Super-Charging your HPA Axis: Natural Therapies Supported by Research Part II: Botanical

Plants provide a wide range of botanical compounds that are highly effective at managing a myriad of conditions.

Since ancient times, humans have been using plant-derived compounds to improve their health. Anything from seeds and leaves, to roots, fruits and even the bark of trees have been used to treat multiple ailments. In recent times, research studies have evaluated the medicinal properties of some of these botanical compounds and identified several promising candidates for the treatments of different diseases.

One well-studied group of botanical compounds is known as adaptogens. These are substances that can increase our body’s response to stress and help our body regain normal functioning.


Focus on Botanical Adaptogens

Botanical adaptogens are herbal-based compounds that influence the way our body responds to stress. Specifically, adaptogens are known to:

  • Increase resistance to physical or psychological stress
  • Influence the function of the immune system
  • Increase levels of perceived energy
  • Reduce stress-induced damage to cells
  • Have anti-fatigue, anti-infectious, anti-depressant properties

While adaptogens have a stimulating effect on the body, their mechanisms of action are different from those followed by synthetic stimulants, like amphetamines and other drugs used to stimulate the central nervous system. They are also different from anabolic compounds, such as the synthetic hormones used to increase muscle mass.

Adaptogens do not affect the normal functioning of the brain or other parts of the body. Instead, they exert a balancing effect on the body during a disease, helping the body return to their normal state. Our current understanding of how adaptogens work suggests a role modulating the expression of specific genes and biomolecules. For example:

  • Genes that produce heat shock proteins – These are a special type of proteins that work as helpers during times of cellular stress. They help other proteins fold into the right conformation so that they can function properly. Additionally, heat shock proteins help improve the function of glucocorticoid receptors, specialised proteins that interact with cortisol and other glucocorticoids involved in the body’s response to stress.
  • Increase the production of neuropeptide Y (NPY) – NYP is a neurotransmitter, a molecule that helps with neuron-neuron communication. NYP is found mostly in the brain and it is involved in several important functions, including storage of energy as fat, cardiovascular health, regulation of anxiety and stress, pain perception and circadian rhythms.
  • Multiple genes involved in metabolism – Studies have identified botanical extracts, such as those produced from Rhodiola rosea, that affect the function of more than 1,000 genes involved in several biological functions.


Botanical case example: Rosenroot (Rhodiola rosea)

This plant, also known as Rhodiola, golden root or arctic root, has a long tradition of medicinal use in Europe and Asia1. About 140 different compounds have been isolated from this plant and multiple pharmacological studies have documented the beneficial health effects of rosenroot, including:

  • Adaptogenic and stress-protective effects, including protection of the heart and liver2-4
  • Anti-inflammatory effects5
  • Anti-fatigue effect (physical and mental)6
  • Antioxidant effect7
  • Anti-depressive and anxiolytic effects (to reduce anxiety)8
  • Protective effects on the brain, including beneficial effects in conditions like:
    • Parkinson and Alzheimer’s disease9
    • Huntington’s disease10
    • Addiction11
    • Epilepsy12
    • Stroke13,9
    • Cognition enhancement14,9
  • Normalising effect on endocrine function1
  • Increasing effect on lifespan in animal models15-16


Like rosenroot, many other compounds extracted from plants have been identified and proven to have beneficial properties on different aspects of health. However, before self-medicating, it is important to consult with a professional, like a functional medical practitioner, to find the right botanical compound and dosage for your condition.

At the Australian Centre for Functional Medicine, we employ various botanicals preparations in combination with traditional medical approaches and a comprehensive testing protocol to diagnose and treat your health problems. We use an evidence-based approach to botanical adaptogens, employing preparations that are backed by strong clinical evidence.




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  2. Wang SH, Wang WJ, Wang XF, Chen WH. Effects of salidroside on carbohydrate metabolism and differentiation of 3T3-L1 adipocytes. Zhong xi yi jie he xue bao= Journal of Chinese integrative medicine. 2004 May;2(3):193-5. Read it!
  3. Iaremiĭ IN, Grigor’eva NF. Hepatoprotective properties of liquid extract of Rhodiola rosea. Eksperimental’naia i klinicheskaia farmakologiia. 2002;65(6):57-9. Read it!
  4. Cheng YZ, Chen LJ, Lee WJ, Chen MF, Lin HJ, Cheng JT. Increase of myocardial performance by Rhodiola–ethanol extract in diabetic rats. Journal of ethnopharmacology. 2012 Nov 21;144(2):234-9. Read it!
  5. Pu WL, Zhang MY, Bai RY, Sun LK, Li WH, Yu YL, Zhang Y, Song L, Wang ZX, Peng YF, Shi H. Anti-inflammatory effects of Rhodiola rosea L.: A review. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy. 2020 Jan 1;121:109552. Read it!
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  7. Kosakowska O, Bączek K, Przybył JL, Pióro-Jabrucka E, Czupa W, Synowiec A, Gniewosz M, Costa R, Mondello L, Węglarz Z. Antioxidant and antibacterial activity of roseroot (Rhodiola rosea L.) dry extracts. Molecules. 2018 Jul;23(7):1767. Read it!
  8. Amsterdam JD, Panossian AG. Rhodiola rosea L. as a putative botanical antidepressant. Phytomedicine. 2016 Jun 15;23(7):770-83. Read it!
  9. Zhong Z, Han J, Zhang J, Xiao Q, Hu J, Chen L. Pharmacological activities, mechanisms of action, and safety of salidroside in the central nervous system. Drug design, development and therapy. 2018;12:1479. Read it!
  10. Xiao L, Li H, Zhang J, Yang F, Huang A, Deng J, Liang M, Ma F, Hu M, Huang Z. Salidroside protects Caenorhabditis elegans neurons from polyglutamine-mediated toxicity by reducing oxidative stress. Molecules. 2014 Jun;19(6):7757-69. Read it!
  11. Titomanlio F, Perfumi M, Mattioli L. Rhodiola rosea L. extract and its active compound salidroside antagonized both induction and reinstatement of nicotine place preference in mice. Psychopharmacology. 2014 May 1;231(10):2077-86. Read it!
  12. Si PP, Zhen JL, Cai YL, Wang WJ, Wang WP. Salidroside protects against kainic acid-induced status epilepticus via suppressing oxidative stress. Neuroscience Letters. 2016 Apr 8;618:19-24. Read it!
  13. Liu X, Wen S, Yan F, Liu K, Liu L, Wang L, Zhao S, Ji X. Salidroside provides neuroprotection by modulating microglial polarization after cerebral ischemia. Journal of neuroinflammation. 2018 Dec;15(1):39. Read it!
  14. Ma GP, Zheng Q, Xu MB, Zhou XL, Lu L, Li ZX, Zheng GQ. Rhodiola rosea L. Improves learning and memory function: preclinical evidence and possible mechanisms. Frontiers in pharmacology. 2018 Dec 4;9:1415. Read it!
  15. Schriner SE, Lee K, Truong S, Salvadora KT, Maler S, Nam A, Lee T, Jafari M. Extension of Drosophila lifespan by Rhodiola rosea through a mechanism independent from dietary restriction. PloS one. 2013;8(5). Read it!
  16. Chen C, Song J, Chen M, Li Z, Tong X, Hu H, Xiang Z, Lu C, Dai F. Rhodiola rosea extends lifespan and improves stress tolerance in silkworm, Bombyx mori. Biogerontology. 2016 Apr 1;17(2):373-81. Read it!