Wellness trends come and go, but adaptogens are here to stay. At least for another year or so…(until the next big thing takes off.) But do you really need to be taking them? If you’ve never heard of adaptogens before, basically they’re natural substances that work with your body to help you adapt to certain situations – like stress for instance. They work by helping you regulate certain hormones and can generally just make you feel better and healthier too.
(Quick side note tho: many of them taste like crap.)
Anyway, you can pop them in smoothies, drink them on their own, add them to juice, water – whatever. But how do you know which one’s for you? Or honestly – if you really need them?
The only adaptogen I’ve ever taken is Sun Potion’s Ashwaghanda – $46.48 and it is the bomb. I then stopped taking it because I fell pregnant/am currently breastfeeding BUT prior to that tiny interruption it was helping manage my anxiety/stress and highly recommend it.
However like with all things wellness I know we all need to know more! Which is why I sat down with Corinne Wyper, Enrolled Nurse and Naturopath for Bioceuticals, to give us a full adaptogenic herb lowdown. Because isn’t that what we all need in our lives! HA.
Seriously though, adaptogenic beauty and wellbeing is where it’s at right now. So let’s find out more below.
What are adaptogens?
Adaptogens are herbal medicines which can help the body to adapt to and cope with everyday stress, by supporting and tonifying the body. They are particularly helpful for prolonged or long-term stress, and are said to increase resistance to stress on multiple levels.
How do adaptogens work?
Stress is a normal, natural response that occurs in the body in response to ‘stressors’, such as environmental conditions (e.g. hot/cold temperatures), stimulating events (e.g. life changes, emotions), as well as biological substances (e.g. alcohol). Acute stress is helpful for the body, and helps to stimulate the adrenal glands (which govern the stress response in the body) to produce hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, which mobilise the body’s resources for use in immediate activity i.e. the ‘flight or fight’ response. Once the stressor has passed, the processes in the body return to a new state of equilibrium.
Sometimes the acute, everyday stress response can become prolonged in the body, which may lead to a ‘resistance’ and progress to an ‘exhaustion’ phase. This means that the adrenal glands are working very hard, and it can be challenging for the body to maintain balance, leading to ‘adrenal fatigue’.
Adaptogens can help restore normal physiological functions to the body when it has met prolonged stress by balancing and tonifying the adrenal glands and in turn the stress hormones they produce, such as cortisol.
How can adaptogens benefit an individual?
Adaptogens help rebalance the body to help to maintain a healthy response to stress. They may benefit those who have poor health due to excessive stress, for example, anxiety, individuals recovering from a long-term illness or undertaking intensive exercise (that has put a strain on the body’s resources), as well as people who have adrenal exhaustion.
How can we choose the right adaptogens to take for us? How often should they be consumed?
Adaptogen herbs have multiple actions in the body. For example, as well as helping the body to cope with stress, some may help with sleep, detoxification, immune function and more. The effects of prolonged stress, be it physical, mental or emotional, can be due to multiple factors and conditions, and is therefore best treated by a qualified healthcare practitioner with training in herbal medicine, who can help to address the cause of the stress and choose the best adaptogen for you.
Adaptogens can take some time to work in the body, depending on the individual’s health state, and are therefore best taken in the medium to long-term (three months plus) for lasting benefits.
Who shouldn’t be taking adaptogens? Is there anything we should be cautious of?
Some adaptogens may not be appropriate for individuals who are in the exhaustion phase, or have adrenal fatigue, as they are too stimulating. An example of this is Panax ginseng (Korean ginseng). Those who have high blood pressure or high cortisol levels circulating in the body should be cautious of Glyccyrhiza glabra (licorice), and most adaptogens aren’t appropriate to use during pregnancy and breastfeeding. A qualified healthcare practitioner can help to provide more individualised information on any contraindications with adaptogens.
Do you have any favourite adaptogens? What are some of the most popular ones?
Withania somnifera (winter cherry) is one of the most well-known adaptogens. It is used in Ayurvedic (Indian) medicine as a rejuvenating and strengthening tonic to help improve the body’s resistance to stress. Research has shown a high-concentration withania extract, KSM-66®, supports healthy serum cortisol levels and reduces physical and biochemical stress in healthy people.
Eleutherococcus senticosus (Siberian ginseng) is also very popular in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), as it increases resistance to emotional, occupational and environmental stress, improves mental and physical performance, and has positive effects on the immune system and convalesence. Similarly, Korean ginseng is often utilised in TCM, with research supporting its use for enhancing mental and physical capabilities in weakness, fatigue and lack of concentration.
My favourite adaptogen is Ganoderma lucidum (reiishi mushroom), also famed in TCM for supporting fatigue. Western herbalists appreciate its ability to increase energy, and support mental and physical fatigue related to stress, as well as its anxiety reducing and immune supporting properties.
Tell me babez, have you tried adaptogens before? Which ones do you or would you take?