Education

De-Stressing with Adaptogens

Unlock this ancient herbal secret

Every podcast and health blogger overwhelmingly sing the praises of the ancient medicinal use of adaptogens. But, what exactly are they and are they right for you?

What Are Adaptogens?

Simply, adaptogens are supplements that assist the body in adapting to any sort of mental or physical stressors. These can include things from temperature fluctuations to a paralyzing course load.

Stress plays a role in nearly every sort of physical and mental ailment, so adaptogens can immensely improve health.

According to Experience Life, an adaptogenic herb must meet three criteria: “First, it’s nontoxic. Second, its benefits are nonspecific, meaning it improves the entire body’s resistance to stress, not just one particular system or organ. Third, it balances bodily functions, regardless of where the disruption may originate.”

How Do They Work?

In order to achieve optimal mood stability, the brain-adrenal, brain-thyroid, and brain-gonadal axis must be in sync. Adaptogens help achieve this. Often if these parts of your body are unbalanced you will experience things like adrenal fatigue, hormonal issues, low energy, a sluggish metabolism and lots more.

Ancient Origins

Adaptogens, like many westernized health trends, existed for centuries in ancient medicinal practices such as Ayurveda and Chinese healing.

Adaptogenic herbs in these traditions often consisted of ginseng, rhodiola, ashwagandha, and eleuthero.

Common Adaptogens

Nearly everyone could benefit from incorporating adaptogens into their daily routine. But ensure that you consult a clinical herbalist before attempting to treat any serious conditions with these herbs.

  • Ashwagandha:  known for stress-reducing and hormone-balancing abilities, can fight fatigue, insomnia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and anxiety
  • Astragalus: stimulates the immune system, reduces nasal congestion, serves as a diuretic, and can even help in stroke recovery
  • Ginseng: promotes relaxation and memory retention
  • He shou wu: provides DNA protection, boosts libido, and increases hair growth and longevity
  • Himematsutake: can reduce side-effects of chemotherapy, boost the immune system, and treat skin disorders
  • Licorice Root: regulates hormones such as cortisol
  • Maca: increases libido, relieves menopausal symptoms, and balances hormones
  • Mucuna Pruriens: manages male infertility, nervous disorders, and acts as an aphrodisiac
  • Pearl: stabilizes your mood and promotes a healthy complexion
  • Rhaponicum: increases cell growth and healthy skin
  • Rhodiola: reduces fatigue and increases mental performance
  • Schisandra: decreases fatigue, increases energy and physical ability, and relieves stress
  • Shilajit: improves brain function, promotes longevity, and aids in anemia
  • Tulsi: also known as holy basil, can treat infections, colds, coughs, and even bug bites

The Fungi

Unsurprisingly, due to their extensive health benefits, mushrooms host a plethora of adaptogens.

  • Chaga: aids in inflammatory bowel disease, reduces oxidative stress, and can lower cholesterol
  • Cordyceps: boosts exercise performance, reduces fatigue, increases sex drive, potential anti-tumor effects, may help manage type II diabetes, and fights inflammation
  • Lion’s Mane: protects against dementia, reduces anxiety and depression, manages diabetes symptoms, and protects against ulcers
  • Reishi: boosts immune system, fights cancer, and improves heart health
  • Shiitake: aids in poor blood circulation, liver issues, fatigue, and boosts energy
  • Turkey Tail: treats the cold and flu, relieves symptoms of chemotherapy, and helps treat the human papillomavirus
adaptogens
Image via Dr. Will Cole

Where to Get Them

Thanks to the World Wide Web, it’s pretty easy to acquire any supplement your heart desires. Amazon sells most of the herbs listed above.

Express caution, however, when buying any sort of medicinal product online. Thoroughly research the brand you’re purchasing from and the origin and purity of their ingredients. To do this I recommend Labdoor or Consumer Lab.

Notably trustworthy brands include Four Sigmatic, Gaia, and Hum. I buy my Ashwaganda through Nutririse..

Consuming Adaptogens

Most herbs you can find in powdered form. This makes ingesting them a breeze. Simply add them into smoothies, water, or edible capsules.

If the herbs you purchase are in their natural form, turn them into teas or infusions.

Four Sigmatic, even sells coffee, matcha, lemonade, and hot cocoas infused with adaptogenic mushrooms.

Additionally, many other health brands now add adaptogens to their products. REBBL boasts maca, Ashwagandha, and turmeric-laden beverages. Kombucha-giant GT launched a line of probiotic ciders with adaptogenic mushrooms.

adaptogens

The world of adaptogens is only growing in western culture. If you find yourself suffering from any of the ailments listed above, consult a clinical herbalist and see if you can slowly ween yourself from prescription drugs and embrace their natural alternatives.

Cover image via A Sweat Life

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Sarah is a sophomore studying journalism at the University of Miami. She...