August 26th 2020
Adaptogens: nature’s answer to stress and fatigue?
April 8th 2017 / 0 comment
Tired of feeling run down? These ancient herbs could help you become better at adapting to stress and fighting fatigue
Need a helping hand for facing life’s daily stressors? If the buzz surrounding adaptogens is to be believed, then these fatigue-fighting herbs could be just what you’re looking for.
Far from being new, their origins go back centuries with their roots steeped in ancient Chinese and ayurvedic medicine. “The term adaptogen was coined in the late 40s and refers to a substance or herb which promotes adaptation by the body to all kinds of stressors,” explains Shabir Daya, pharmacist, natural health specialist and co-founder of VictoriaHealth.com. “These could be physical, emotional or environmental.” From boosting energy levels to strengthening immunity to soothing sleep patterns, there’s an adaptogen fit for helping address a range of different purposes (more on that later though…). “Consider adaptogens as food for the body,” says Shabir. “Unlike medicinal herbs that you take now and then to counter a concern, adaptogens help nourish the body.”
They can be separated into two main categories. "Adaptogens are generally classified as being primary or secondary," he explains. "Primary adaptogens are the most well-known and most studied and include Siberian ginseng, schizandra and reishi. Secondary adaptogens such as ashwagandha tend to have some normalising effects but are not that well studied. Some other adaptogens include gotu kola which helps brain function and circulation."
Noticeably more holistic in their approach (particularly from a beauty perspective), adaptogens have also made repeat appearances on Gwyneth Paltrow’s wellness website, Goop, having been highlighted by Functional and Integrative Medicine specialist Dr Frank Lipman for their anti-ageing, de-stressing and energising abilities. How can they fit into your lifestyle? “Adaptogens are useful in cases where high stress levels are an issue,” says nutritional therapist Zoe Stirling. “They can contribute to rebalancing and restoring the body as well as protecting it during times of stress.”
Could they have a place in your anti-stress artillery too? We took a closer look to find out more about their uses, benefits and how they work.
What’s their point of difference?
When it comes to supplements claiming to bring body and mind back into balance, one look at our supermarket shelves reveals that supplies are in no danger of running low any time soon. With so many on the market, what makes adaptogens different from the rest? “Unlike many herbs, vitamins and minerals, adaptogens can for example, help achieve homeostasis in the body whereas many herbs only produce an effect, e.g. stimulate the immune system, but cannot normalise an overactive immune system,” Shabir explains.“They basically allow the body to return to a normal state.”
How do they do this exactly? “Many of these specific herbs have an effect on the endocrine system which releases hormones in the body,” says Shabir. “Since all hormonal glands communicate with each other using hormones as chemical messengers, an imbalance in any hormone can result in an impact on all of the other glands. Adaptogens may perhaps work to restore endocrine balance and hence prevent other symptoms from arising. Generally speaking, adaptogens create wellness in the body rather than treating a deficiency or a concern.”
Do their benefits extend to beauty?
If our skin concerns are stress-related, then yes. “Generally they have health benefits which then indirectly may help with skin,” explains Shabir. “An example would be stress linked to skin health. By countering stress, one could improve skin health.” Such examples include stress-related breakouts and dark circles through lack of sleep.
“All and all, adaptogens are serious ‘skinside out’ team players,” explains wellness coach and Founder of Naomi’s Kitchen, Naomi Buff. “The body thrives and maintains optimum health when in balance and not in a state of stress and this extends to external beauty."
“Psychodermatology is a fast growing term that describes the connection between mind and skin and addresses the link between our emotional state, the body’s physiological response to our emotional state and the outcome of this response on our skin, body, health and wellbeing,” she adds. “Put simply, stress can have a negative impact on skin’s health, and adaptogens have incredible abilities to restore it.”
How should you choose your adaptogen?
Choosing an adaptogen primarily depends on the specific concern you want to address. “Each may have individual properties, although there is invariably an overlap,” says Shabir. “For example, astragalus strengthens immune function and has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Rhodiola regulates stress hormones and is an anti-fatigue and antidepressant. Ashwagandha, which is used extensively in ayurvedic medicine, is a calming herb and balances thyroid hormones and enhances energy.”
Can you mix your adaptogens? “You can indeed mix them because stress can often result in lowered immunity (not everyone, but some people may be stressed and be more liable to colds etc.),” says Shabir. “In this case, one could use rhodiola alongside astragalus.”
Is there anyone who should avoid adaptogens?
“There is an adaptogen for everyone however, each individual herb may have side-effects that are contraindicated with any conventional medicine that a person may be taking,” cautions Shabir. “The moral here is that it is best to investigate each herb individually since they each have their own effects.”
With that in mind, expectations should be managed accordingly. “Most adaptogens produce a positive effect on the body as long as you have studied that they are suitable for you,” says Shabir. “Some adaptogens are stimulating while others are calming. Stimulating adaptogens may include ginsengs while some like ashwagandha may be calming. It is important to differentiate which ones are suitable for each individual to get the maximum benefit.” Depending on your needs and prior health history, consult your doctor first to ensure your choices are conflict-free.
How can you incorporate them into your diet?
In many different ways. “Many of these adaptogens are available in powder form (think mushrooms), tea form and liquid forms as tonics,” says Shabir.
Top adaptogenic picks
Viridian Rhodiola Rosea, £29
“The fact that rhodiola grows in the wild under extreme conditions may also be indicative of what it can do for the body,” explains Shabir. “It supports the adrenals to help reduce stress hormone levels, enhance mood and improve energy, mood and focus.”
Pukka – Three Tulsi Tea, £2.45
“I adore Pukka teas - I carry them around with me everywhere,” says Zoe Stirling. "Also known as Holy Basil, Tulsi is sometimes referred to as the ‘Happiness Herb’ as it’s thought to help regulate serotonin, dopamine and stress hormones. Tulsi tea is an easy on-the-go way of consuming this adaptogenic herb.”
Hifas da Terra Reishi AntiOx, £22.80
“This brand solely focuses on medicinal mushrooms and they are renowned for the quality and integrity of their products,” says Zoe. “They have researched and conducted huge amounts of research into the biochemical effects of their products and have a lot of research to back up the therapeutic properties of them. Reishi displays adaptogenic properties through helping to relax and stabilise the central nervous system and it’s also known in Chinese medicine as the mushroom of immortality!”
Sibergin Siberian Ginseng Root Extract, £15.49
“Siberian Ginseng is well-known for its ability to help the body adapt to a variety of stressors whether physical, hormonal or otherwise,” explains Shabir. “It enhances energy and helps calm the body.”
Herbs Hands Healing EnergiRevive Powder (containing Siberian ginseng), £18
“This brand was launched by a herbalist and naturopath who only uses wild, organic or bio-dynamically grown herbs,” comments Zoe. “It’s important to note that ginseng and Siberian ginseng have different therapeutic properties. Despite their similar names, Siberian ginseng and other ginsengs (e.g. Korean Ginseng) are actually part of two different families. Siberian ginseng is part of the Eleutherococcus family and Korean ginseng is part of the Panax family. While Siberian ginseng is an adaptogen and is usually used to nourish and calm the nervous system, Panax ginsengs tend to have a very stimulatory effect, which for some can be overpowering. It’s best to speak to a herbalist before supplementing any ginsengs from the Panax family."
Pukka Organic Ashwagandha, £15.95
“Ashwagandha may help regulate serotonin which in turn may regulate other neurotransmitters,” says Shabir. “It also enhances energy, mood swings, fatigue and sleep problems.”
Terra Nova Cordyceps Rhodiola & Ginseng, £24.50
“Cordyceps is a medicinal mushroom which is thought to support the lungs and oxygenates the whole body,” explains Shabir. “This helps brain function, athletic endurance, stamina, circulation and numerous other concerns. This cordyceps product is an excellent adaptogen supplement containing cordyceps, rhodiola and ginseng – all three in one supplement.”
I Am Superfood blends by Naomi’s Kitchen, from £15
Combining herbal adaptogens with health-boosting ingredients, each of these blends created by Naomi Buff has been designed with a particular concern in mind, from beauty to energy, stamina to libido. Simply add to juices, smoothies or water for a quick adaptogenic fix.
Disclaimer: Certain supplements are used for different reasons and a one-size-fits-all approach should never be adopted. In addition, pregnant women and anyone on medication should always consult a doctor before embarking on a supplements programme.