5 Adaptogenic Herbs That Can Help Balance Cortisol

Balance CortisolChronic stress can lead to elevated levels of cortisol. These conditions throw off the delicate balance and the function of other hormones in the body.

When too much cortisol is present in the bloodstream, the body responds with physiological symptoms such as fatigue, weight gain and bone loss. Emotional symptoms such as anxiety, mood swings and irritability can also result from excess cortisol.

Elevated levels of cortisol over a long period of time can burn out the adrenal glands, thus leading to adrenal fatigue. This can lead to an accelerated rate of aging, sleep disorders, depression and a suppressed immune system.

In order to lower cortisol levels and promote hormone balance in our bodies, it’s important to remove as many sources of stress as possible from our daily lives and then effectively manage the rest.

Adaptogenic Herbs

Adaptogenic herbs are derived from plants that have the ability to help respond to stress by normalizing the body’s metabolic functions and support the adrenal glands (which produce the stress hormone, cortisol). These herbs have been used in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for hundreds of years and modern day scientists are only beginning to understand their benefits.

Although these herbs can be used to supplement your stress management routine or to help you get through a particularly stressful time without too many negative consequences, they are only a part of the solution. Other parts include: testing your hormone levels, addressing any hormone imbalances, avoiding destructive behaviors, eating a healthy diet, and exercise. Here is a list of five different herbs that have been found to help respond to stress by lowering cortisol levels.


Sometimes called the golden or Arctic root, Rhodiola is an herb that is native to arctic areas and has been in use to treat a variety of conditions since as far back as 77 A.D. Rhodiola helps to balance cortisol levels in the body which can result in a long list of benefits. This historical herb has been used to treat fatigue, depression, and issues associated with the nervous system such as memory loss, difficulty concentrating and low productivity. In addition, Rhodiola is also known to have a positive effect on the immune and reproductive systems. These systems are suppressed during the human stress response so Rhodiola helps to keep them healthy during periods of stress. A scientific review published in Phytomedicine in 2011 concluded that Rhodiola can be effective for improving physical and mental performance, and has beneficial effects on certain mental conditions.


Ginseng is a root which has commonly been used around the world as an herbal medicine to treat a variety of conditions. Ginseng helps to boost the immune system, lower blood sugar levels, and enhance brain function. Research has also found that in addition to promoting a sense of well-being by enhancing growth of cells and promoting longevity, ginseng may play a significant role in the protection against some kinds of cancer.


The root of the maca plant is considered to be a Superfood and has been used by civilizations of South America for centuries as a natural way to support proper endocrine system function. This hearty plant grows in a climate where not many plants can survive. It has been found high in the mountains of Peru with extremely high altitudes with strong cold winds. In nature, this plant is able to withstand a lot of stress which may be the reason why it is so effective at helping humans adapt to stress in their lives. Maca has been found to help balance the endocrine system by supporting the glands of the endocrine system and by increasing estrogen, testosterone and progesterone levels.


In Ayurvedic medicine, ashwaganda is an herb that has been used for boosting immune system function, enhancing stamina, reducing cortisol levels and regulating the production of thyroid hormones. Animal studies have provided evidence that ashwaganda can help to boost production of thyroid hormones from a sluggish thyroid and can also suppress the production of thyroid hormones from an overactive thyroid. In addition, medical research has found evidence that ashwaganda not only lowers cortisol levels but also increases insulin sensitivity and balances sex hormones. With the help of its anti-oxidants, amino acids, phytochemicals and fatty acids in this nutrient dense herb, emotional, physical and mental stress can be all be alleviated.

Holy Basil

Holy basil is a relative of sweet basil commonly used in cooking but provides more health benefits. Holy basil contains compounds that have anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidants, anti-fungal and anti-bacterial characteristics. Research on holy basil has found evidence that this herb helps the body respond to physical and emotional stress by lowering cortisol levels in stressful situations.

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