Top Herbal Stress Fighters

I often have patients take our Adrenal Wellness formula that contains a combination of adaptogenic herbs that work to balance one’s stress hormones. My favorite adaptogenic herbs include ashwagandha and rhodiola rosea. These herbs along with nutrients such as B vitamins and vitamin C are effective in helping people re-establish adrenal balance.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has defined herbal adaptogens as:

Adaptogenic substances are stated to have the capacity to normalize body functions and strengthen systems compromised by stress. They are reported to have a protective effect on health against a wide variety of environmental assaults and emotional conditions.

The EMA also notes that adaptogens are virtually non-toxic to the user.

I will now review some of the science on ashwagandha and rhodiola rosea.


A+ for Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha has a long history of use in Ayurvedic medicine. It has had several human studies published concerning its beneficial effects as an adaptogen. Ashwagandha extract was shown in people with a history of chronic stress to improve an individual’s resistance to stress and quality of life scores based on a variety of questionnaires. Perceived stress by the participants was reduced by 44 %. In addition, after 60 days, serum cortisol levels were reduced by 27.9% from baseline compared to 7.9% of those in the placebo group.  One other study worth mentioning is a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial found that 125 to 250 mg of Ashwagandha extract taken twice daily. The results included a 79% reduction in fatigue as well as improvements in ratings of stress, anxiety, irritability, inability to concentrate, and forgetfulness. These factors did not improve in the placebo group. As well, serum cortisol levels decreased by 24.2% and DHEA levels improved by 32.2 % for those taking Ashwagandha extract. It should be noted that DHEA works to balance cortisol.

Ashwagandha is well tolerated. The recommended dose is 250 to 500 mg daily of a standardized extract.


Rhodiola Roars

Rhodiola is a medicinal plant that has had almost 200 studies published on its chemistry and clinical use. Rhodiola rosea has a long history of use in Siberian and Russian medicine as an adaptogen. It is also an effective antioxidant that protects the brain and nervous system from free radical damage. Rhodiola has been shown to increase physical work capacity and shorten recovery time between bouts of high-intensity exercise.

A review in the journal Current Pharmacology Reports notes that recent research demonstrates that Rhodiola rosea has “anti-aging, anti-inflammation, immunostimulating, DNA repair and anti-cancer effects in different model systems.” Moreover, the authors of a paper from the International Journal of Psychiatry in Clinical Practice state that Rhodiola rosea extract has the beneficial actions of “providing both physical and psychological symptom relief, normalizing stress hormone levels and increasing energy.”

Rhodiola has multiple effects in the body, including effects on neurotransmitter production in the brain and balancing effects on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis.

Side effects are uncommon. The recommended dose is 200 to 300 mg of a standardized product containing 3% rosavins.


Dr. Mark Stengler NMD, MS, is a bestselling author in private practice in Encinitas, California, at the Stengler Center for Integrative Medicine. His newsletter, Dr. Stengler’s Health Breakthroughs, is available at His clinic website is


Auddy, B, J Hazra, B Abedon, and S Ghosal. “A Standardized Withania Somnifera Extract Significantly Reduces Stress-Related Parameters in Chronically Stressed Humans: A Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Study.” Journal of the American Nutraceutical Association 11 (2008).

Anghelescu, Ion-George, David Edwards, Erich Seifritz, and Siegfried Kasper. “Stress Management and the Role of Rhodiola Rosea: A Review.” International Journal of Psychiatry in Clinical Practice 22, no. 4 (January 11, 2018): 242–52.

Chandrasekhar, K., Jyoti Kapoor, and Sridhar Anishetty. “A Prospective, Randomized Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study of Safety and Efficacy of a High-Concentration Full-Spectrum Extract of Ashwagandha Root in Reducing Stress and Anxiety in Adults.” Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine 34, no. 3 (July 2012): 255–62.

Li, Yonghong, Victor Pham, Michelle Bui, Liankun Song, Chunli Wu, Arman Walia, Edward Uchio, Feng Smith-Liu, and Xiaolin Zi. “Rhodiola Rosea L.: An Herb with Anti-Stress, Anti-Aging, and Immunostimulating Properties for Cancer Chemoprevention.” Current Pharmacology Reports 3, no. 6 (September 14, 2017): 384–95.

“Reflection Paper on ‘the Adoptogenic Concept’ – European Medicines Agency.” Evaluations of Medicines for Human Use. European Medicines Agency, May 2008.