Adaptogens help the body ‘adapt’ to both environmental and psychological stresses. Some examples are ashwagandha, schisandra, holy basil, maca, ginseng, astragalus, shatavari, amla, and rhodiola (root).
They help us adapt by restoring balance when things have gone off-track. For example, raising production of hormones when your body is under-producing hormones and lowers hormone production when your body is over-producing hormones.
Our modern lives are fraught with stress – which has been heightened of late – and adaptogens can help us take the edge off during these times of peak stress by modulating our stress response.
When we can adapt to stress, we perform better and our wellbeing remains intact. These herbs aid our bodies in either recovering or adapting to short-term and long-term stress; helping with complaints such as digestive concerns, pain, fatigue, as well as enhancing mental performance, and assisting with feelings of depression and anxiety.
Chronic stress keeps your HPA (Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis continually engaged which raises cortisol levels (a big culprit for weight gain particularly around the middle area). Using adaptogens during peak stressful times, reduces stress hormones so that we can better cope (and not have unwanted side effects such as weight gain).
Stimulating adaptogens such as rhodiola should be taken in the morning, and more calming adaptogens such as holy basil and ashwagandha can be taken in the evening.
Maca is really easy to add to smoothies in powdered form. Perfect for women with hormonal troubles. It’s a calming adaptogen which is high in minerals and has been used to boost fertility, as well as improve libido, and restores balance to the adrenal glands.
Ginseng reduces chronic stress by modulating the HPA axis, and it also has been shown to assist with inflammatory disorders as well as provide neuroprotective effects against disorders such as Alzheimer’s Disease.
This herb has a strong taste, so you can take this in supplement form or as a tea mixed in with other herbs. It calms the mind, lowers inflammation, enhances immunity, stimulates the thyroid, boosts iron, and is great for anxiety.
Rhodiola has been shown to reduce secretion of cortisol. It’s a great adaptogen for increasing energy and concentration, making this a really good choice for people with adrenal fatigue and/or anxiety.
A naturally high source of antioxidants and Vitamin C – one of the highest amounts of vitamin C in natural form. It normalises body function, balances the neuroendocrine system, improves immunity and is said to have anti-ageing effects.
Maitake has shown to be good at alleviating symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), hepatitis, hay fever, diabetes, PCOS, and hyperlipidemia. It’s also been found effective for weight loss.
Shiitake is really good immune support, due to its antimicrobial and antibacterial properties. It has also been shown effective in lowering blood pressure, diabetes, eczema, and has anti-aging properties.
Chaga is a superfood high in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. Making it a good choice for inflammatory conditions, as well as great immune support. It’s packed-full of beta glucans and melanin to protect the skin and provide anti-aging support.
Reishi helps to calm the mind. It’s also another immune enhancer via its effects on boosting activity of white blood cells. It has been shown effective in treating viral conditions, as well as lung/airway conditions such as pneumonia, bronchial, flu, asthma. It’s also effective in lowering blood pressure, fatigue support, insomnia, and stress support.
Cordyceps is another anti-aging mushroom full of antioxidants. It’s really great for fatigue, boosting liver function, kidney function, respiratory disorders, anaemia, and strengthening the immune system. It’s also great for athletes because it increases blood oxygenation, as well as energy, stamina, cellular performance, endurance and assists in reduced recovery times.
Lion’s Mane supports the brain and nervous system, improves cognitive function and boost digestive health. It has been shown to have protective effects against dementia and other degenerative brain conditions, due to compounds hericenones and erinacines which stimulate the growth of brain cells and nerve cells.
Many if not all of these medicinal mushrooms also are loaded with nutrients: B vitamins, zinc, manganese, choline, dietary fiber, vitamin D, copper, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory compounds, and more.
Although adaptogens are a great way to boost health through nutrition, we should remember to approach them as food medicine.
First and foremost we must look to evaluate our lifestyle holistically, rather than for just looking for a quick fix in the next pill, supplement, or nutritional boost. For example, so many people are suffering from fatigue – everyone seems to feel tired and stressed. A lot of times our adrenal glands are overworked, but often it’s very much related to our lifestyle choices, the stress we are exposed to, and how we take care of ourselves.
Adaptogens should be utilised during peak times of stress, and not as an ongoing aid.
Mushrooms and herbs may have interactions with medications or supplements. Some may cause allergic responses in some people. Always be cautious when you’re taking a new supplement or herb for the first time, try a low dose to see how your body reacts.
Always seek professional advice from your healthcare practitioner.
Yvette is a qualified Melbourne-based Naturopath and Nutritionist, MINDD Practitioner, member of the Naturopaths and Herbalists Association of Australia, and Complementary Medicine Association. Yvette specialises in the treatment of conditions commonly affecting women and children, with a key interest in children’s digestive and neurological conditions, as well as women’s hormonal concerns, digestive issues, fatigue, anxiety, and skin concerns. Yvette consults in South Yarra, Melbourne, as well as Australia-wide via skype/zoom/phone.
The Naturopathic Co. Melbourne Naturopath 2020