A Beginners Guide To Adaptogens
It’s no secret that we need help with stress and fatigue in this modern day world….
Caffeine and sugar seems to be most people’s go-to solution. But the problem is, with the high, comes the crash – quickly – and thus the cycle begins again, a rollercoaster of ups and downs, with the mood swings to match….
Thankfully, there are so many incredible healthy options out there, adaptogens just being one of many…
I first discovered adaptogens in early 2017 and quickly became obsessed. I mean powders and dusts that promised reduced fatigue, improved immunity, increased libido, more energy and less stress, that I could add to my daily smoothie – I was all in.
It took me a little while to adventure beyond Ashwagandha, the first adaptogen I discovered (and truth be told, didn’t know a whole lot about beyond it being good for stress!) I struggled to find one sole resource that would describe exactly what the heck adaptogens are, how I could use them, their different benefits and where I could stock up at affordable prices.
Up until recently, adaptogens were a secret only known amongst the hard-core herbalists, traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic practitioners. But with the arrival of Moon Juice, Sun Potion, Glow Bar, Four Sigmatic and other chic alchemists, adaptogens are fast becoming one of the wellness industries favorite ways to bring herbal medicine to the masses. And whilst the extraordinary properties of these herbs and roots is still relatively new to the western world, adaptogens have been used, and the benefits enjoyed for centuries.
So what the heck are they?
Their name gives you a hint – adaptogens have a unique ability to ‘adapt’ their function to your body’s specific needs and requirements. Adaptogens is just the name used for a group of natural herbs and mushrooms that restore the body’s natural physiological functioning. To sum up their brilliant benefits adaptogens help with –
Balancing your hormone levels
Reducing fatigue and stress
Anti-ageing (Having just turned 29, I’m all about this!!)
Promoting increased memory, mental clarity and cognitive function
Sending your antioxidant levels sky high (for that glow we love!)
Without the fancy scientific explanation, adaptogens essentially help us respond and adapt to our external environment – stress, illness, fatigue – and regulate and modulate the body’s natural response to these stressors by regulating cortisol. Also known as the stress hormone, cortisol is responsible for determining your body’s ability to cope with stress.
Now a small amount of stress is actually a good thing, especially if we actually do need to jump into survival mode, but when we are in a constant state of stress, whether it be our job, kids, things going on at home, anxiety, whatever it may be – our cortisol levels are higher than they should be, and this wreaks havoc on the body and mind and can result in a number of devastating health problems. There is a reason why prolonged periods of stress are responsible for poor sleep, mood swings, acne, menstrual problems, weight gain, weight loss, digestive issues, hair loss, adrenal fatigue and so many more problems – they’re all a result of too much cortisol, which is technically a hormonal imbalance.
Now whilst activities like meditation, exercise, a healthy diet and restful sleep, to name just a few, are great ways to manage stress, along with of course, addressing the root cause – adaptogens offer an easy, digestible way to balance your hormones and lower your cortisol levels.
Being completely natural, adaptogens are generally safe to use*, though the way your body responds to them will be different to your neighbor, so I always recommend starting off slow and with small amounts. Even as little as ¼ of a teaspoon. These powders and dusts are powerful! Adaptogens are often compared to a thermostat for your body. Adaptogens are unique in that they can sense when your body requires calming without sedating, but they also boost your energy without overstimulating – yep, kinda incredible! Not only that, they aid in eliminating toxic byproducts of the metabolic process and utilize oxygen more efficiently.
While they all have a hormone-balancing quality to them, each one differentiates itself with specialized healing properties – so they work amazingly alone or synergistically with other complementary adaptogens.
If you check out Instagram, you’d think that everyone was adding about 10 different adaptogenic dusts and powders to their mylks, lattes, smoothies and all the rest. But the truth is, not everyone needs every kind.
Dr. Will Cole breaks down the different benefits and functions for adaptogens so beautifully** so that you can select and choose what adaptogens to incorporate into your diet, because dang! they’re not cheap. But I promise you, add a few to your pantry and you’ll be wanting to stock up on them all!
Unhealthy hair, poor complexion, or brittle nails
Pearl: This adaptogen of the sea has a great source of aminos to help nourish hair, skin, and nails.
Chaga: This superfood mushroom is loaded with antioxidants that help fight free radicals to keep skin youthful.
Cordyceps: Anti-aging superfood. Increases antioxidants + decreases the activity that causes us to age.
Rhodiola: Helps reduce stress and is great for people with adrenal fatigue.
Mucuna pruriens: Known as nature’s chill pill to lower stress. Winner!
Ashwagandha: Has the ability to regulate cortisol, your body’s stress hormone.
Schisandra: This berry supports your adrenals and can help fight adrenal fatigue which affects so many of us these days.
Cordyceps: For those with adrenal fatigue, a great hormone balancer to help increase energy and stamina.
Ashwagandha: The ultimate cortisol balancer. Particularly great at boosting sluggish thyroid hormones.
Ginseng: Asian white, American white, Asian red, and Siberian (Eleuthero) all boost energy without the caffeine jitters.
Maca: There's 3 types! Red is the sweetest. Yellow is the least sweet, and black is right in the middle. They all are great energy boosters.
Low sex drive
He shou wu: If sex were an herb, it would be he shou wu. Used for thousands of years in Chinese medicine, this herb helps to increase sex drive in those with low libidos. Mix with shilajit for a sexual health tonic.
Shilajit: This herb is used in ayurvedic medicine and translates to "conqueror of mountains and destroyer of weakness." Shilajit helps to lift up low libido and balance sex hormones.
Maca: Packed with vitamin C, this is a perfect immune booster.
Chaga: Studies have shown this mushroom to have powerful antiviral effects as well as immune-balancing properties.
Ashwagandha: This is traditionally used in ayurvedic medicine to help boost the immune system after being sick.
Astragalus: This herb has been used to help restore immune function for people with weakened immune systems from cancer treatments or chronic illnesses. In addition, it has powerful antiviral and antibacterial properties.
Lion’s mane: Studies have shown that the consumption of lion’s mane can reduce anxiety and depression.
Ashwagandha: Shown to reduce anxiety by up to 44 percent! (Side note: Ashwagandha is one of the ways that I manage anxiety)
Shiitake: Japanese studies have shown that this mushroom has the power to actually decrease tumor growth.
Himematsutake: Actually has the ability to kill some cancer cells. Studies have shown that cancer cells died after just a few days of treatment!
Adaptogens are typically available in capsule or powder form, but my favorite way to enjoy them is in my matcha for a creamy, frothy adaptogenic latte, in my smoothies or even in my overnight bircher muesli. Typically in this form, you can’t taste them!
* Always consult your doctor or health practitioner if you’re unsure
** Source: https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/the-best-adaptogen-for-anxiety-brain-fog-blood-sugar-balance-adrenal-fatigue-immu