Your Guide To Adaptogens
Adaptogens might be new to you but in reality they are anything but. This class of herbs, plants and mushrooms have been used for centuries in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Ayurveda to treat everything from chronic fatigue, stress and digestive issues to skin health, hormonal imbalances and so much more.
Adaptogens are gaining traction here in the West largely for their use in place of synthetic Western medicine. Once you understand the full realm of possibilities when it comes to adaptogens and how they can serve you, you won’t be wondering why some people refer to ashwagandha as “nature’s xanax.” While there is definitely so much more to learn and understand about these seemingly magical plants, we’re breaking down the basics so that you can begin your unique journey with adaptogens.
What Are They?
Adaptogens refer to a class of plants, herbs and mushrooms that contain beneficial properties for your body’s internal stress management system. This system is made up of our hypothalamic, pituitary and adrenal glands. They are responsible for managing how your body responds to stress, including how often hormones like cortisol aka the stress hormone are released. Adaptogens work to help your body better adapt to both short and long term stress by regulating and creating balance within this system.
There is no escaping stress. Work, family, relationships, school, deadlines, exercise (yup!), exhaustion, long nights, early mornings, pandemics... they all cause internal and external stress. While there are certain stressors that we can definitely remove from our lives (toxic relationships, toning down your workouts etc), some are harder to escape and others are downright unavoidable. Instead of running away, we can turn to adaptogens as a way of nourishing our internal stress management systems so that our bodies are better able to handle all of the stressors that are thrown their way.
How Adaptogens Works:
When we are faced with a stressor, physical or mental, our bodies go through a process called general adaption syndrome aka GAS. The GAS process begins first with the alarm phase, followed by resistance phase and finally the exhaustion phase. Adaptogens help us stay in the second phase, resistance, for longer. Rather than heading straight to exhaustion and crashing, we are able to withstand and adapt to the stress we’re encountering.
Research on adaptogens has uncovered neuroprotective elements, anti-fatigue properties, antidepressant effects as well as properties associated with stimulating the nervous system. With all of these properties, it’s no surprise that people are turning to adaptogens to increase mental work capacity, attention and memory as well as to help in preventing stress, fatigue, anxiety and depression.
While the focus here has been on stress, the benefits don’t stop there. Seeing as stress can wreak havoc both physically and psychologically and show up in many ways, adaptogens can work to prevent and treat many of these manifestations. Here’s how stress can show up physically and mentally:
- Weakened immune system
- Insomnia / trouble sleeping
- Anxiety and depression
- Weight gain
- Weight loss
- Poor digestive health
- Exhaustion and fatigue
And here is the long list of benefits that come from managing our stress through adaptogens:
- Strengthened immune system
- Improved memory and cognition
- Higher energy levels
- Quality sleep
- Anti-depressant effects
- Better attention
- Increased mental work capacity
- Improved ability to relax
- Reduced anxiety
- Weight management
- Normalized bodily functions
- Better digestion
- Increased physical stamina and endurance
Examples Of Adaptogens And Their Uses:
While there are so many adaptogens out there, each with their own unique benefits, some have recently become more popular than others. Here are some of our favourites and what they can be used for:
A popular Ayurvedic herb also referred to as “Indian ginseng.” Ashwagandha is best used for:
- coping with daily stress
- a general tonic
- managing symptoms of anxiety
- increasing strength and stamina by supporting deeper rest
- increasing testosterone in men
Holy Basil aka Tulsi
Aka the “queen of the herbs” in Ayurveda. Holy basil is best known for:
- managing stress and anxiety
- reducing inflammation
- promoting better sleep
This Ayurvedic herb is affectionately referred to as “the one who has 100 husbands”. Shatavari is best used for:
- nourishing the tissues of the lungs, stomach, kidneys and sexual organs
- especially effective at nourishing the female reproductive system and the hormones associated with it
Aka Mucuna pruriens, is a natural source of L-dopa, a precursor to dopamine. Kapikacchu is best used for:
- increasing concentration
- boosting your mood
- nourishing the reproductive systems
A staple in Chinese Medicine, also referred to as the five taste berry. Schizandra is best used for:
- improving memory
- increasing focus
- boosting mental performance
Aka the miracle tree. Moringa is best used for:
- nourishing the heart, kidneys, liver, blood and pancreas
- increasing energy