If you’re looking for a natural way to boost your energy, support weight loss and improve your overall health then it’s time to start using adaptogens for hormone balance.
Now, if you’ve never heard the term “adaptogens” (or “adaptogenic herbs”) before it simply refers to:
“a group of foods, herbs and mushrooms that help to protect us from the damaging effects of stress.”
The great thing about adaptogenic foods is that they are generally safe and nontoxic.
Plus, they are most famous for bringing the body back to a state of homeostasis (i.e. natural balance).
So, now that you got the basics, here’s what you’ll get from this post:
- how stress affects your hormones, weight and overall health.
- the best adaptogens that will help you find your natural balance.
- recommended brands and products to use for the best quality adaptogenic herbs.
Note: this post contains affiliate links and I may earn a commission if you use them.
THE LINK BETWEEN STRESS, WEIGHT GAIN AND HORMONAL IMBALANCE
When we are under stress, 2 systems in the body kick in:
- the adrenal glands
- the sympathetic nervous system
These glands produce “stress” hormones like cortisol and adrenaline.
Even though, these hormones are commonly referred to as “stress” hormones, they’re actually friendly hormones.
That’s because these hormones are part of the emergency toolkit that nature gives us so that we can handle stressful situations.
They work best when we are dealing with acute or short-term stress.
Sympathetic Nervous System
This is the part of the nervous system that’s often referred to as the “fight or flight” system.
When it’s time to fight or run away, that means the body needs to use up more energy and increase blood supply.
So, during times of stress, our breathing is faster, heart rate speeds up, blood pressure goes up and our blood sugar levels go up.
Just like with the adrenals, the sympathetic nervous system is designed to work for us when we’re facing short-term stress.
With acute or short-term stress, the stressor eventually goes away and the body returns to its normal state.
This means that when the stressor is eliminated, the adrenals and the sympathetic nervous system turn OFF (or at least their volume is dialed down).
However, when there is prolonged stress, the adrenals and the sympathetic nervous system are permanently turned ON.
This prolonged stress causes symptoms like:
- weight gain
- adrenal fatigue
- thyroid dysfunction
- other hormonal imbalances
- low energy and chronic fatigue
- difficult sleeping
- high cholesterol
- digestive ulcers
- leaky gut
- hot flashes
- heart palpitations
- erratic menstrual cycles
- …and so on.
THE 3 TYPES OF STRESS AND THEIR EFFECT ON HORMONES
We often think of stress as being exclusively emotional. But there are actually 3 types of stress that we all face in life.
1. Emotional stress: This could be the rage that arises when someone cuts us off in traffic, or when we’re facing financial difficulties.
2. Physical stress: This can come from some sort of physical injury. For example, bumping your knee against a chair or cutting a finger while cooking.
3. Chemical stress: This results from exposure to toxins, such as pesticides, processed food, dirty water, and so on.
As you can see, stress is about much more than just emotions.
Our current living conditions, where we’re surrounded by GMOs, pesticides and other chemicals place our bodies under a state of permanent stress.
In some ways, this is the most dangerous type of stress because it doesn’t kill us immediately. Nor does it lead to immediate symptoms.
Instead it wears us down slowly…or more specifically, it wears down our hormone production system month after month, year after year.
Then one day we wake up and notice that our bodies are changing for the worse. And from our perspective, the changes seemed to have happened overnight.
But in reality, the symptoms and root cause has been building up over time. Going unnoticed!
What’s particularly interesting about stress is that the body doesn’t distinguish between emotional, physical or chemical stress.
All stress is handled in the same way: the adrenals kick in and release anti-inflammatory hormones (such as cortisol).
So, based on all this, we can start to see why chronic stress of any kind is harmful.
This highlights just how strongly we need something that can help us manage stress.
That “something” is adaptogens, which we are now going to look at more closely.
BENEFITS OF ADAPTOGENIC HERBS FOR HORMONES, WEIGHT LOSS & OVERALL HEALTH
As a whole, adaptogens work on the body’s stress response.
Therefore, many of these herbs and foods have similar benefits.
That said, some of these herbs also have unique benefits and when they are combined together, they can significantly boost your results.
As a whole, adaptogenic herbs provide the following benefits:
- balances blood sugar.
- contains antioxidants that protect us from free radical damage.
- protects the liver.
- improves the body’s ability to process and detox toxins.
- reduces sugar and alcohol cravings.
- boosts immune system.
- increases energy and performance.
- boosts stamina and motivation.
- improves muscle tone and strength.
- facilitates recovery from illness.
- improves brain function.
- reduces anxiety.
- improves sleep quality.
- improves eyesight and hearing.
- stabilizes mood.
- improves the body’s ability to assimilate protein.
11 ADAPTOGENIC HERBS FOR HORMONE BALANCE AND WEIGHT LOSS
So, now that we know how stress affects the body and hormones, how can adaptogens actually help you?
And what are the best adaptogens for hormones and weight loss that you can use?
The 11 adaptogens to use for hormone balance are:
- Holy Basil (aka Tulsi)
- Rhodiola Rosea
- Schisandra Berries
- Siberian Ginseng
- Cordyceps mushrooms
- Licorice root
Here’s a brief look at each of these herbs and their health benefits.
This popular Ayurvedic herb is known to:
- stabilize mood.
- restore healthy cortisol levels.
- improve insulin sensitivity.
- balance the immune system (i).
- regulate estrogen and progesterone levels (ii).
- support healthy thyroid function (iii).
- act as a natural tonic to reduce inflammation (iv)
- promote overall health and longevity.
- protect the brain from oxidative stress (v)
And just in case you’re not yet impressed, studies done with mice show that ashwagandha also promotes the death of cancer tumors.
Talk about an herb that truly adapts to your needs!
2. Holy Basil (or Tulsi)
When it comes to protecting the body from stress, holy basil has been shown to be quite a powerhouse.
For example, an article from the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, indicates that holy basil:
- Protects organs and tissues against chemical stress.
- Provides relief from emotional stress (thanks to its anti-depressant properties).
- Normalizes blood glucose, blood pressure and triglyceride levels.
3. Rhodiola Rosea
Research shows that the rhodiola rosea plant can:
- boost energy.
- ease depression.
- enhance concentration.
- improve metabolism.
Note: There are different varieties of rhodiola. Make sure to get rhodiola rosea for the best results.
4. Schisandra Berries
Because of their ability to reduce the production of excess cortisol, schisandra berries can:
- improve cognitive function.
- reduce adrenal exhaustion.
- boost fertility.
In fact, a study done on rats shows that levels of cortisol and nitric oxide – both of which go up during stressful times – remain quite stable in rats given schisandra.
This happens even when the rats are exposed to more stress.
(To learn more about the other benefits of schisandra berries for fertility, skin and more, check out this article on schisandra berries for hormone health).
5. Siberian Ginseng (aka Eleuthero)
This lesser known, but powerful, adaptogen contains compounds that:
- Fight fatigue.
- Improve insomnia.
- Increase energy.
- Use up fat for energy.
- Boost memory.
- Improve endurance.
(Sources: vi, vii, vii)
In addition to the above, siberian ginseng has been found to support immune function, stabilize blood sugar and shorten the duration of respiratory infections.
Turmeric is a very versatile adaptogen that can be used in scrambled eggs, smoothies and many other dishes.
This herb has a system-wide, anti-inflammatory effect and has been found to affect over 100 pathways in the body.
As a result of this, research shows that turmeric can improve anxiety, metabolic syndrome, muscle soreness and many other inflammatory conditions.
Turmeric is also excellent for supporting the health of the liver, an organ that plays a significant role in natural hormone balance.
(For tips on how to support the liver and improve a wide variety of hormonal imbalances you can read my post on the liver and hormones.)
In Ayurvedic medicine, shatavari is often used as a tonic for women.
Its main benefits include (source) :
- Soothing irritability and mood swings.
- Easing mood swings.
- Improving sleep quality.
- Boosting sex drive.
- Supporting immune function and antioxidant activity.
8. Cordycep Mushrooms
Although they are not an herb, cordycep mushrooms are known to have adaptogenic properties.
In fact, one study reveals that cordycep mushrooms balance out hormones, and specifically helps people with adrenal fatigue to feel more energetic.
But that’s not all. These mushrooms also significantly increase the levels of certain antioxidants.
That’s good news for us because more antioxidants means less inflammation and a lower chance of premature aging!
This sweet-tasting root is native to South America and comes in yellow, red and black varieties.
Historically, maca has been used to (source):
- Improve various adrenal fatigue symptoms.
- Restore healthy libido.
- Improve overall mood.
- Support healthy function of the HPA (hypothalamic pituitary adrenal) axis, which is our main stress response pathway.
- Improve fertility.
10. Licorice Root
Although the word “licorice” is often associated with candy, licorice root is actually a powerful herb that regulates cortisol levels.
In addition, research shows that licorice can be more effective than hormone replacement therapy when it comes to reducing the duration of hot flashes.
Furthermore, licorice root has been shown to improve fertility and irregular periods in women with PCOS.
This herb has a long history of use in Chinese medicine, where it’s used to fight diseases, as well as the effects of physical and mental stress.
In addition, modern science is now confirming that astragalus can:
- Relieve insulin resistance.
- Boost the immune system.
- Prevent the growth of tumors.
- Support wound healing.
- Fight off colds and flus.
- Prevent skin damage that results from free radicals.
HOW TO USE ADAPTOGENS FOR HORMONE BALANCE & WEIGHT LOSS
While it’s possible to get amazing results with a single herb or food, they tend to work better when they are combined.
To add adaptogens to your diet, you can try one or more of the following options listed below.
1. Make adaptogenic coffee
That morning cup of coffee may help you get started each day, but it can also be too stimulating for your adrenals.
And once you have clear symptoms of hormonal imbalance, a regular coffee habit can really increase stress and inflammation.
An adaptogenic blend is a nice alternative to coffee that boost your energy without the caffeine jolt.
To get started you can buy various adaptogens from an herb store and experiment to find a blend that you enjoy.
Or you can go the easy route and get a pre-made blend like Rasa’s Adaptogenic Coffee Blend.
It contains herbs like ashwagandha, shatavari and rhodiola, along with cinnamon and mushrooms (specifically chaga and reishi).
You can find the Rasa coffee blend on Amazon.
2. Add to smoothies, soups and other dishes
Some adaptogens can be purchased as a powder, making it very convenient to add them to smoothies, soups, baked goods and much more.
Some of the best tasting ones for smoothies are maca and ashwagandha.
3. Take as a supplement (capsules or tincture)
Many supplement brands sell adaptogens in capsules.
This is definitely a convenient way to enjoy the benefits of these “smart’ foods!
Depending on the brand, you can get single herb capsules or a blend.
To get the best results from adaptogens, I recommend using a blend.
That’s because adaptogenic herbs are just like food: they work in synergy with each other.
One herb on its own may or may not give you the results you’re looking for.
But when you several of them, you get a power team!
Another benefit of buying an adaptogenic blend is that it takes the guesswork out of what ratios to use (this can be a real issue when buying the individual herbs).
The two brands I frequently share on this blog are Gaia and Herb Pharm.
Here’s an overview of both of these supplements.
- Gaia’s Adrenal Health: these are capsules that contain ashwagandha, holy basil, rhodiola and schisandra. Gaia is a brand that I’ve personally used through the years and I’m never disappointed by their products.
- Herb Pharm Stress Manager: this is a tincture made of schisandra, holy basil, reishi mushrooms and rhodiola. Similar to Gaia, Herb Pharm is another brand that I’ve used in the past and they are known for specializing only in herbal formulas.
4. Make an adaptogenic tea
Do you like experimenting and making your own blends?
Then you can buy individual herbs and make your own teas at home.
The sky’s the limit as far as which ones you choose to mix and match!
Adaptogens are powerful plants that can be an important in bringing balance to your body.
Just remember that as with all herbs, they should be used as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle.
Hey, if you’re curious about the best supplements overall for women’s hormones, here are my top picks (my in-depth review of these supplements can be found here):
- Green Juice: this is a multipurpose powder that can help with weight loss, stress and cortisol balance, fatigue, detoxing and more. It contains amazing ingredients like matcha, turmeric, ashwagandha, beets and much more.
- Moon Balance: this powder combines some of the best herbs for menstrual support, such as hibiscus, maca and shatavari. If your cycle is off balance and you struggle with things like PMS, period pain and other menstrual imbalances, this is one to check out.
- Formula 4|5: formulated specifically for women in perimenopause, these herbal capsules include vitex, milk thistle and EstroG-100 (a trademarked blend of 3 herbs that has been shown to improve menopause symptoms).
- Women’s Balance: this supplement combines “classic” female herbs (like red clover and vitex) with herbs to support the nervous system (hello stress!) and detox-friendly herbs (like dandelion). These herbs have traditionally been used to support female health at all stages of life.