Back in 1947, Soviet scientist Dr Nikolai Vasilyevich Lazarev was researching natural ways to increase the body’s vitality, longevity and resilience. He found that certain plants seemed to reduce cortisol levels, increase energy, enhance concentration, stabilise blood pressure, and strengthen the immune system. The end result? A body that is more resilient and can more easily adapt to stress. This adaptability lends adaptogens their name, although some sources claim that it comes from their ability to adapt to your body’s needs and provide whatever support may be necessary.
TO BE CLASSIFIED AS AN ADAPTOGEN, A PLANT NEEDS TO:
1. Be non-toxic and 100% safe for consumption when used in the correct dosage
2. Be non-specific in its function (i.e. it needs to give your whole system a boost so that it has better resistance against stressors)
3. Have a normalising effect, meaning that no matter what state your body may be in, an adaptogen should help it reach homeostasis (a physical and chemical state of equilibrium)
HOW DO ADAPTOGENS WORK?
Our bodies have a system for handling stress. When we encounter a stressor such as hitting the treadmill or meeting an urgent deadline, they release the stress hormones norepinephrine, cortisol and adrenaline. These chemicals trigger the ‘fight or flight’ response, or the alarm phase, which kicks our systems into overdrive, resulting in sharper focus, improved physical performance and increased energy. We then experience the resistance phase as our bodies fight to keep going while we deal with the stressor. Once we have gotten over the hump, we go through a phase of exhaustion as our hormone levels settle down again and our bodies prepare to continue with the day.
Nowadays the world is moving faster than ever, and stress is at an all-time high. Our bodies are like race cars flying around a track. We are constantly rushing from one stressor to the next, with no time to rest and recover. Adaptogens act like a two-stage pit crew that helps us to stretch out the resistance phase. First, they give us a tyre change so that we don’t break down on the next lap, and then they refuel our engine so that we can keep going without feeling fatigued.
MEET THE CREW: 7 ADAPTOGENS TO GET YOU THROUGH THE DAY
1. GINSENG: THE TOTAL BODY FIX
Ginseng has long been a player in the herbal healing game, with most of us stocked up on teas and supplements to keep our immune systems happy. But did you know that ginseng is also an adaptogen? The Latin name for ginseng - panax ginseng - means ‘all healing’, so it’s no wonder that this little superstar can be a lifesaver when it comes to handling stress. Ginseng is believed to elevate mood, prolong physical endurance, relieve fatigue and improve oxygen intake, giving your body the boost it needs to keep going.
2. RHODIOLA ROSEA: THE MOOD BOOSTER
Found at high altitudes in Arctic regions, rhodiola rosea – or ‘golden root’ – has long been popular in natural medicine. This rose-perfumed adaptogen is believed to reduce symptoms of depression due to the regulation of dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine. As an added bonus, it’s reported to do wonders for our physical wellbeing, including protecting and strengthening the heart, lowering blood pressure and improving blood flow to the brain.
3. ASHWAGANDHA: THE ANXIETY STOPPER
Also known as Indian Ginseng or Winter Berry, Ashwaganda has traditionally been used to boost the immune system, improve memory and focus, increase energy and normalise blood sugar levels. According to a study conducted in 2000, ashwagandha may also help to relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression thanks to its ability to lower cortisol levels due to its regulating effect on brain chemistry. It’s also said to help encourage deep sleep, which could lower anxiety levels.
4. LIQUORICE ROOT: THE BODY BOOSTER
Long-term stress can cause numerous physical symptoms. While liquorice root, like most adaptogens, is said to lower cortisol levels and reduce stress, it really shines in its reported ability to tackle the side effects of stress. Possible benefits include relief from inflammation, stomach problems, heartburn, tooth decay, respiratory problems and skin issues such as eczema.
5. SCHISANDRA: THE LIVER LOVER
We all know that a detoxified body is a happy body. Stress can severely impact the functionality of your liver and tummy, making it difficult for your body to operate properly and support your productivity. Schisandra is widely known and used for its reported ability to support and strengthen the liver by increasing the production of glutathione – an antioxidant produced by the liver – so that your body can better fight against damaged cells and hepatitis. Schisandra may also work to help treat digestive problems and stomach ulcers so that you don’t have to worry about a grumpy gut holding you back.
6. REISHI: THE IMMUNE BOOSTER
Reishi, a beautiful fan-shaped mushroom, has long been revered in traditional Chinese medicine for its incredible immune-boosting benefits. Like all adaptogens, reishi mushrooms are packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and are believed to help ease stress and anxiety. However, they stand apart in that they contain compounds called beta-glucans, which work to regulate, and therefore strengthen, the immune system. There is ongoing research into the effects of reishi mushrooms in cancer patients, as they are believed to act as anti-inflammatories, to ease the side effects of chemotherapy, and to fight tumour cells.
7. MACA: THE HORMONE HELPER
While all adaptogens work to stabilise hormone levels, maca is believed to be especially helpful for our adrenal glands and endocrine systems, which manage the production of hormones. In particular, maca may drastically reduce cortisol levels and soothe our stressed systems. It may even stabilise estrogen and testosterone levels, which could ease symptoms of PMS and menopause. What’s more, it’s also reported to have a positive effect on libido and sexual health!
DID YOU KNOW?
- Stress has very real physiological effects on your body, including headaches, insomnia, shakes, nausea and a compromised immune system.
- Most adaptogens grow in harsh and stressful conditions, which may explain why they can be so helpful when we are facing similarly challenging environments.
- Schisandra is known as the ‘five flavour fruit’ in China because it is said to contain all five flavour profiles – sweet, sour, spicy, bitter and salty. Some people believe that this may be tied to the five elements of traditional Chinese medicine.
- Other adaptogens include suma, holy basil, astragulus, shitake mushrooms and one of our favourite superfoods - moringa!
- Adaptogens have been used for centuries in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine. It was believed that these special plants increased fertility, prevented disease and improved longevity.
Have you tried our very own Wellness Adaptogen Complex? We’ve combined ashwaganda, rhodiola, schisandra and reishi to create a synergistic supplement that will get your heart rate down and your energy up.
While there is no quick fix for stress, adaptogens can be great helpers in our bodies’ efforts to keep us healthy. Leading a balanced life, which encompasses a healthy diet, regular physical activity and sound mental health habits, can feel almost impossible amidst the trials and tribulations that life can throw at us, and we often just need a helping hand to get us to a place where we feel capable of tackling the day. Thank you adaptogens!