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Adaptogens-How these Herbs and Roots can help Relief Stress

Adaptogens are non-toxic plants that are believed to help the body resist stressors of all kinds. They are mainly herbs and roots that have been used for centuries in Chinese and Ayurvedic healing traditions, but they are having a renaissance today as more of us are looking at our health, well-being and dietary choices. When you look at the image for this blog, they don’t look very promising, but they are gathering attention and are something to be aware of if you are stressed and need a short term lift.

Each one claims to do something a little different, but on the whole they all help the body to handle stress naturally, in a non-toxic way.

Adaptogens are fairly new to the health and wellness community and you may not have heard of them but if not, I think they will soon have more attention so I think a short introduction might be useful in the blog topic.

What happens when we are not stressed? We have better memory, less fatigue, can stick with tasks longer, and have sharper focus and attention and more patience. We sleep better and have the energy to get things done at work, at home and in our leisure time.

We live in anxious times, juggling work, caring for relatives, worrying about finances, swamped by ‘things to do’, fretting about endless news events that are seemingly catastrophic where we feel helpless. We are increasingly addicted to our phones and other blue light emitting devices.

So, how might adaptogens work? They interact with the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and the sympathoadrenal system, – quite a mouthful I know! But important because they are both involved in the body’s response to stress to ensure that your body – from your mind to your immune system, to your energy levels – functions as it should.

Adaptogens can help calm the following area: the hypothalamus (a small region in your brain), your pituitary gland (found in the base of your brain), and your adrenal glands (which are located at the top of your kidneys and produce the hormone cortisol).

Much of the evidence for adaptogens efficacy is anecdotal gathered from centuries of use and it is only now that they are in the scientific spotlight. There’s plenty of research to suggest that what foods we eat affect our health and hopefully its only a matter of time before we can be certain that these other ‘foods’, which are after all, just different roots and leaves coming from around the world, that we are now madeaware of in our global reach. There’s likely to be much more research to come because stress is more common in our society and people are looking for alternatives to prescription medicine to help cope.

  • Adaptogens for long term stress:
  • Ashwagandha and Asian ginseng are believed to soothe long-term sources of stress and hormone imbalances. There is some research that has suggested Holy Basil may help lower stress too.
  • Adaptogens for acute stress and anxiety:
  • Siberian ginseng, Rhodiola and Schisandra may help mediate fight-or-flight stress responses. Siberian ginseng is also believed to boost the immune system, physical stamina and sexual health. Rhodiola is believed to improve energy, physical performance and memory; Schisandra is thought to improve liver function and gastrointestinal problems as well as help with stress responses.
  • Adaptogens for immune health
  • Reishi mushrooms and Ginseng been found in some small studies to boost immunity.
    There are dozens of adaptogen herbs being studied but here’s a guide to what seems to be more popular at the moment.
  • Holy Basil
  • Also known as Tulsi, it can be added to stir-frys and soups, adding a spicy, peppery taste or used as a tisane and sipped. Boosts brain function and reduces depression.
  • Astragalus
  • Combats fatigue.
  • Ashwagandha
  • Sometimes called Indian ginseng and the Sanskrit name means ‘smell of a horse’ because it has a strong odour and a reputation for giving people the stamina of a horse! A word of caution to pregnant women not to take it because it can interfere with thyroid tests. I have written about this root herb before when I added the recipe for ‘Sleeping Beauty’ Potion milk. Available in powdered form it can be added to any meal.
  • Maca
  • This root originally came from the Andes mountains and it’s known for its nutty, sweet flavour. It has a malty taste and the powdered form works well sprinkled in yoghurt, oatmeal and smoothies.
  • Reishi & Lions Mane mushrooms
  • The Reishi mushroom has been used for centuries in Eastern Asia as an adaptogen and a medicine as well. Unlike other mushrooms, button or shitake, you probably won’t be cooking with whole reishi mushrooms. Its more common to find in powder form which you can add to savoury recipes like soup. You could steep the whole mushroom in hot water, but it does make a very bitter tea. There are coffee with added Reishi products available for an instant hot drink.
  • Cordyceps mushroom
  • Boosts stamina.
    *A word of caution, if you are food sensitive to mushrooms generally, then its safer to choose a different adaptogen for use.
  • Siberian Ginseng
  • This adaptogen is probably the one most researched, and grows in China and Russia. It is a popular remedy for people who feel run down and tired from stress.
  • Rhodiola rosea
  • Staves off physical and mental fatigue.
  • Liquorice root
  • Reduces stress
  • Schisiandra
  • Boosts endurance, mental performance, stress-related anxiety, and depression. It is also one of the herbs suggested menopausal women to help with their symptoms.
  • Turmeric
  • Boosts brain function and reduces depression. Turmeric can be used in so many recipes, and is readily available and safe to use long term.

All the adaptogens highlighted are available as capsules or powders, but as with any supplement it is always best to check with your doctor if you are taking other medications, in case they cause a reaction. It is best to take most of them earlier in the day to align with our natural body clock and avoid stimulation closer to bedtime. The general advice is to take them for 6 weeks to get through a very stressful patch because they are not a panacea for addressing the cause of the stress.

We are so individual that what might work for one may not work for someone else. They can be subtle in having an effect so if after a few weeks of trying one, and there is no perceivedchange, swap to something different according to what you feel your needs are. The list above is only meant as a guide. The right dosage will also be different for each of us, so follow the manufacturers instructions and start off with low doses and monitor any changes.

Another word of caution. Once ‘Big Farma’ food manufacturers sense a new product is gaining popularity, they will start to introduce it into their processed foods. Do look at the ingredients because they may not be as ‘healthy’ as they are made out to be. And when buying supplements, also check the quantities of ‘active’ ingredient and make comparisons because again, not all supplements are created equal.