Introducing adaptogens: The ultimate guide
Nowadays, everyone is usually looking to somehow get ahead of their body and skip out on a whole manner of problems. Except, this isn’t new at all. We as humans have been exploring various miracle
elixirs or cures to improve ourselves for thousands of years. So what else is new?
Well, whilst we may have moved away from leeching and other forms of homeopathic medicine, some of the ancient methods for healing and body improvement that have born fruit throughout the centuries, continue to do so. Now, they are far better understood than ever and more readily available all over the world.
This is very handy as it turns out as some of these delightful goodies from mother nature would take a lot of sourcing otherwise! What wild product of the Siberian tundra do we use to cure stress and anxiety? What berries provide a root with properties that we can use to help with diabetes?
First of all though, what on earth is an adaptogen?
What are adaptogens?
Adaptogens have been used throughout human history as herbal solutions to various forms of stress-inducing body problems. Think Chinese herbal medicines and the like that you can see are still in practice today. Nowadays, an adaptogen is classed as a non-toxic plant product, that has been cleared for pharmaceutical use.
Adaptogens are made up of various plant and herb parts, such as roots or leaves, as well as mushrooms. Some adaptogens, such as Holy Basil or Tumeric, can be ingested as they are as part of a meal. Others, usually come in the form of powders and pastes, falling more into the supplement category.
Technically, Adaptogens are not supplements themselves but can be combined to create them. We’re sure everyone has seen enough pre-mixed health shakes in their time to know what we are talking about! Adaptogens primary function as we said, is stress relief but, there are thought to be additional benefits to taking adaptogens for the body.
Health benefits of adaptogens
It’s believed that adaptogens help to relieve stress thanks to their potential to “hack” certain body responses. The hypothermic, adrenal and pituitary glands are involved in stress response in the boy. Taking adaptogens is believed to manipulate these glands and produce more rapid or stronger responses to relieving stress.
Whenever our bodies encounter stress factors or situations (stressors) there is typical, a three-stage response to them involving:
- Alarm – the body identifying that a physical act or influence is creating stress and strain in a part of it.
- Resistance – the body starts to produce hormones to combat the stress. Think of weight lifting and producing adrenaline to help the muscles in the body cope with the strain of doing so.
- Exhaustion- the body begins to tire from the strain of responding to the stressor and begins to feel fatigued.
Adaptogens essentially function to lengthen the time the body spends resisting the effects of stressors, thereby limiting the extent of fatigue afterwards. Aside from these more noticeable physical effects, Adaptogens also contain neuro-protective and stimulating elements that can help everything from depression to increasing concentration.
Adaptogenic herbs and stress
Three primary herbs have been studied and deemed safe to use for adaptogenic purposes. There are other herbs, but it is worth noticing that the majority of research up until this point has deemed the following three the safest to use, so it’s worth remembering that before you start experimenting with adaptogens.
All of these suggested adaptogenic herbs are believed to help relieve stress in various forms, both physical and psychological.
- Siberian ginseng: Commonly found in northeast Asia and known by a variety of names. It is the root that’s used from the plant itself instead of the more noticeable leaves and berries. Studies have found that it may be useful in warding off fatigue, depression, and stress.
- Artic root: Otherwise known as “roseroot”, this rather unassuming little plant grows in the colder regions of the northern hemisphere as you could probably guess already). It has been used by various Baltic nations to treat minor health ailments like headaches and flu, as well as boosting mental health by relieving stress from anxiety.
- Schisandra: Popularly known as the “five-flavour” or “super berry”, the seeds of which are most useful for stabilizing stomach and liver issues, as well as stabilizing blood sugars and acting as an adaptogen. It is also useful for those who struggle to sleep.
How to use adaptogenic herbs
It is first of all; well worth remembering that not all of the effects of using adaptogens may be felt by every person who chooses to use them. Whilst more than enough research has been carried out into the use of adaptogenic to note what the potential, benefits of using them are these are not always, universal.
Furthermore, it should be noted that the production of adaptogenic herbs and supplements is not that closely monitored. Quality control has at times, proven to be a slight concern when it comes to using some adaptogens that can be bought both online and over the counter. Make sure you do some research before you buy!
If you’re using purely adaptogenic herbs, then try to incorporate them into your meal plan as much as possible, whilst following the recommended daily intake. This will not only give you more creative when it comes to your meal plan but will also, make sure you stick to a set schedule and amount each day.
If you’re using adaptogenic supplements then make sure you follow all the recommended advise from your provider about daily consumption. Make sure you check all the ingredients in any supplements to avoid running into any allergy-related issues and if you’re still not sure about taking them, speak with your doctor or local pharmacist for peace of mind!
Adaptogenic foods and examples
If you’re keen to avoid supplements and stick with the au-natural approach to adaptogens, then why not try including these adaptogenic foods in your diet.
- Astragalus - great for boosting the immune system, especially during the cold, cough and flu season. As well as being infused in boiling water and enjoyed as a tea, Astragalus can be added to the pot as rice and/or, quinoa for steaming.
- Holy Basil - We mentioned this earlier. It is part of the mint family and is useful in managing stress response and alleviating feelings of anxiety. Try adding it to soups and stir-fries towards the end of cooking and has a peppery taste.
- Liquorice Root – Liquorice root has been found to help regulate cortisol, the stress hormone produced by the adrenal glands. Chewing on liquorice root can serve two purposes because whilst it is giving our adrenals a break it also, can distract from the state of anxiety by providing something to hold and chew. Liquorice can also be enjoyed as a tea by infusing the shredded or powdered root in boiling water.
- Maca - A member of the Cruciferaes family i.e. cauliflower, broccoli and cabbage. This is a powerhouse of nutrients containing seven essential amino acids and lots of fibre. It is great to use when trying to balance hormone levels and is also known to boost libido. Maca powder can be added to smoothies, porridge, breakfast bowls and home bakes.
- Moringa - Studies have shown it to have a stabilizing effect on blood sugar levels in cases of diabetes. The leaf of the Moringa tree is dried and ground into a powder, which can be added to foods such as an omelette at the end of cooking. providing a more nutty taste. it also makes a great addition to a green smoothie or juice.
- Mushrooms – Varieties such as reishi, cordyceps and chaga, help to support the immune system, especially during times of stress. Reishi and Chaga are immune-modulating, which means that they contain substances that help to promote the production of immune cells to prevent disease. Dried and powdered mushrooms can be consumed by making a tea infusion or, adding to hot chocolate!
- Nettle – Dried Nettle leaf can be ground into a powder for consumption. It is known to be particularly restorative for those experiencing stress and even burn-out. It makes a refreshing tea infusion.
- Raspberry Leaf – This one is for the ladies. As an adaptogen, raspberry leaf is known to help balance female hormones and alleviate monthly, menstrual cramps. It is most often consumed in tea, tincture or supplement form.
- Turmeric –Scientists in India found that Turmeric helped the body stay healthy, based on numerous metrics such as weight, blood pressure, immunity and inflammation, whilst under stress. It is believed that Turmeric has the ability to support the body’s innate antioxidant function, decreasing inflammation and boosting immunity. It is also great at helping the body to maintain healthy levels of stress hormone production. Turmeric can be enjoyed as an addition to Asian-themed foods, soups, curries and also in drinks, such as a turmeric latte made with warm, frothy coconut milk!
- Wild Blueberries – These are a rich source of anti-oxidants and as an adaptogen, has been shown to help balance blood sugar levels. Wild blueberries can be consumed raw or in a smoothie.