None of us are immune to the pressures of modern life, whether it be work deadlines, the daily commute or just simply never having enough hours in the day. Our bodies are also regularly exposed to physical and toxic stress too – from household chemicals, pesticides in our foods, pollutants in the air, intensively farmed meats and refined sugar to name but a few. All this can overwhelm the body’s ability to cope leading to insomnia, tiredness, anxiety, depression and even physical illness. Thankfully there are some incredible rejuvenating herbs that can help. These are the amazing adaptogens.
Known as the oldest healing system in the world, Ayurvedic medicine has spent 5,000 years cultivating harmony within the body to bring about good health. In doing so, it has achieved tremendous success in healing with plants, to the extent that numerous plant varieties have been worshipped in Vedic religion for the potent life-giving forces contained within them. For their unique abilities to treat and fend off illness, a class of herbs known as “adaptogens” have come to be regarded as among the most highly celebrated of these plants. The term adaptogen was introduced into scientific literature by Russian toxicologist Nikolay Lazarev in 1957 to refer to ‘substances that increase the state of non-specific resistance’ in stress.
What are the best adaptogenic herbs?
Each adaptogen has a slightly different function, so the best one for you depends on the specific ailment you’re experiencing, Powell says. Here are some common adaptogens and what they claim to be good for.
Adaptogens for long-term stress: It is recommended that ashwagandha and Asian ginseng to soothe long-term sources of stress and the hormone imbalances that may result from it. Some research has suggested that holy basil, or Tulsi, may help lower stress levels.
Adaptogens for acute stress and anxiety: Some research suggests that Siberian Ginseng, Rhodiola and Schisandra may help mediate fight-or-flight stress responses. People use Siberian ginseng to boost the immune system, physical stamina and sexual health; Rhodiola is believed to improve energy, physical performance and memory; and Schisandra is thought to improve liver function and gastrointestinal problems. A big caveat: there’s very little human research to back up those claims. Much more research is needed.
Adaptogens for immune health: Reishi and ginseng have been found in some small studies to boost immunity. Though turmeric doesn’t meet the full requirements to be classed as an adaptogen, it can be thought of as a secondary and supporting adaptogen due to its as its wide-ranging positive effects.
How do you add adaptogens to your diet?
If you’re looking for a straight dose of herbs, you can sip adaptogen teas or combine tinctures with water. To add adaptogens to the foods you’re already eating, you can buy the pre-mixed powder to spice up everything from smoothies to soups to salad dressings.
Adaptogens are herbal pharmaceuticals. They work to counteract the effects of stress in the body. Stress causes very real physical changes in the body, including harming the neurological, endocrine, and immune systems. Adaptogens have stimulant properties that help counteract those harmful effects. Adaptogens work at a molecular level by regulating a stable balance in the hypothalamic, pituitary, and adrenal glands. These are involved in the stress response. They work by “hacking” the stress response in the body
One study review found that adaptogens really can be used to promote health for general well-being and when used as a supplement with other traditional medications for specific conditions and health problems. They’ve been shown to help people with cardiovascular health and certain neurological disorders, especially ones that may happen more frequently as individuals age.
The herbs are associated with boosting mental clarity for people with many health conditions. In that same study review, Arctic root was found to help boost activity and productivity when used alongside antidepressants while having no serious documented side effects. It also helps people bounce back more quickly and feel more energized after illnesses like the flu.
Schisandra was found to be most helpful when used in people who had overall exhaustion and low physical and mental performance. It’s also been found to be especially helpful with certain neurological disorders, mental disorders like schizophrenia, and in improving lung function. One of the unique properties of Schisandra is that, unlike other stimulants like caffeine, the body doesn’t become tolerant to it quickly, so it can be used in the same doses effectively.
The available studies suggest that adaptogens really are helpful in decreasing symptoms of fatigue and exhaustion and maybe most helpful when used alongside other therapies for people with chronic and acute medical conditions. So, while your doctor may not encourage you to take an adaptogen every day for no reason, it may be helpful if you experience low energy as a result of a chronic medical condition.
While there are some health benefits to adaptogens, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t monitor the quality or purity of herbs and supplements like over-the-counter products. Talk with your doctor before taking adaptogens.
Adaptogens can be used as singles or in combination formulas depending upon the use. They are favourites among many herbalists to include in many different approaches to the client’s goals. In many ways, this is influenced by the client’s constitution, the practitioner’s experiences, and an understanding of how certain systems of the body interact with one another. Herbalism, while developing as a scientific discipline, retains many of the artisan approaches of its roots, pun intended.