Understanding and Harnessing the Power of Adaptogens

what are adaptogens - thrive magazine

Nutritional Therapist Beth Raven looks at the power of adaptogens. Adaptogenic herbs are being offered in everything from supplements and tonics, to coffee, and hot chocolate. But what are adaptogens? where can they be found? And perhaps most importantly, do they really work?

What are Adaptogens?
We are all familiar with every day stresses, such as being constantly ‘on the go’, skipping sleep, checking emails before bed, not finding time to rest, a seeming endless to-do list! When these build up over time, they can take their toll on mental, physical and emotional health. Allow me to introduce Adaptogens.
‘Adaptogens’ is the name given to particular herbs and medicinal mushrooms which possess unique properties that could help the body to adapt to stress. They assist by bringing the body back into balance, are a great ally in resilience against chronic stress, making them a perfect tool for the modern busy lifestyle.

Adaptogens have a broad, non-specific effect and have a nourishing and normalising action, meaning that they work to increase what is low and decrease what is high to restore balance. Adaptogens work on multiple body systems making them powerful medicinal agents. [1] [2]

How can they help?
Whilst our bodies are adapted to meet the demands of intermittent stress, there is an epidemic of chronic stress in our modern life. When left unaddressed, chronic stress depletes the body of vital resources and reduces its capability to bounce back. This is where Adaptogens can help us to adjust and recalibrate more quickly in the face of everyday stressors.

Adaptogens have been around for thousands of years in traditional medicine such as Ayurveda and Chinese Herbal Medicine.
Here are just some examples of the potential benefits of Adaptogens:

• Helping the body adapt to stress
• Reducing the negative effects of stress on the mind and body

Balancing hormones
• Supporting the immune system
• Increasing mental and physical stamina
• Stabilising mood
• Reducing anxiety and depression
• Supporting quality sleep
• Reducing inflammation

Who can take them?
Adaptogens are a great tool for people who are struggling to deal with the side effects of a stressful lifestyle. They are thought to be safe to use for most people, but always check with a healthcare provider before taking any new supplements.

Examples of Adaptogens:
It is important to note that Adaptogens have been used in both ancient medicines as well having been backed up by more recent scientific research. Adaptogens can either be used individually or prepared in synergistic blends.

Ashwagandha The Rejuvenator
Ashwagandha is a hardy shrub grown in parts of India. The berries, leaves and roots are all traditionally used for medicinal purposes. The active compounds are extracted from the roots. Ayurvedic medicine has as long history of use, for increasing resilience against stress, rebuilding strength, supporting cognition, nourishing the nervous and reproductive systems and more…
Good for: improving resistance towards stress, reducing the stress hormone cortisol, decreasing anxiety, reducing high blood sugar and high cholesterol

Maca The Hormone Balancer
Part of the cruciferous vegetable family, this turnip like root originates from Andes Mountains in Peru and can be yellow, white, purple or black in colour. It has been traditionally used in Peruvian culture for enhancing libido and fertility and as a highly nutritious food source.
Good for: hormone balancing, improving energy levels, improving physical stamina, increasing libido, improving fertility,

Rhodiola Rosea The Fatigue Buster
This perennial plant grows in cold, mountainous regions in Northern Europe and parts of Asia. Rhodiola has traditionally been used for its wide ranging benefits such as fighting fatigue, enhancing physical strength and stamina, improving fertility, as well as easing symptoms of depression and as a potential anti-cancer agent [3] [4] Good for: increasing energy, improving endurance and stamina, protecting brain health, enhancing mental acuity

Schisandra The Balancing Tonic
The bright red berries from this native Asian plant are used for medicinal purposes. Schisandra has a long history of use in traditional Chinese herbal medicine to strengthen life force (qi) for gastrointestinal complaints, to relieve insomnia, combat exhaustion and to improve strength and stamina.
Good for: Balancing blood sugar, supporting immune function, fighting fatigue, antioxidant protection, supporting cognitive function

Tulsi (Holy Basil) The Soothing Healer
Native to India and part of the mint family, Tulsi or Holy Basil has been traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine for its soothing and calming effects and for maintaining general wellbeing, helping deal with stress and promoting longevity. It’s also revered for enhancing beauty and skin complexion.
As well as its adaptogenic properties, Tulsi is antibacterial, anti viral and antifungal which can be used in combating various infections.
Best for: coping with stress, easing anxiety, improving mood, reducing blood sugar levels, normalising blood pressure and cholesterol, as a potent antioxidant

Medicinal Mushrooms: The All Rounders
(Reishi, Cordyceps, Maitake, Shiitake, Turkey Tail, Sun Agaricus)

Reishi The Immune Elixir
A mushroom native to Asia with several active compounds such as polysaccharides and triterpenes which have been researched for their use in various health conditions. Reishi can be used in cooking, but more often its medicinal constituents are extracted and given in powder, capsule or tincture form.
Good for: supporting immune health, improving sleep latency and duration, balancing blood sugar, anti-ageing, anti-inflammatory, protecting brain health

Ideas on how to include these in your day:
Adaptogens are most often taken as capsules, extracts, teas, tinctures or powders.
• Hot cacao with reishi mushroom powder
• Tulsi as a tasty herbal tea
• Maca powder in porridge and smoothies
• Turmeric as a golden milk latte or in curries

Adaptogens are not a ‘cure-all’ or a solution to the effects of stress and other ailments. However, they have proven to be a very positive tool in the battle against chronic stress when utilised in a careful and considered manner. They are best used in conjunction with lifestyle interventions and dietary changes to help you address the underlying cause for the symptoms you are experiencing.

Please seek medical advice before including any of these into your routine and work with a Nutritional Therapist or Herbalist and consult with your GP

As featured inside Thrive Magazine Spring 2020 issue. Thanks to Beth Raven for writing this article, Beth is a registered Nutritional Therapist based in Somerset.  Find out more from Beth at: positiveplatenutrition.com

1) Seely, D & Singh, R (2006) Adaptogenic Potential of a Polyherbal Natural Health Product: Report on a Longitudinal Clinical Trial, Evidence Based Complimentary Alternative Health, 4 (3) 375-380 Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih. gov/pmc/articles/PMC1978233/
2) Panossian, A.G (2017) Understanding adaptogenic activity: Specificity of the pharmacological action of adaptogens and other phytochemicals, Annals of the New York Academy of Science, 1401 (Part A, Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/ publication/317848859_Understanding_ adaptogenic_activity_Specificity_of_the_ pharmacological_action_of_adaptogens_and_ other_phytochemicals
3) Isahque, S et al. (2012) Rhodiola rosea for physical and mental fatigue: a systematic review, BMC Complementary Alternative Medicine, [12:70], Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih. gov/pmc/articles/PMC3541197/#B1
4) Li, Y et al. (2017) Rhodiola rosea L.: an herb with anti-stress, anti-aging, and immunostimulating properties for cancer chemoprevention, Current Pharmacology Reports, 3 (6) 384-395, Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/ articles/PMC6208354/
Beth is a registered Nutritional Therapist based in Somerset. She specialises in: coeliac disease, plant based diet and skin health.