You have been hearing a lot about Adaptogens on social, online, in ready-made mocktails, and in wellness products. But what are adaptogenic herbs, exactly?
Adaptogens are plants, mushrooms, or herbs designed to increase your body’s ability to adjust to physical, chemical, or biological stresses. So what does that mean? It means that adaptogens help your body to “adapt” to external stressors that can impact your health. They’re thought to stimulate your body’s stress-protection response, and it helps your system return to a balanced state. Adaptogens also can maintain or normalize metabolic functions, improve energy levels and restore systemic equilibrium.
The great thing about Adaptogens is you get that “ZEN” state without chemicals, alcohol, or drugs. Below is a list of a few Adaptogens:
- Ashwagandha– This shrub grows in India, the Middle East, and the regions of Africa. It has been used to help against aging, anxiety and relieve stress, increase energy levels, and improve concentration. It has calming properties instead of a stimulating effect. It is also known to help increase athletic performance, testosterone levels, and muscle strength. *People with hyperthyroidism should avoid taking this adaptogen. (1)
- Tulsi (aka holy basil)-Sometimes called “the queen of herbs,” this fragrant plant comes from India and grows in other areas of Asia. Holy basil is often used in Thai food. It is a medicinal herb used for everything from coughs or colds, combat adverse effects of stress, stabilize blood sugar levels, promote longevity, antimicrobial, and treats scorpion bites. (2)
- Ginseng-You might already be familiar with this popular herb. It has potent antioxidants that may reduce inflammation and boost your immune system, along with other great benefits. BUT is also an adaptogen. Did you know that there are many different kinds of Ginsengs? You will find American ginseng, Asian ginseng, Korean red ginseng, Siberian ginseng, and more. These are Panax ginseng, considered an adaptogen that enhances physical performance, promotes vitality, resists stress and aging. (3, 4) *Ginseng should not be taken for long periods.
- Rhodiola rosea L-This shrub grows in arctic and mountainous parts of North America, Europe, and Asia. It is known as “golden root” or “arctic root”. This plant is a stimulant used to reduce mild anxiety, depression, anti-aging, promote good health, strength, endurance, and reduce fatigue due to stress.
- Astragalus-This plant has been a staple of traditional Chinese medicine for a long time. This root is usually used along with other herbs to treat problems like hay fever and boost your immune system while increasing stamina and strength. Side effects may include fatigue, headache and low blood pressure. Astragalus can interfere with drugs that suppress the immune system.
- Cordyceps-This is a fungus that grows on caterpillar larvae in China. The fungus is hard to cultivate, so the cordyceps found in dietary supplements can be grown in a laboratory. In lab tests, cordyceps has been known to help stimulate immune system cells and has calming effects. * You should avoid taking cordyceps if you’re on blood-thinning medications, because it can cause bleeding issues,.
- Reishi mushroom-This Asian mushroom has been used to help enhance the immune system, reduce stress, improve sleep, and lessen fatigue. It can also help stimulate the immune system and may also assist in strengthening adrenal gland function to reduce stress. You probably have seen numerous reishi mushroom or mushroom coffee alternatives, lattes, and teas for a healthier pick me up. *Avoid taking reishi mushrooms if you are on blood thinners or are immunocompromised.
- Shitaki Mushroom-The Shitaki mushroom is probably one of the only adaptogenic mushrooms that you can find in your local market. This mushroom is also a rich source of Vitamin D, Zinc, and essential B vitamins, and they have been shown to boost the immune system. The Skitaki is one of the adaptogenic mushrooms that can have health benefits such as improved brain function, energy, balance hormones, and improved immune system.
- Lion’s Mane-This Asian mushroom has been known to help cognitive and brain health, reduce inflammation, boost the immune system, reduce anxiety, stress, and depressive symptoms. There have been studies that it could protect against dementia (4)
- Maca-This root from Peru is a caffeine-free, plant-based superfood and a nutritional powerhouse that has become popular. You can find it added in almost any kind of health food from protein powders, superfood powders, coffee alternatives, and even chocolate. Maca root can contribute to balancing hormone levels, relieve symptoms of menopause, improving mood & energy levels, and support a healthy libido. (5)
- Schisandra & Schisandra Berry : This herb is most helpful in promoting liver health, stabilizing blood sugars, protecting the nervous system against stress, anti-inflammatory, helping re-energize the body as well as acting as an adaptogen. The berries are sweet, tart, salty, spicy, and bitter.
- Goji Berry-This berry is known as a superfood and many people like to add it in their smoothies, oats, bars, or teas. The goji berry boosts energy and physical and mental performance, gives a calmness and a sense of well-being, immunity booster, and improves sleep. It is considered an adaptogen, which helps to manage your body’s hormonal response to stress.
- Licorice root “Sweet Root”– is a popular adaptogen used in Chinese medicine to help the body adapt to stress, supports the endocrine system, and helps soothe and support the adrenal glands regulating the cortisol levels in the body. It supports estrogen and testosterone levels in the body and supports female hormonal systems. Licorice Root benefits the digestive system as a whole.
The bottom line is you can use adaptogens in your routine for a few days or weeks to get through a stressful or busy time, or on days you feel worn down. Try rotating the type of adaptogen in your routine every few months so that your body can benefit from the subtle differences among herbs. Remember that adaptogens aren’t a cure-all or a substitute, and some, just like any supplement or herbs, are not approved by the FDA.
*Always remember to talk to your doctor before trying an adaptogen product or any new supplement, especially if you have a health condition or take any medications. Your doctor will let you know if it could affect your health or interact with the medicines you take.