Adaptogens: Using plants to calm any stressor (including food sensitivities)

Seems everyone is looking for a natural solution to every health concern these days.  But it seems more challenging to find a natural solution to food sensitivities that really works.  That said, since so much of our physical health is impacted by stress – physical or mental – let’s talk about how to manage stress naturally.  (And if there’s a little secret for food sensitivities, all the better!  Right?!)

Let’s talk adaptogens.  Adaptogens are plants which impact the autonomic nervous system – the “fight or flight” and “rest and digest” systems of the body.  Specifically, let’s look at four adaptogens: ashwagandha, rhodiola, panax ginseng and holy basil (tulsi).  And while we could do a whole lecture on each one…you’re not here for a lecture!  I’m going to try and keep this as practical as possible…

Ashwagandha is generally for the “wired and tired” individual; it is known as the calming adaptogen.  The nice thing about ashwagandha is most folks tolerate it very well and it serves them well.  There are no known drug interactions, but it is known to very effectively support thyroid function.  If you are already on a thyroid medication, let your doctor know you intend to start ashwagandha because your need for medication may change.  (And no one wants to be hyperthyroid!)

Rhodiola is known as an “anti-fatigue agent” and has been used in the traditional medicine systems of Eastern Europe and Asia for over 3000 years to increase energy, decrease depression, eliminate fatigue and prevent altitude sickness.   While it does help calm the stress response, it is more stimulating.  I find it helps a lot of folks focus better during stressful times.  Given that it is more stimulating, those with a personal or family history of mania or bipolar should be careful using rhodiola. 

Panax ginseng is known for anti-fatigue properties and is commonly used with those dealing with significant adrenal fatigue.  It is so effective against fatigue it is also used with good efficacy for cancer-related fatigue. 

And the last adaptogen is holy basil or tulsi.  This lovely member of the mint family has anti-anxiety and anti-depressant activities and is known as Yoga in a Teacup.  This is the little gem that does specifically have anti-allergy properties – it has been shown to inhibit mast cells and generally reduce the immune response in allergies.  This is the one that can serve those of use with food sensitivities really nicely. 

Any of these adaptogens are available in a variety of forms – tablets and capsules, tinctures, teas, whole plant, etc.  Consider using only organic products.  These are plants and may have a multitude of chemicals used upon them.  By using organic, you’re supporting your liver and biochemistry…and allowing the adaptogens to more easily do their job.  Also look for products that state they are standardized by the active ingredient. 

For those of us with food sensitivities, I highly recommend a cup of (or at least a few sips of) tulsi tea when you’re struggling with symptoms after eating a trigger food.  We all know life happens and keeping track of trigger foods is beyond challenging.  Taking tulsi, in any form, can help calm the symptoms.  Note – tulsi should not replace medications when you have serious and/or life-threatening allergic reactions.  That’s not the role of tulsi or any of the other adaptogens. 

Questions about adaptogens?  Email them to me at or post/message me on my Facebook page

Still trying to figure out which foods are causing your symptoms??  Or if it’s even food sensitivities at all?  Click here to download my free resource, Food Sensitivity Testing: Which test is right for you?  It’ll quickly help you determine what kind of testing will get you the answers you need. 


adaptogens, food sensitivities, self-care, stress

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