Ever heard of adaptogens? They’ve been used as healing medicines for thousands of years in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, and are said to be a natural remedy for supporting a systemic resilience to any kind of stress or stressor within the body.
So in basic terms, adaptogenic substances are herbs that we can ingest to help alleviate and combat physical and even emotional stress. So which herbs are considered adaptogens, how do they work, and how should we use them? To help us answer these questions, we got in contact with registered dietitian Suzie Cromwell, from Elaho Medical Clinic in Squamish. Here’s her take on the role of adaptogens as stress reducers.
What evidence is there to support adaptogens having stress reducing properties?
There is little science-based evidence on these functional foods to support their nutritional benefits; however, there is some emerging new research on several specific herbs. What we do know is that they have been around for thousands of years in healing traditions such as Ayurvedic medicine and traditional Chinese medicine. Advocates suggest that adaptogens have the ability to support health, build stamina, vitality, and immunity by helping your body adapt to stressors in life, whether they are physical, chemical, biological, or mental.
So how do they work?
They work by strengthening the adrenal system and moderate stress responses. They’re good sources of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents which aid in preventing cellular damage. The chemicals in these products are thought to adapt to individual specific needs either by gently energizing or calming the body.
What is the appropriate dose?
Adaptogens can be found in various forms such as teas, tinctures, supplements, and powders. The impact and effectiveness of the herbs depend on how they are grown, harvested, and processed, as well as how the herbs are combined. Each herb has a unique quality, some are stimulating while others are calming or warming or cooling. The dose is very individual; it is not a one size fits all, as it depends on your health and frequency of use. Caution should be taken for pregnant women. Always speak to a physician and pharmacist prior to consuming adaptogens and when taking medications to prevent any drug-herb interactions.
So which foods actually contain adaptogens?
Turmeric was one of the health buzzwords of last year, and it’s continuing to be renowned for its health benefits. Though turmeric is more celebrated for its anti-oxidizing and anti-inflammatory properties, it does contain certain adaptogenic qualities.
Eleuthero is a well researched adaptogen, and is used to increase mental alertness, enhance concentration, reduce insomnia, and improve detoxification. This herb is anabolic, which means that it helps to build muscle, and prevents the breakdown of muscle during aging.
Ashwagandha has been said to reduce anxiety, as it helps boost and regulate the immune system while also lowering cortisol levels.
The Reishi mushroom is a true immune booster, and a helpful adaptogen that supports and nourishes adrenal function. While the benefits of the Reishi mushroom are vast, ranging from promoting immunity, to resisting infections and reducing inflammation, this mushroom also possesses the adaptogenic qualities of detoxification from environmental exposures, which results in a calming of the nervous system, allowing for a more relaxing and deeper sleep.
Rhodiola, also known as rose root or golden root, contains salidroside, which aids the body in resisting anxiety and stress. Rhodiola also reduces our body’s production of cortisol, strengthens our anti-stress proteins, and aids in our ability to resist mental and physical fatigue. Emerging research has also suggested that this adaptogen may be helpful in protecting the heart and liver.
Panax Ginseng is one of the most potent adaptogens around. It has been used to improve mental performance, and is said to lower and help your body manage stress. This type of ginseng also supports your body with antioxidants, helps lower your blood pressure, and regulate blood sugar levels.
Holy Basil has been touted as an excellent anti-aging remedy, as well as a stress and fatigue fighter. This powerful herb boosts the immune system, regulates blood pressure, and balances hormone levels.
The Cordyceps mushroom is a fungi that possesses high antioxidant levels. As a result, these nutrient-rich mushrooms are helpful in reducing fatigue, fighting kidney and liver problems, and have been used to treat respiratory tract complications.
Have you tried using these or another type of adaptogen to reduce stress? Let us know in the comments. And while you’re at it, if you’ve got another question you’d like to have answered by our registered dietitian, Suzie Cromwell, fire away in the comments or send me an email. Happy January!