Stress has a negative impact on memory and other neurocognitive functions. Numerous scientific studies confirm that it has long-term consequences on the brain, behavior, and levels of physical endurance. Herbs and medicinal mushrooms used to alleviate stress are considered effective in combating the consequences of stress. They offer important health benefits and contribute to relaxation and mental well-being.
Some herbs are considered adaptogens, which help the body adapt and cope more effectively with stressful situations. They promote relaxation, improve sleep, reduce anxiety, and restore the body’s energy balance. Other herbs provide antioxidant properties and help protect the body from the harmful effects of free radicals. These include herbs such as green tea, gotu kola, and rosemary.
Stress and physical activity
Stress and physical activity are interconnected. When exposed to excessive stress, whether physical, mental, or emotional, it can strain our bodies and lead to a decrease in physical capacity. Intense physical exertion can be a form of stress for our bodies, as it directly affects the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis.
Athletes undergoing strenuous training programs often experience “overtraining syndrome.” This stress-related condition includes:
- Changes in physiological functions
- Impaired psychological processing
- Immunological problems
- Other biochemical abnormalities
In states of chronic stress, a delay in recovery after exercise is observed. This can have an impact on physical and cognitive performance.
Stress and cognitive function
It has been established that prolonged exposure to stress leads to neuronal loss. Effective stress management, on the other hand, can help preserve cognitive abilities. Memory loss and impairment of cognitive processes are more pronounced in the aging process.
Chronic stress can cause damage to dendrites (parts of neurons) and hinder the process of generating new neurons. Inability to recover from stress can have adverse consequences on cognitive processes. Stress affects the brain in several ways. It acts quickly through substances called catecholamines and more slowly through cortisol, which is the body’s primary stress hormone. Cortisol is produced by the adrenal glands and can modulate synaptic plasticity (connections between neurons). It is an important adaptive hormone, and its levels are associated with memory formation. Stress also causes dysfunction of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis.
The intake of plant extracts and herbs can effectively help us combat stress. They contribute to better adaptation and recovery from stress. Some herbs and medicinal mushrooms are crucial in preventing the dysregulated production of stress hormones, which can negatively impact cognitive health.
Important Nutrients for Stress Conditions
Some nutrients stand out for their neuroprotective properties and can improve various metabolic functions. These herbs contain active ingredients that have the potential to reduce inflammation, improve circulation, and support the health of the nervous system.
American ginseng (Panax quinquefolium) is one of the most popular types of ginseng and belongs to the Araliaceae family. It differs from Korean ginseng (Panax ginseng). In Chinese medicine, American ginseng is believed to have calming and tonifying effects and is suitable for treating acute stress conditions, while Korean ginseng is primarily used for stimulation and is unsuitable for stress therapy.
American ginseng is known as a classic herbal adaptogen that improves human health. It restores balance in the body, especially in chronic stress conditions. American ginseng enhances physiological resilience and stimulates immune, physical, and cognitive functions. Studies show that it reduces anxiety and improves cognitive function.
The most active compounds in American ginseng are triterpenoid saponins called ginsenosides. They offer hypoglycemic and anti-inflammatory properties and have the ability to reduce the risk of cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases.
Cordyceps sinensis is a fungus belonging to the Clavicipitaceae family, which has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine. It is known for its beneficial properties for health and longevity. It is sometimes called the “caterpillar fungus” because its growth and reproduction involve parasitizing larvae of moths and butterflies.
The fungus contains a wide variety of bioactive compounds, including:
- Nucleosides (e.g., adenosine and cordycepin)
- Vitamins (E, K, B1, B2, and B12)
- Various minerals (K, Na, Ca, Mg, Fe, Cu, Mn, Zn, Se)
Many of the bioactive components in cordyceps serve different functions. They provide powerful cellular protection, help prevent tissue damage, and have significant anti-inflammatory properties.In vitro and in vivo studies demonstrate the potential of cordyceps as a therapeutic agent for treating metabolic disorders. It has immunoregulatory, hypoglycemic, renoprotective, and cardioprotective effects.
The fungus shows favorable effects on stress, aging, and glucose metabolism. It is used in vascular dementia and other neuroinflammatory disorders. Additionally, its adaptogenic effects help reduce fatigue, enhance physical endurance, and improve recovery under stressful conditions.
Other medicinal mushrooms such as turkey tail (Trametes versicolor), maitake (Grifola frondosa), and shiitake (Lentinula edodes) also have a beneficial effect on cognitive health. Studies show that increased consumption of mushrooms can improve cognitive health.
A research team from the National University of Singapore discovered that older adults who consume more than two servings of mushrooms per week (one serving equivalent to approximately 150 grams of cooked mushrooms) have a 50% lower risk of developing mild cognitive impairment. Scientists believe this effect is due to specific antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds in mushrooms, such as ergothioneine, hericenones, and erinacins. These compounds can stimulate the synthesis of nerve growth factors and protect the brain from neurodegeneration.
Key Nutrients for Neurocognitive Health
Preserving cognitive function and restoring damaged brain cells is a complex process. There are numerous nutrients that can help stimulate neurogenesis and combat neurodegenerative diseases.
A stressful lifestyle, which includes alcohol consumption, a high-fat and high-sugar diet, can adversely affect neurogenesis in adults. Adhering to a diet rich in key phytonutrients and polyphenols, along with physical activity, can help induce the decline of cognitive abilities.
Key antioxidants such as vitamins C and E, carotenoids, curcumin, CoQ10, and B-group vitamins play an important role in reducing neuroinflammation and oxidative stress. Consumption of these antioxidants can be increased through dietary sources or by taking nutritional supplements. It is important to maintain our cognitive health at every age!
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