Tired of being sick and tired and counting on coffee to get you through the day? Adaptogens may be just the answer to help you step towards a more balanced, energized and healthy life.
Western cultures are only now discovering the effects and benefits of adaptogens, but they are as old as the Earth itself. Supplementation and healing powers of these herbs and mushrooms have been used for centuries in Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda healing systems.
So what are adaptogens?
Adaptogens is the name used for a unique group of natural herbs and mushrooms that restore body’s natural physiological functioning and encourage non- specific response to stressors (1). This distinctive group of plant-derived compounds may help modulate stress responses, enhance energy production and sleep quality (2). In simple terms, adaptogens help us respond to our external environment without compromising our own wellbeing.
The majority of adaptogenic herbs and mushrooms have similar functions and benefits, however each one stands out with slightly different specialized healing properties. They are neither stimulants nor sedatives and do not have addictive tendencies. Moreover, being completely natural and generally safe to use, adaptogens are suitable to use long-term (3) * .
Sounds too good to be true? Well that’s just the beginning- there are plenty more incredible benefits of adaptogens that support health!
1. Boosts Immunity
The medicinal mushroom branch of adaptogens is well known for its immunomodulating properties, as they contain high levels of potent healing beta glucans. No wonder chaga mushroom had many names for hundreds of years, including “the mushroom or immortality” and “the diamond of the forest”.
A large percentage of our immune system is located in the gut (4) and neglecting digestive discomfort may result in more colds and flus during the year. Reishi mushroom contains high amounts of triterpenes that have powerful anti-viral and anti-microbial activity and strengthen digestive health, in turn promoting excellent immunity.
2. Balances Hormones
Low daily energy reserves and increased stress levels reflect the current ‘energy crisis’ in the Western World. As constant distraction and change become the norm, blood sugar levels become imbalanced and result in fatigue, lack of motivation and cravings for sugar and stimulants.
Adaptogens support the hormone system, promote relaxation in periods of stress and help boost energy in periods of physical and emotional exhaustion. For instance, liquorice supports the adrenals for a more balanced ‘king hormone’ cortisol response, and glucosinolates in maca create the much-needed energy boost in the face of fatigue.
The powerful Ayurvedic adaptogen herb shatavari, commonly referred to as ‘the one with a hundred husbands’, is known as a powerful herb to support women’s health. Shatavari contains shatavarin and sarsapogenin, precursors to female hormones that help balance oestrogen levels and promote fertility (5). It can be actively used to find harmony in any stage of a woman’s life from the start of menstruation to menopause and beyond.
3. Promotes Cognitive Function
When blood sugar and hormone levels are in equilibrium, levels of concentration and focus increase by default. Siberian ginseng additionally increases oxygenation to cells, in turn promoting increased cognitive function, memory and mental clarity. Whereas rhodiola rosea enhances mental focus and release of the happiness hormones serotonin and dopamine (6). A powerful combination in synergy to boost mental focus, clarity and happiness levels in daily life.
4. Antioxidant Powerhouses
Adaptogen herbs and mushrooms are packed with high amounts of antioxidants, anti- inflammatory compounds and phytonutrients that add to the endless list of their benefits. They are commonly used by athletes to speed up exercise recovery and cope with physical stress. Current research shows the beneficial compounds in adaptogens work in a heart- protecting, cholesterol- lowering and cancer- fighting approach (7, 8). Indian ginseng, ashwaganhda, is particularly known for its rejuvenating properties and tissue restoration, in turn promoting anti-ageing.
How To Use Adaptogens?
Adaptogens mostly come in a powder or tincture form and are easy to add to smoothies, teas, juice, breakfast or to have as a ‘shot’ with a bit of water. If feeling even more adventurous, mix maca and mushroom powder into baked goods for extra flavour. Try using liquorice to sweeten things up.
It can be tricky to find an alternative to morning coffee, but a balancing adaptogen chocolate elixir hits the spot:
* Consult a medical professional or a herbalist before, especially if you have any health conditions or concerns.
By nutritionist Milda Zolubaite
Milda passionately believes that the body has all the tools it needs to heal itself, as long as we allow it to. She practices nutritional therapy with naturopathic approach, in Bath and Bristol. She sees clients for one-to-one consultations and also runs events on nutrition and wellbeing. Milda sees clients with a variety of health concerns, but she has a keen interest in digestive health, energy levels and eating disorders. She completed her training in the College of Naturopathic Medicine (CNM) in London. She is a full member of the BANT and is registered with CNHC. Always keen to improve her knowledge, Milda regularly attends seminars to keep up to date with the newest research.
Contact Milda at The Nutrition Path
- Anderson A.D (2008) Assessment and Nutraceutical Management of Stress-induced Adrenal Dysfunction. Integrative Medicine 7(5)