All About Adaptogens
Adaptogens seem to be a new and sexy wellness trend, yet little did we know that Adaptogens have been commonplace in centuries-old Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine with remedial effects that have been proven by science.
Adaptogens are plant-based compounds and mixtures rich in antioxidants that help with stress, anxiety, sleep, the immune system, and a whole bunch of other lifestyle disorders bringing the body back into balance. Adaptogens are essentially healing plant foods that have an impact on the body’s adrenal system. We produce hormones like adrenaline and cortisol during high-stress situations, which spike our heart rates and increase blood sugar. The detrimental effects of the stress hormone cortisol and chronic stress impact every physiological system in the body, including the thyroid and adrenal glands. It can make you anxious and irritable, lead to weight gain and bone loss, contribute to diabetes and heart disease risk, and deplete your energy levels. Cortisol is also known as the aging hormone. When cortisol gets too high, it puts you into a “fight or flight” response, which stimulates your sympathetic nervous system and your adrenal glands. There is a decrease in your digestive secretions and an increase in blood pressure. This puts your body in a state of constant stress, which will burn out your adrenal glands, stress your digestive tract and cause you to age more rapidly.
Adaptogens mainly work towards restoring the balance in the hormone levels, which in turn alleviates stress levels and boosts energy. Not all herbs have the same super powers, but in general, common adaptogens have been known to improve the immune system, digestion and promote weight loss.
Integrative medicine guru Andrew Weil, MD, decribes Adaptogens as herbs “that can ‘tone’ the body and bring it back to homeostasis,” creating a non-specific response that helps it resist stress.
Adaptogens are truly remarkable in that the chemicals they contain actually help to normalize adrenal function. They calm and nourish the adrenal glands, and support the processes that are controlled by the adrenals – from blood sugar and immune system regulation, to hormones and blood pressure. Amazingly, they work whether you are experiencing adrenal over-stimulation, or adrenal fatigue. While some adaptogens can work fairly quickly, in just a matter of days, their actions tend to be more subtle, with benefits building up over months of taking them regularly.
I personally have been using Adaptogens to heal my body back to homeostasis over the past year after experiencing issues with Hypothyroidism and Adrenal Fatigue. I was feeling exhausted and had many of the symptoms that come along with hypothyroidism and hormone imbalances. Along with the care I was getting from my doctor, I started a consistent regime of Adaptogens (Reishi and Ashwaganda along with a few other tonic remedies) in the morning and night. I finally felt back to myself with my energy levels, weight, metabolism and overall emotional state. I buy most of my Adaptogen formulas from Sun Potion Transformational Foods and Anima Mundi Apothecary and love the dust formulas from Moon Juice.
It’s important to note that Adaptogens don’t treat a specific condition. They treat the “whole” system bringing the body back into balance. If you are feeling depleted in one area, for example, you’re not sleeping well, you don’t have a heathy sex drive or don’t have a healthy appetite, it means your system is off and you are a great candidate for adaptogen remedies.
Here are some of the most popular Adaptogens :
Ashwagandha: The Soothing Adaptogen
Ashwagandha has over 4,000 years of traditional use in India. It is considered both a food and a tonic medicine for improving energy, memory and learning, promoting libido, and preventing premature aging. Ashwagandha is calming and anti-inflammatory. It is used to improve sleep, reduce anxiety, improve memory, and reduce inflammation and oxidative stress (damage from inflammation). It boosts the immune system, is included in the treatment of arthritis and can be beneficial in the treatment of fertility challenges. It also helps build muscle strength and co-ordination, eventually leading to better running form and speed in athletes.
Cautions: Not for use in pregnancy. Though not likely to be a problem, use cautiously if you are sensitive to plants in the nightshade family. Avoid with pharmaceutical sedatives and pain medications.
Rhodiola: The Spirit Calming, Anti-Anxiety Adaptogen
Rhodiola extract helps promote a calm emotional state and supports strong mental performance, optimal immune function, and hormonal balance. It is a key adaptogen for reducing anxiety. It improves mental and physical stamina, improves sleep, and reduces stress, “burn out,” and irritability. It boosts the immune system, decreases the frequency of colds and infections, and reduces inflammation. It is used in the treatment of chronic fatigue syndrome as well as fibromyalgia. It can be beneficial for poor appetite and as part of a treatment plan for chronic stress headaches.
Cautions: Avoid if you have bipolar depression with manic behavior.
Holy Basil: The Vitalizer
Holy or “sacred” basil has been revered in India for over 5,000 years as an herb that calms the mind and spirit, and promotes longevity. In Ayurvedic medicine it is called Tulsi, which means “incomparable one.” It is used to improve energy and relieve fatigue, for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant actions, and to lower blood glucose, triglycerides, and cholesterol. Holy basil may also protect the liver, helps with nicotine withdrawal, and elevates the mood, especially providing relief from mild depression. While this herb is related to common basil, it is a different species and common basil is not a substitute.
Shatavari: The Hormonal Harmonizer, Queen of Women’s Adaptogens
Shatavari is considered the “Queen of Herbs” in Ayurvedic medicine, where it is beloved as one of the most powerful rejuvenating tonics for women. It is nourishing and calming, as well as hormonally balancing; it is used for irritability and many hormonal imbalances affecting the mood, such as emotional symptoms of PMS and menopause. It is also used as a fertility tonic and may be used for vaginal dryness, low libido, and sleep problems in peri-menopause. In addition, research suggests benefits for improving immunity, antioxidant activity, improved insulin secretion, reduction in gastric acidity, and the prevention of stress ulcers. It has mild estrogenic and cholesterol-lowering effects.
Cautions: Avoid if you have a history of estrogen-receptor positive cancer.
Eleuthero: The Performance and Focus Enhancer
Eleuthero is one of the most well-researched adaptogens. It is used to increase mental alertness and performance, concentration, energy and stamina as well as reduce stress, fatigue, dream-disrupted sleep and insomnia. It also enhances immunity and improves detoxification. It is anabolic, which means it helps build muscle and prevents the breakdown of muscle as we age.
Cautions: There have been rare cases of insomnia reported with Eleuthero. If you have insomnia, either select a different adaptogen, or consider taking only before noon; also Eleuthero is not recommended for those with high blood pressure.
Astragalus: Protects the body from physical, mental, or emotional stress.
Astragalus comes from the root of a perennial plant plant in the pea family that grows in the northern and eastern parts of China as well as in Mongolia and Korea. The root is usually harvested from four-year-old plants. Astragalus is the source of a popular medicine called huang qi and is available in any drugstore in China for use against colds, flus and other respiratory infections.
Reishi Mushroom: The Immune Nourisher
Reishi mushrooms are highly regarded in Chinese medicine to nourish and support adrenal function. While Reishi is best known for promoting health immunity, resistance to colds and infections, and reducing inflammation, Reishi also helps support the body’s natural abilities to detoxify from environmental exposures, and also calms the nervous system, promoting deeper, more relaxing and restorative sleep.
Cautions: Avoid with blood thinners and medications that lower blood pressure, based on theoretical risks of drug interactions.