If your daily to-do list seems to lengthen while your energy levels diminish, this may be the time to try adaptogens. Derived from plants and plant parts, these herbs reduce stress and correct imbalances in your system. With the right regimen, you'll sail through winter in good health. "Adaptogenic herbs increase your body's resistance to physical, biological, emotional, and environmental stressors," says David Winston, a founding member of the American Herbalists Guild and coauthor of Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief (Healing Arts Press, 2007). All adaptogens help regulate the HPA (hypothalamic-pituitaryadrenal) axis, meaning they can adjust imbalances related to immunity, hormones, and stress. Each one also offers unique benefits. One herb might calm your mind, while another gives you energy or increases your endurance. "Adaptogens may fight inflammation and prevent oxidation caused by free radicals," says Winston. "They may also build stamina, ease anxiety, or enhance cognitive function."
Taken appropriately, adaptogens are safe for healthy adults. Follow label instructions or refer to Winston's dosage recommendations included with each herb. "If you're a 100-pound woman, use a third less than the 'normal' dose," says Winston. Talk to your doctor before taking herbs if you're nursing, pregnant, or planning to become pregnant. If you have a medical condition or take medication, consult with someone knowledgeable about herbs who can identify potential interactions. Asian ginseng, for example, may increase the effects of blood-thinning drugs and may worsen symptoms in people with high blood pressure, anxiety, or insomnia. Because of its thyroid-stimulating properties, ashwagandha is not advised if you have an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism).