Herbal Wisdom

Self-Care, Stress Resilience and Hormesis

Self-care is not a word we associate with masculinity or warriors on account of all the societal and cultural norms that often seep into our consciousness. And although exercise is thought of as more masculine, or yang, and massage is thought of as more feminine, or yin, both activities are important to a balanced nervous system despite their different mechanism.

Stress resilience is a result of a balanced system and repeated low dose stress from exercise, cold showers, fasting, and also from diet and herbs. The process is known as hormesis and it stimulates powerful epigenetic changes in our bodies which modulates inflammation and aging (inflammaging). In other words, what does not kill you makes you stronger!

A recent paper discussed the Mediterranean diet and attributes the process of hormesis from certain food compounds to the success of this diet. Since herbs are concentrated phytochemical versions of fruit and vegetables, it is becoming clear that many of the herbs we take work as hormetic agents. This does not mean we can skip the gym if we take herbs, but instead think of them working internally as herbal warriors, priming and preparing our bodies for battle with the confidence and resilience of a fit physique.

Hormetic phytochemicals such as resveratrol (grape seed), sulforaphane (cruciferous vegetables), curcumin (turmeric), catechins (green tea), and allicin (garlic) all activate adaptive stress response signaling pathways that increase cellular resistance to injury and disease according to the authors Mattson and Cheng. The nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor 2-antioxidant response element (Nrf2-ARE) and nuclear factor κB (NF-κB) pathways are the most studied with respect to phytochemicals, although there are many more. Other plants that have this action include ginseng, ginkgo, polyphenol-containing herbs, and I am sure there are many more. Perhaps your mother was right when she said that if something tasted bitter it must be good for you!

The takeaway from these findings is that it would be more beneficial if we approach herbalism as we do exercise or fasting. Consistency and incremental training are the methods that yield the most benefit. Much as we cannot expect to run a marathon without training, we cannot expect to take a huge dosage of a single constituent of an herb and expect that it will work without side effects. The evolutionary relationship between humans and herbs has allowed us to benefit and evolve superior liver function by regularly ingesting small doses of phytochemicals. Since women were the foragers, it makes sense that we have an affinity for herbalism. In recognition of Father’s Day this month, we are extending an invitation to develop a regular self-care practice of ingesting some herbal hormetins for year-round resilience.


References:

Martucci, Morena et al. “Mediterranean diet and inflammaging within the hormesis paradigm.” Nutrition reviews vol. 75,6 (2017): 442-455.

Mattson MP, Cheng A. Neurohormetic phytochemicals: Low-dose toxins that induce adaptive neuronal stress responses. Trends Neurosci. 2006 Nov;29(11):632-9.

Son TG, Camandola S, Mattson MP. Hormetic dietary phytochemicals. Neuromolecular Med. 2008;10(4):236-46.

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