Adaptogens are the latest in the list of things from Ancient cultures we are now embracing. You may have seen people mentioning words like Maca, Ashwagandha, Reishi or even Lion’s Mane. These foreign words are all edible and are types of Adaptogens.
With insight from Dr Debbie Smith, a Doctor of Chinese medicine and Homeopath we learned what adaptogens are, how to use them and which ones to take.
What are Adaptogens?
Adaptogens are a class of plants and herbs which have been used for medicinal purposes in Chinese and Indian Aryvedic medicine for centuries. It’s important to note that adaptogens are not another superfood, but plants used for medicinal purposes and they help correct imbalances in the body and thus require a level of care when using them.
As the name “Adaptogen” suggests, they adapt to your body and help bring your body back into a state of natural balance. The growing popularity of Adaptogens can be linked to the fact that they are known for their impact on the stress cycle, in helping to balance it out.
So how do Adaptogens Work?
To understand adaptogens and how they work, you first need to understand stress, how it affects the body and how adaptogens work on the stress cycle. In this video, Dr Debbie explains that stress is when your body increases cortisol. During this process blood is sent to the brain and muscles to get ready to “run”. Less blood goes to the digestive and reproductive organs and we get subtle signs something is wrong.
Cortisol isn’t a bad thing and acts as our internal warning system. However, most of us live in this heightened state of stress and our bodies never have a chance to reset. This is due to our lifestyles, diets, environments and even exercise.
When your cortisol goes up, DHEA levels go down. DHEA is a master hormone for all of your other hormones, it’s also known as the anti-aging hormone. Too much cortisol can lead to faster aging, inflammation, food sensitivities, depression and brain fog.
This is where adaptogens come in. Some adaptogens help your body physiology not increase cortisol, while others can help your body make more cortisol.
How do you know what Adaptogens to Take?
The first step is identifying what you want help with and finding the adaptogen that works on that. If you want an energizer, Maca and Ginseng are great. If you want to relieve anxiety, take Ashwagandha. If you want to improve your digestion, Licorice is a great choice. Some mushroom blends like reishi and Chaga help boost immune function, making them good choices when you feel run down.Chaga help boost immune function, making them good choices when you feel run down.
Are there any Adaptogens you should avoid?
According to Dr Debbie, adaptogens are generally safe. However, Liquorice (which helps when you’re tired) can also cause blood pressure problems and so should be taken with caution. The biggest issue would be taking them at the wrong time which can be harmful and cause the opposite effect.
How long should you take Adaptogens for?
Dr Debbie believes there is no one size fits all approach. She’s also a believer in a holistic approach and using adaptogens at the same time as making other positive changes to your lifestyle – like doing meditation to de-stress and getting more nutrients in your diet. Some people may be able to take adaptogens every day while others are better off cycling their usage.
Certain adaptogens, like Korean Ginseng, shouldn’t be used long-term and are used in “pulsing” cycles, where you take, have a break and take again. Maca is another adaptogen which people will take, have a break and take again.
Should anyone avoid Adaptogens?
Most adaptogens like the GoodLife range caution against pregnant and breastfeeding woman taking adaptogens. Dr Debbie does suggest consulting a qualified practitioner, especially if you are taking conventional medicine. You can also do an adrenal cortisol test, which uses your saliva to measure your cortisol and DHEA levels, which will help you understand where your imbalance lies.
How to use Adaptogens?
Adaptogens can be expensive, but you use them in very small quantities. For most people, a teaspoon a day of their chosen adaptogens is all that’s needed for results. Some adaptogens have a very strong flavour, so adding them to a smoothie, yogurt or drink is a great way to take them.
Want to try Adaptogens?
When used properly adaptogens can make a big difference in the way you feel. If you want to try adaptogens, these 3 adaptogens from GoodLife are a good starting point. GoodLife also have blends which combine various adaptogens made especially for men and women.
Maca is a great way to naturally boost energy and calm anxiety. Maca is a rich source of vitamin C, making it great for boosting the immune system.
Maca works directly upon two regions of the brain, the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland; and helps boost mental focus and overall cognitive function. It also reduces stress, alleviates depression, and calms anxiety.
There are three types of Maca powders: red, yellow, and black. They differ only in taste with red being the sweetest and yellow being the strongest tasting.
How to take it: We’re big fans of using Maca during hard training periods because it reduces stress and helps you recover faster. As it’s an energizer, take it in the morning or the afternoon when you want a natural boost of energy.
Get Maca here
Ashwagandha is also known as Indian ginseng. Ashwagandha regulates the immune system and eases anxiety by lowering cortisol levels. It’s also used in Aruvydic medicine to boost the immunity after being sick.
Ashwagandha is also a nightshade, so if you have an autoimmune disease, avoid it or consult a practitioner before taking it.
How to use it: Include ashwagandha in a drink at night to ease any anxiety you may have from the day. Also, take it after being sick, or when you’re feeling run down.
Get Ashwagandha here
Certain mushrooms are used for their medicinal purposes, below are a few;
Shitake has been shown to be beneficial in improving heart disease as well as lowering cholesterol. It’s also used to help with insomnia as it is considered to be muscle relaxing and calming.
Reishi helps to lower blood sugar levels by down-regulating alpha-glucosidase, the enzyme responsible for breaking down starches into sugars.
Chaga has antioxidant properties. It’s also been known to ward off viruses like the flu, has immune balancing effects; and has compounds in it which lower disease causing inflammation in the body.
Coriolus or Turkey Tail is a great immune booster.
How to take it: Mushroom blends are taken daily to help improve energy, concentration, digestion and immunity. You can add it to your morning coffee, mix it into a latte or create your own tonic drink.
Get Mushroom blend of reishi, shiitake, and coriolus here
We’ll be trying adaptogens over the next month to see if they make a difference in how we feel and function. If you’ve tried them, please share in the comments!
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Zissy is the co-founder of Nutreats. She likes to make things, do things and wear things.