With two teenagers who are up late and a dog who’s up early, virtual learning, a busy workday, and oh yeah, a global pandemic, I often find myself recalling the lyrics to the famous Rolling Stones song, “Mother’s Little Helper,” and reaching for my adaptogens when I need a little help! My rock ‘n roll escapes aside, I want to share the benefits of the centuries-old healing powers of adaptogens. Used in ancient Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, adaptogens have made their way in mainstream media and wellness medicine.
Adaptogens are a unique class of healing plants. As their name implies, they help your body “adapt” to both mental and physical stress. They bring balance to your body the way a thermostat controls the temperature. Adaptogens work to increase your energy when you’re feeling fatigued and calm you down when you’re feeling restless. As stress can affect us in many ways and lead to physical changes throughout our body, I work with clients to combat may indicators and levels of stress. And adaptogens are often something I suggest when someone needs a little extra help.
Some of the benefits of adaptogens include:
· Improving endurance
· Increasing attention span
· Decreasing stress
· Balancing hormones
· Stimulating mental performance
· Boosting our immune system
· Aiding in digestion
In laboratory settings, it was identified that adaptogens provide chemical actions, such as triggering the production of hormones or decreasing chemicals in our stress response.
There are 3 phases of stress:
1. Alarm phase
2. Phase of resistance
3. Phase of exhaustion
When you are stressed, your adrenal glands release the stress hormone cortisol, which can give you the burst of energy needed to tackle a stressful event. Some of you may know this as the “fight or flight” response. However, too much, too often is harmful to our bodies. Cortisol can trigger other hormonal imbalances and is often the main culprit for weight gain especially in the mid-section.
Adaptogens work at a molecular level by helping to regulate our hypothalamic, pituitary, and adrenal glands which are all involved in our stress response.
Some of the most common adaptogens used today are:
Often referred to as the “king of adaptogens,” ashwagandha supports a healthy stress response. In addition to helping with stress, fatigue, and depression, ashwagandha is known to help protect the body against cellular damage. It also helps decrease inflammation and support our joints.
2. Asian Ginseng
One of the most popular adaptogen herbs used today. Known to help boost cognitive function, support the body’s stress response by helping to regulate the HPA axis, and strengthen the immune system. It also helps manage other stressors, in our body like our adrenal glands.
Peruvians having been using maca for culinary and medicinal purposes for thousands of years. Is both an adaptogen and superfood. Maca is grown in the Andes Mountains and is rich in protein, fiber, calcium, and magnesium. It’s known to help us with our stress response, balance hormones, as well as increase libido, improve fertility, and lift our mood.
4. Rhodiola Rosea
Rhodiola helps to increase energy, stamina, and strength, as well as improve concentration. It helps the body adapt to and resist stress. Rhodiola may also help to lower your cortisol level and encourage healthy weight loss.
5. Holy Basil
This green, leafy plant is native to Southeast Asia. It has a long history with Indian medicine. It’s known to help decrease stress and anxiety, ease inflammation, and help detox the body. Holy Basil is also known to help us heal from infections and ease skin issues, such as redness and itching.
6. Licorice Root
Medicinal use of licorice root dates back to ancient Egypt. It has been found to have potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial effects on the body. Often used to help soothe a sore throat, relieve an upset stomach, reduce inflammation, and treat respiratory problems.
7. Cordyceps Mushrooms
This includes things like shiitake, maitake, and reishi mushrooms. They help to decrease fatigue and help boost strength. More recent studies have shown it may have anti-cancer properties. They help to boost your immune system naturally due to their high levels of antioxidants. These fungi have also been shown to help control healthy blood sugar levels.
Adaptogens can come in many different forms, some of which include teas, capsules, tinctures, or powders. Let’s face it, we tend to be over-scheduled, often rushed, and stressed. Adding an adaptogen to your daily routine may help protect your body from the damaging effects of stress. Afterall, who doesn’t want a little help with improving their everyday energy and focus?
As always, check with your health care provider before starting a new health care regimen, diet, or supplement.
Meghan Punda, CRNP is a Nurse Practitioner and Functional Nutritionist. She works with women on lifestyle and dietary issues. Meghan is passionate about educating her clients so they can reach their full wellness potential.
What Are Adaptogens and Why Are People Taking Them? By Jamie Ducharme, February 28, 2018.
What Are Adaptogens? Ayurvedic Herbs Said to Promote Anti-Aging and Anti-stress, by Sherry Christiansen Very Well Health, January 27, 2021.