There are so many buzzwords floating around the holistic world, one of which is claiming to reduce our stress levels, naturally. Stress is one of the biggest modern health issues having such a negative impact on so many people’s lives, and so it is no surprise that these plant-based wonders are hitting the mainstream so hard in the realm of wellness.
So what are adaptogens?
These aptly named non-toxic plants adapt within us to help our body to handle stress. They have been used within Chinese and Ayurvedic healing traditions for centuries and are now having a huge comeback. They can either be taken as a supplement, brewed into a tea, or added to a meal or drink. They somehow, apparently, manage to balance us out, whether the stress is chemical, physical or biological, the adaptogen will work towards our natural state of homeostasis.
How do they work?
Harvard Medical School traumatologist Leslie Korn, PhD, suggests that adaptogens enhance our ability to achieve balance, and that “if our body and mind has a biological boost, like adaptogens, in order to cope better with this stress, then we will be less likely to get sick.” She explains the process; “when we face a stressor, whether physical or mental, our bodies go through what’s called general adaptation syndrome (GAS). GAS is a three-stage response: alarm, resistance, and exhaustion. Adaptogens help us stay in the resistance phase longer, via a stimulating effect that holds off the exhaustion. Instead of crashing in the midst of a stressful moment, task, or event, we attain equilibrium and can soldier on. Like a mini vaccine, some adaptogens appear to inoculate us to stress and help us cope,” Korn says.
An adaptogen will work on our adrenal glands and therefore naturally affect our hormonal system in a positive way promoting our body to learn how to manage stressors. How? The plants interact with the adrenal system by adjusting the production of hormones to suit the levels of stress being experienced. Your body then manages to function as it should both mentally and physically without allowing the stress to affect our system.
Unfortunately, to date, there is little scientific research or proof to back up the particulars behind the efficacy of adaptogens but there is plenty of support out there behind the concept.
Different adaptogens have different effects on the body so you can pick and choose (literally) which would work for you best.
Adaptogens and their potential benefits:
American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) – Boosts working memory, reaction time, calmness, and immune system.
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) – Reduces stress and anxiety
Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus) – Combats fatigue
Cordyceps (Cordyceps militaris) – Boosts stamina
Goji berry (Lycium barbarum) – Boosts energy, physical and mental performance, calmness, and sense of well-being, and can also improve sleep
Eluethero root (Eleutherococcus senticosus) – Improves focus and staves off mental fatigue
Jiaogulan (Gynostemma Pentaphyllum) – Reduces stress and boosts endurance
Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) – Reduces stress
Rhodiola rosea (R. rosea) – Staves off physical and mental fatigue
Schisandra berry/Magnolia berry (Schisandra chinensis) – Boosts endurance, mental performance, and working capacity
Tulsi/Holy basil (Ocimum sanctum) – Reduces physical and mental stress, stress-related anxiety, and depression
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) – Boosts brain function and reduces depression
How to take adaptogens*:
There are different ways to incorporate adaptogens into your daily routine; a herbal supplement in capsule form is one option taken at certain times during the day. You can also use powdered form to add to your foods and drinks, such as smoothies or soups or teas, for example. Look up recipes that incorporate your chosen adaptogen and play around with flavours until you find those which suit your tastes.
Taking adaptogens needs to coincide with the situation you are experiencing – for example, if you know you’re going to have an intense and stressful few weeks at work you could incorporate the relevant adaptogen into your diet for the days in question, timing it so that your energy levels are maximised at the crucial times; you don’t want to be feeling the effects when you’re at home winding down, it needs to be when the moment requires that extra boost. It is recommended to rotate the type of adaptogen to optimise the effects they can deliver and prevent your body becoming too used to one particular type.
I personally believe that adapting to the stress in your life is probably the wrong way to go about managing it. Making positive life changes to avoid stress in the first place would be a far better and more natural solution. However, the theory that plants can assist in our adaptation to certain external life forces and situations is incredible and highly interesting and could be very positive medicinally in the future.
*Always speak to your health advisor prior to taking any supplements or making extreme changes to your diet. Adaptogens may well come with side effects so do your research carefully.
Online diploma courses in Herbalism & Flower Remedies
Here at the School of Natural Health Sciences we offer many courses that involve the use of herbs and plants:
- Herbalism Course – a distance learning diploma course of 10 lessons where students will study the history of herbal medicine, healthy cooking with herbs, herbal tonics, herb vinegars, herb salts and the different types of preparations used in herbalism – to mention but a few topics.
- Flower Remedies Course – these remedies are all prepared from wild flowers, plants and trees, forming the basis of this holistic treatment for both physical and psychological disorders of all kinds. “Heal Thyself” is the very essence of the Flower Remedy philosophy.
To see the full range of holistic health therapies we offer visit our A-Z course listing page where you will find more than 60 courses to choose from.