Adaptogen is a huge buzz word in the holistic community-- you may or may not have tried them before (maybe without even knowing!). And while adaptogens aren't a panacea, they CAN be incredibly beneficial in safely and naturally helping our bodies adapt to and cope with stress, provide energy and hormone balance. Since we are talking all about stress this month, I thought it was only fitting to share my favorite adaptogens for stress, anxiety and energy, and how you can include them in your life (if you so choose!). So what in the world ARE adaptogens?
Simply put, adaptogens are compounds that aid the body in adapting to stressful situations. They help to modulate the stress response and reduce inflammation.
The most interesting, and what I find coolest part about adaptogens is they work a little bit like transformers: they transform into what YOUR body needs (they don't change in chemical structure or anything, they just act like it in the body-- this is just a metaphor, so hang in with me science nerds) meaning, if your body needs energy, they help to boost energy. If your body needs rest, they help calm you down. I know- COOL. The term “adaptogen” was first coined by Russian scientist Israel Brekhman in 1947. To be considered an adaptogen, they need to meet three criteria: -They are generally safe (for just about everyone).
- They help you handle stress.
- They work to balance your hormones.
Their main M.O.? They work to balance the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal axis (HPA axis, same one I referred to in this month's video lesson). They also each have their own super power, so I'm going to share a few of my favorites- and what they are proven *most* effective for. I'll start by dividing them into two main categories: calming and stimulating.
What it is: A fungus (mushroom) that has medicinal qualities.
What it's used for: Reishi is Mr. Calm. It helps to promote better sleep by calming both the body and mind. It has also been shown to lower blood sugar levels by down-regulating alpha-glucosidase, the enzyme responsible for breaking down starches into sugars.
When and how to take it: At night time, in powdered or supplement form (I love it as a hot choclolate along with magnesium-rich cacao).
What it is: Both the root and berry are used for medicine. What it's used for: Ashwaganda is the ultimate cortisol regular, meaning it helps to support your body's stress response through the HPA axis. This herb is also powerful when it comes to thyroid support. It has also been shown to reduce anxiety by up to 44%. When and how to take it: Morning or night is fine. It doesn't taste the greatest, so blended in coffee with some sweetener or as a supplement is usually the preferred method.
*Please note this adaptogen is not recommended while pregnant or breastfeeding.
What it is: A tropical bean extract ('Velvet Bean')
What it's used for: Mucuna is is packed with L-DOPA, a precursor to the neurotransmitter dopamine. It helps to naturally lower stress. It has also been used to combat symptoms of Parkinson's disease.
When and how to take it: Powdered or supplement form, 200 – 500 mg with food, up to 1,000 mg a day-- more can cause side effects. Cycling is recommended: so take for a few weeks, and then take a break.
What it is: A peruvian root.
What it's used for: Maca is a wonderful natural energy booster and stress-reducer. It has also been shown to help with libido (bow chicka wow wow). Try my stress-reducing energizing dark chocolate maca balls for a snack, this week! But, umm... make sure you're using protection or you might maca a baby. (I couldn't help myself, really).
When and how to take it: I prefer powdered maca. Typical dose is 1-6 tsp per day. It can be used in smoothies, blended coffee or as an ingredient (it has an earthy, slightly sweet taste). Gelatinized maca will have more mild effect than raw.
What it is: A fungus (mushroom) with medicinal qualities
What it's used for: This powerful mushroom aids in boosting and maintaining energy levels by activating energy production at a cellular level. It is often used in sports performance as a workout enhancer, without the caffeine drop. It's also been proven to have anti-aging benefits.
When and how to take it: Typically taken in powdered form, or as a supplement, typically in the morning as it can be stimulating.
What it is: A plant root grown in cold northern regions.
What it's used for: This plant root has been shown to help reduce stress and is great for people with adrenal fatigue. It has been shown in treatment for generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and with depression and stress-related fatigue.
When and how to take it: Typically taken in supplement form, in the morning. Around 400-600 mg is recommended. Be cautious with this one: it can be quite stimulating and isn't recommended at night.
What it is: Similar to Cordyceps, Lion's Mane is a fungus (mushroom) with medicinal qualities grown in the Northeastern USA.
What it's used for: Popular in Chinese medicine, Lion's Mane is a well known brain booster that helps with focus and concentration. It also has powerful antioxidant and immune benefits, and studies have actually shown a decrease in anxiety and memory loss with use of lion's mane.
When and how to take it: Typically taken in powdered form, or as a supplement, any time of the day for brain boosting.
What it is: Last but not least, ginseng is a well known adaptogenic root.
What it's used for: There are a variety of ginseing types, such as Asian white, American white, Asian red, and Siberian (Eleuthero)-- but they all boost energy without the caffeine jitters. Eleuthero has been shown effective for reducing blood sugar levels as well as supporting the adrenal glands. It has also been shown in promising studies to help learning and memory, though studies have only been done on rats, thus far. There is a tipping point: high doses of eleuthero have been shown to increase cortisol, so be mindful.
When and how to take it: In the morning, as it can stimulating, in powdered or supplement form. 100-200mg per day is typically a starting dose.
My favorite brands + blends:
Gaia Adrenal Health Jump Start. This is super helpful in times of acute stress.
I prefer the daily supplement for more long-term stress, in addition to single adaptogens.
Stress Manager Tincture by Herb Pharm (contains Eleuthero and Rhodiola so it may be stimulating)
Designs for Health Adrenal Complex (note: not a vegetarian product)
I find the best supplement deals at Thrive Market or Whole Foods on sale with Amazon Prime (extra 10% off). Amazon can also be a good source. Get 25% off your first order at Thrive Market using this link: http://thrv.me/HMLcommunity
As always: these are all suggestions, no prescriptions. If you have specific questions about whether or not they will work for you beyond what I share here (you can ask me questions and I will be honest and direct you if I don't know the answer), please contact your healthcare practitioner before trying!