What is an Adaptogen?
Adaptogens may seem like they are just the ‘next big fad’, but actually they have been around for quite some time. Used for centuries in ancient Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine as well as the term ‘adaptogen’ was coined by the Soviet Union’s ministry of health in 1947. Adaptogens were used in traditional medicines to enhance the body’s natural ability to acclimate to both external stress (toxins, pollution) and internal stress (loss of sleep, anxiety, depression).
Adaptogens and Stress
The word adaptogen refers to a class of herbs and mushrooms that protect your body from the side effects of stress, which is arguably one of the worst epidemics this world has seen. Stress is sort of like invisible mold in the body, when the body is stressed it enters fight or flight mode. Which releases chemicals into the body to elevate the heart rate and prepare the body for the stress it thinks it will endure. Stress was a great tool a long long time ago, when it helped your body react right away in dangerous situation, such as getting attacked by a wild animal. So in that scenario stress was necessary, but now in the world we live in today most of our stress comes from our environment, illness, working out, money, relationships, aka rarely are our stressful situations life or death. And the body cannot differentiate between the types of stress, it thinks any kind of ‘stress’ is life or death. So the body will send out the same response if you were to get attacked by a bear or getting audited. And in today’s world people are constantly stressed, which means their body is always living in that fight or flight mode. Having extremely terrible long term effects; GI issues, headaches, change in sex drive, premature aging (yes, stress causes wrinkles!!), sleep issues, anxiety, ADD/ADHD, depression, restlessness, short temper, addiction problems, social withdrawal- the list could go on forever.
Adaptogens offer heavy duty support for your body during times of stress, yet are also great to take every day due to their preventative properties are amazing. The more you add these adaptogens to your diet, the better equipped your body will be to deal with stress, say if you were to get sick or find yourself in an extremely stressful situation. Adaptogens help by bringing your body back into a state of balance, homeostasis is such a powerful tool in preserving your health.
What counts as an Adaptogen?
They must be non-toxic to the body’s physiological functions, offer widespread support, and help bring the body back to equilibrium. Only when they incorporate all three of those properties, they are an adaptogen. There are a lot of herbs that have some adaptogenic properties, for example tumeric works on reducing inflammation, which it does have some properties of an adaptogen yet its not their primary effect.
There are some that stimulate the body, increasing mental performance, and aiding in physical endurance. Such as Asian ginseng, eleuthero (or Siberian ginseng), rhodiola rosea, and maca powder.
There are also others that help calm the body and adrenals when the body is under large amounts of stress, like reishi, ashwagandha and holy basil.
As well as there are adaptogens with immune boosting properties such as Astragalus and Chaga.
How/when to take them
Adaptogens come in many forms, vitamin like pills, tinctures, and powders. There is no particularly ‘right way’ to take them. It is more of a personal preference, some of them don’t have the best taste (ashwagandha), so I mix it in with other things that have a strong flavor. Common ways consumed are in smoothies, teas, juices, yogurt, really if you can hide them anywhere in your daily meals I would. I will sometimes put some of them in my morning coffee!
How often you should take them is something you and your health care provider can talk about. Personally I take them every day- depending on what I am feeling that day and/or if my body needs a little boost I will consume them twice a day. I also know many people who follow the same guidelines. But as with starting any new health care routine- check with your doctor!
Also something to be aware of is that this is not some overnight cure to the toxic effects of stress, adaptogens are extremely powerful but slow-acting. So be patient, some effects might take up to a few weeks to notice a difference.
Do you need them?
Adaptogens aren’t there to cure a one specific ailment, they work on the bodies overall wellness. So the herbs that help with mental abilities, don’t just cure anxiety- they will improve over all cognitive functioning. So with that being said, if you are willing to be patient and looking for overall wellness then yes adaptogens are for you!