What are adaptogens and which ones should you take?
The benefits of adaptogens are lauded in the wellness community for all kinds of reasons – from increasing your sex drive, to helping you sleep, bringing down your stress levels and reducing the signs of ageing. But what exactly is an adaptogen and how do they work? We asked an integrative health practitioner for the low down.
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What are adaptogens?
Adaptogens are powders or liquids derived from non-toxic plants that, when taken orally, are able to ‘adapt’ what they do based on your body’s needs; for example, they can help calm you when you’re under stress and improve your energy when fatigued. You may have been hearing the term bandied around a lot lately (Gwyneth Paltrow’s a big fan) but these herbs have been used for centuries as part of Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine practises.
In general, adaptogens help your body to better handle stress and they do this through supporting the delicate relationship between your brain and hormone system, says Dr Tracy Chandler, integrative health practitioner at Dr Wellness. “These relationships are called the brain-gland (eg ovary, adrenal, thyroid) axes,” Dr Chandler explains.
“These different axes are essential for a healthy metabolism, immune system, mood and libido and also for production of energy. Issues in any of these axes can cause major issues such as adrenal fatigue, pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) and underactive thyroid.”
What adaptogenic herbs are the best to take?
Well, that depends on what symptoms you’re trying to treat as each herb serves a different function. As with any kind of supplement, there is a risk of side effects so it is best to have them prescribed by an integrative health practitioner, however for the specific issues listed below these are some of adaptogens Dr Chandler finds most useful.
Stress/anxiety/depression: American ginseng, ashwagandha, licorice root, Rhodiola, holy basil (Tulsi), and/or Schisandra.
Fatigue: American white ginseng, Asian red ginseng, Asian white ginseng, Siberian (Eleuthero) ginseng and maca.
Brain function: Holy basil (Tulsi) and lion’s mane.
Healthy gut: Holy basil (Tulsi), licorice root.
Anti-ageing/immune-boosting: Ashwaganda, Astragalus, Cordyceps, Jiaogulan and turkey tail.
Cancer fighting: Himematsutake, Shiitake, turkey tail.
How do you add adaptogens to your diet?
Adaptogenic powders – many of which come in bright and beautiful hues – can be added to baked treats and raw slices, smoothies and smoothie bowls, teas, coffee or water (though, only to water if you’re game – some can be rather pungent!) LA-based wellness entrepreneur and owner of Moon Juice, Amanda Chantal Bacon, has created a number of recipes using her own adaptogenic powders that are available via the Goop website. These include ‘Sex Bark,’ ‘Spirit Truffles,’ ‘Beauty Milk’ and an ‘Elevating Adaptogenic Latte.’
Likewise, New Zealand company Misty Day Plant Potions has recipes for delicious creations you can make using their very own adaptogenic powders – think 'Shroomy Rasberry Slice,' 'Lovers Thickshake,' and 'PMS First Aid Slice.' Yum!
Remember, if you’re getting creative in the kitchen, be sure not to exceed the recommended daily dosages, which should be stated on the packaging of your herbs.
Have you ever taken adaptogens? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
Main image by @franciful.foodie.