and heart rate, lower triglycerides, and the leakiness of the gut (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27576169). There is no medicine that exists that can do all of these things and more!
- Talk. Talk to your friends. Talk to a stranger. We know that social connections play a huge role in our health. In neighborhoods with lower levels of trust and social interactions between people we have seen that there is an increased risk of heart disease and depression and lower life expectancy. What’s fascinating is that under these circumstances we also see a decrease in the diversity and amounts of good bacteria in our gut (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26859894). Even if there is one person in your life that you can trust and count on, that is all you need.
Human beings are social creatures. We are all so unique yet built in the same way. If you are kind, compassionate, mindful, and just make some time to have fun or connect with someone, you are giving your body a dose of very powerful medicine, one that you cannot buy in a pharmacy! Your gut will definitely thank you!