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If only the holiday season truly was all sugar plum fairies, turtle doves and Barney’s iconic window displays. Keep dreaming! Unless Santa’s little helper is bringing you a prescription for Xanax, the reality is that the holidays are stressful and exhausting.

But there is hope for peace and joy during the holidays in the form of a unique group of herbal ingredients called adaptogens, compounds that actually help your body “adapt” to stressful situations.

How They Work

Adaptogens strengthen the adrenal system, which is your body’s mission control center for managing the hormonal response to stress (dietary, emotional or physical). A healthy adrenal system is critical because too much of a stress hormone, such as cortisol, can throw your body’s delicate balance out of whack, resulting in a weakened immune system. And if your adrenal system is continually subjected to stress, the effect is cumulative, and can lead to an increased risk of infection and cancer.

Benefits of Adaptogens

In addition to a strong adrenal system and enhanced immunity, adaptogens also provide the following benefits:

• Increased metabolism

• Increased energy

Decreased fatigue

• Better sleep

What, How and When?

Adaptogenic herbs are rarely found in food, so you have to get your fix in pill or powder form. Here are the most important adaptogen herbs, and their recommended doses:

Eleuthero – used in Chinese medicine for muscle spasms, joint pain, insomnia and fatigue. Also shown to improve memory and combat mild depression.

Dose: 2-3 grams per day of the dried root.

Asian Ginseng – strengthens the body’s immune system, promotes longevity and promotes a sense of well-being.

Dose: 100-200 mg per day of a standardized extract. Not recommended for people with high blood pressure.

Ashwaghanda – used in Aryurvedic medicine to increase vitality and strengthen the immune system. Also recommended for those suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome.

Dose: 3–6 grams per day of the dried root. Not recommended if you are taking sedatives, have ulcers, or are sensitive to the nightshade group of plants.

Rhodiola Rosea – keeps your cortisol levels in balance, and helps brain function. Also shown to be good for depression and heart health.

Dose: 200 to 600 mg per day. Avoid rhodiola if you have manic depression or are bipolar.

You can also find adaptogenic formulas that combine two or more of the above listed herbs. Adaptogens should be taken first thing in the morning for best absorption. Effects of adaptogens can be subtle, and may take a few weeks to a few months to feel the benefits. No negative effects from long-term use of adaptogens have been seen, but they are not recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding women.

Always consult with your doctor before getting started, especially if you are taking prescription medicine.

Image: susivinh