As pet parents, we want to see our pets happy and stress-free, without resorting to harmful pharmaceuticals. Luckily there are some wonderful plants, mushrooms and herbs out there that can help your dog manage stress effectively and safely, known as Adaptogens! The unique properties of adaptogens make them super beneficial for our pets in helping them manage stress and immune system challenges they may face.
What are Adaptogens?
Adaptogens are defined as substances that “enhance the state of nonspecific resistance” in stress. Simply put, they are herbs that help our bodies respond and recover to both short and long-term mental and physical stress. Stress is a physiological condition linked with the neurological, endocrine, and immune system. Without proper management of stress, the body will begin to experience negative physical and mental side effects such as weight gain, generalized anxiety, immune dysfunction, and depression. Besides battling the effects of stress, some adaptogens can even help with immune system response and help promote feelings of overall well being.
How do Adaptogens Work?
Adaptogens work differently than other substances, because instead of simply boosting or suppressing function of the body’s various systems, it works on a molecular level to balance the responses produced by the hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal glands. All of these glands help manage our responses to stress. When we experience stress, our bodies experience something called General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS). There are 3 stages of GAS response that our bodies experience:
The first sign of stress triggers an alarm in the body that causes blood pressure and body temperature to drop, as though the body is injured. This only lasts for a short amount of time, then a counter-reaction occurs, which signals the body to release chemicals like adrenaline to help your body respond appropriately. The sympathetic nervous system is then activated to manage the fight or flight response by the body.
The Alarm Phase can only last so long, so in order to help the body deal with the stress, cortisol is released to help you continue to deal with the stressor and repair any possible damage to the body.
In a normal acute stress situation, eventually the body’s endocrine system becomes exhausted and by this period hopefully the threat has been neutralized. Your body’s resources for dealing with stress are depleted and rest must occur. However, in the case of chronic stress, this regular depletion of the endocrine system’s resources leads to weakness and damage throughout the body, causing things like ulcers, heart disease, and high blood pressure. This is what’s known as “maladaptive stress” and it’s where adaptogens come in handy.
Adaptogens for Stress in Pets
Instead of a bell curve effect of low→high→low seen during a typical stress response, when adaptogens are used, the body maintains a more stable state throughout the entire stress response period. Essentially, adaptogens help the body respond to stress by achieving homeostasis throughout the process rather than having the body go through a wave of chemical responses.
How exactly do they do this? Depending on the adaptogen being used, they “hack” the body’s response to stress. Each adaptogen uniquely protects the body from a heightened or prolonged stress response by triggering the body to release chemicals that counteract the stress response. For example, Ashwagandha, a very well-known adaptogen, works by reducing the body’s cortisol production, thus lowering the overall stress response.
By keeping the body in a state of homeostasis, adaptogens not only help individuals cope with short and long-term stress in a more manageable way, but they also help to avoid the health problems associated with chronic stress.
So let’s discuss some adaptogens, and how they each work on fighting stress and chronic disease.