Passion Flower Extract Benefits for Adrenal Fatigue
The passion flower (Passiflora edulis) is a tropical vine that is found in Central and South America, as well as tropical regions of Asia. There are many medicinal uses for P. edulis, but the sedative and anxiety-relief effects of the plant are particularly helpful for Adrenal Fatigue recovery. Getting a full night’s sleep is crucial for allowing the body to heal itself. Unfortunately both stress itself and Adrenal Fatigue symptoms can disrupt your sleep. Without a sound sleep schedule, it is hard for the rest of the affected systems through the body to achieve balance. With an appropriate amount of sleep, however, your body’s systems can begin to rebalance themselves. Passion flower extract is a good option to help regulate your sleep schedule; it is widely available at health food and supplement stores and has no commonly reported side effects.
Benefits of Passion Flower
Passion flower extract has been shown to relieve anxiety and act as a natural relaxant, however the exact mechanism is not known. There are a few theories that may explain its efficacy.
The leaves, stems, and flowers of the passion flower plant all help to relieve anxiety and relax the body. There are many active chemicals in the extract that are thought to induce the anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) effects, but the details of how they do so are largely unknown. One theory involves the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) other neurotransmitters in the body, and the systems that regulate these chemicals—including the adrenal glands, gut, and brain.
Neurotransmitters are chemical signals that have various functions such as turning on and off certain activities, reactions, and emotions. They are produced naturally in response to certain situations. Norepinephrine and epinephrine (also called adrenaline) are both examples of neurotransmitters and hormones that are released in reaction to stress. They are controlled by the sympathetic nervous system, a branch of the central nervous system that tells your body when it is time to activate the “fight or flight” response. Epinephrine and norepinephrine are excitatory neurotransmitters, which means they turn signals on, and in the case of the “fight or flight” response, they activate your attention, get your heart racing, and increase your breathing rate. This response is effective in helping us flee from danger or fighting off predators. In modern times, however, this response is often activated in stressful situations and might be chronically activated if there is a constant stressor in your life, such as job pressure, an unhealthy relationship, or even the frustration of a daily commute.
When functioning properly, your body has ways to counter norepinephrine and epinephrine with other neurotransmitters. These are known as inhibitory neurotransmitters. Your body naturally produces GABA as a way to inhibit the actions of epinephrine and norepinephrine. GABA calms your heart rate, decreases your breathing rate, and allows your mind and body to relax. GABA does this by binding to receptors in your brain, inhibiting the effects of norepinephrine and epinephrine.
Passion fruit extract has similar effects as GABA: it reduces anxiety, calms racing thoughts, and relieves insomnia. Passion fruit extract is often referred to as a GABA receptor agonist, because it is thought to increase the effects of GABA at the receptor level (rather than increasing the amount of GABA available). Passion flower extract is thought to contain chemicals that either mimic the effects of GABA or enhance the effects of GABA. It has no effect on GABA levels or other excitatory neurotransmitters, it merely mimics the effects of the inhibitory neurotransmitters.
Passion Flower Extract and the NEM Stress Response
Passion flower extract helps to both induce sleep and relieve anxiety. It does not directly affect the adrenal glands, but it does provide some stress relief to the body. This relieves some of the strain on the adrenals and other processes in the body by affecting the function of the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response. Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome is caused by the components of the NEM stress response becoming unbalanced and dysregulated due to chronic stress. Therefore, in order to properly restore function and health to your body, you must understand the many systems involved. Only then can you help your body holistically with the appropriate supplements.
The NEM Stress Response is a holistic model that explains the body’s reactions to stress at all levels, including the adrenal glands and many other organ systems. It includes the neurotransmitters activated, hormones released, and metabolic processes activated, and considers how the body and mind react to these changes. Under normal circumstances, these processes work together to manage stress. When any of these systems is not functioning properly, is dysregulated, or is out of synchrony with the other systems, the whole stress response becomes unbalanced. This is the case in times of chronic stress, micronutrient deficiencies, and Adrenal Fatigue. It is therefore essential to restore proper function and bring the processes back into balance.
Passion flower extract helps to do this by multiple circuits in the NEM stress response. One pathway that is affected is the neuroaffective circuit, which is regulated by the autonomic nervous system, central nervous system, and gut. The autonomic nervous system helps to regulate the stress response in your body by managing the sympathetic nervous system and how your body responds to various situations. You can feel this response activated when you encounter an aggressive driver on the road and you feel a rush through your body: this is the flood of epinephrine and norepinephrine. Epinephrine and norepinephrine are released by the adrenal glands. This also has an effect on the release of cortisol.
Cortisol is controlled by the HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis, another pathway in the NEM stress response that passion fruit extract can help balance indirectly. The release of epinephrine and norepinephrine triggers a response in the hypothalamus to begin the cascade that releases cortisol. The hypothalamus releases corticotropin-releasing hormone to activate the pituitary, which then sends a signal back in the form of adrenocorticotropic hormone. This tells the adrenal glands to increase the release of cortisol. This system is involved in a negative feedback loop, which means it is self-regulated. When enough cortisol is released, and the stressful situation has been handled, the excess cortisol then turns off the cascade. After chronic stress, however, your adrenal glands can no longer meet the demands of the body, which leads to lowered levels of cortisol, and an unregulated HPA axis. This brings us back to the importance of GABA, and the use of passion fruit extract as a potential GABA agonist to rebalance the HPA axis.
The release of GABA relaxes the body after its activation by epinephrine and norepinephrine. In cases when you are under chronic stress or suffer from anxiety and your body can’t produce enough GABA to relax, passion fruit extract can be extremely beneficial as a GABA agonist. Passion flower extract counteracts the effects of excessive epinephrine and norepinephrine and combats the daily stresses of today’s demanding society.
Passion Flower Extract and Sleep
Cortisol, along with helping your body respond effectively to stress, also manages your sleep cycle. High cortisol levels tell your body to stay awake, while low cortisol levels allow your body to relax and sleep. Cortisol levels therefore naturally fluctuate throughout the day, in addition to responding to stress. Under normal conditions, cortisol levels are highest at about 9 a.m. and lowest around midnight. You fall asleep with falling levels of cortisol and wake up with rising levels.
If you suffer from Adrenal Fatigue, however, your body is not functioning normally. In the early stages of Adrenal Fatigue, your levels of cortisol will be higher than normal. Your body tries to make enough cortisol to turn the HPA axis off and recover from the stress. With Adrenal Fatigue, however, the amount of cortisol produced is out of balance with the body’s needs. Initially, in the first stage of Adrenal Fatigue, the body is able to manage the amount of cortisol demanded. As the amounts of cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine all increase, however, it becomes difficult to fall asleep. The increased levels of epinephrine and norepinephrine also produce symptoms of anxiety and restlessness.
After chronic demands on the adrenal glands, and elevated levels of cortisol, your adrenal glands begin to generate less cortisol. Instead of feeling restless and wired, you will begin to feel lethargic throughout the day. Your cortisol levels are lower than normal, and it will take longer to feel awake. However, since epinephrine and norepinephrine are still elevated, you will still have symptoms of anxiety and racing thoughts. Proper rest, especially quality sleep, helps by bringing your cortisol levels back into a normal rhythm, despite the fact that the overall levels might be significantly higher or lower than normal (depending on what stage of Adrenal Fatigue you are in).
Passion flower extract promotes sleep in a few different ways. While it doesn’t actually lower your cortisol levels or increase melatonin to induce sleep, it helps calm your mind and slow down your body. It is thought to be a GABA agonist, so it inhibits the increased heart rate, high breathing rate, and racing thoughts brought on by elevated levels of epinephrine and norepinephrine, despite the high levels of cortisol brought about by the early stages of Adrenal Fatigue. Sleep is an essential part of Adrenal Fatigue recovery, because it gives your adrenal glands a chance to fall back into a normal pattern. If you keep a regular sleep schedule, your cortisol levels will soon fall back in sync with the normal rhythm of life.
Passion Flower Extract as a Supplement
Passion flower extract is used as an anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) and can be used as a sleep aid. While there are no common adverse side effects associated with passion flower extract, it is still recommended that you consult with your healthcare provider to ensure that anxiety and insomnia are being addressed effectively with the supplement. If you are pregnant, the use of passion flower extract is not recommended, as it may induce uterine contractions.
The normal dosage is in the range of 200 – 1000 mg three times a day. This should both provide anxiety relief and calm the body for sleep. The proper delivery system also makes a big difference in the clinical outcome. Popular forms include an oral pill and tea, but the most effective in terms of bioavailability is the fermentation liquid. If you suffer from Adrenal Fatigue and have noticed symptoms of anxiety, restlessness, and insomnia, passion flower extract might be a good option to help in your recovery. Passion flower works particularly well when used in conjunction with other anxiolytic herbs and compounds such as valerian root and 5-HTP. Taking these substances in combination is a powerful way to manage sleep, especially for those with Adrenal Fatigue. It should be noted that in advanced stages of Adrenal Fatigue, passion flower extract and GABA can cause paradoxical reactions in some people, meaning that it actually stimulates the mind and body instead of calming it. This can worsen Adrenal Fatigue, and the use of passion flower extract should be discontinued under these circumstances. The more advanced the Adrenal Fatigue, the more vulnerable you may be. In such cases, always consult a health care practitioner who is experience with Adrenal Fatigue.
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D.K., K. S., S.A. 2001. “Anxiolytic activity of aerial and underground parts of Passifloraincarnata.” Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11731118
Movafegh, A. et al. 2008. “Preoperative oral Passifloraincarnata reduces anxiety in ambulatory surgery patients: A double-blind placebo-controlled study.” Retrieved from http://journals.lww.com/anesthesia-analgesia/Fulltext/06000/Preoperative_Oral_Passiflora_Incarnata_Reduces.19.aspx
© Copyright 2016 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.
I suffered from adrenal fatigue for many years, not knowing at first what was happening. There were two large crashes that made me bedridden. Feeling another crash of that intensity coming on again, I sought the help of Dr. Lam. And, although there were traumas happening around me that were sure to land me in bed again, Dr. Lam's coaching team kept me stable and I never fell into that large crash. I was also taught to be aware of the smaller crashes and how to mitigate them, and more importantly, how to prevent them. There is a wealth of knowledge at this site and I am extremely grateful for what I've learned. I am still in the healing process, but I feel more confident now that I have the tools to make a full recovery.