April is stress awareness month and so I thought it would be a good moment to draw some attention to some of my favourite supplements for helping my clients to manage stress.
Stress is often a trigger and a driver for chronic illness and let’s face it we could all do with a little extra sleep, more energy and a buffer against the stress that life throws at us. Good news, there is a group of plants that can help with exactly this and much more. Adaptogens have gained popularity in recent years and for good reason, as the name suggests, they can help you to ‘adapt’ and thrive despite life’s inevitable ups and downs. Busy modern lives demand a lot from you physically, mentally and emotionally and adaptogens can help to ease the burden and combat the side effects of stress.
What are Adaptogens?
An ‘adaptogen’ is the name used for certain herbs and medicinal mushrooms which possess unique properties that help combat the effects of stress. When you face stressors such as a busy workday, a hectic schedule or even intense physical exercise, they can be used to help the body recover and become more resilient.
Adaptogens have been prized in traditional medicinal practices such as Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda for many years for their calming and restorative effects as well as much more wide-ranging benefits from boosting mental clarity to improving sleep.
Some examples of adaptogens include ashwagandha, ginseng, maca, rhodiola, tulsi and turmeric as well as medicinal mushrooms such as reishi and chaga.
How do Adaptogens work?
Adaptogens have a broad, non-specific effect and work on multiple body systems at once. They can bring the body back into harmony by working to raise what is low and reduce what is high. In technical terms they help to control the release of stress hormones from the adrenal glands which is important in times of acute and chronic stress. They also work to nourish the body’s immune system to offer support during times of stress and infection. Although adaptogens are potent medicinal agents, they are non-toxic and thought to be safe for long term use.
Each adaptogen has its own unique set of properties and benefits, which means you can choose what’s best for your current needs by working with a trained healthcare practitioner such as a Nutritionist or Herbalist.
What can Adaptogens help with?
Adaptogens are great all-rounders because they work both for prevention and protection of the side effects of stress on the body. Although adaptogens are renowned for their ability to combat the effects of stress, they have many other researched applications including:
- Reducing tiredness & fatigue
- Supporting hormonal balance
- Increasing mental and physical stamina
- Supporting immune function
- Stabilising mood
- Reducing anxiety and depression
- Supporting quality sleep
- Reducing levels of inflammation
- As a source of antioxidants
- Regulating blood sugar levels
- Improving concentration
- Enhancing mental performance
Who are Adaptogens suitable for?
Adaptogens can be a great addition to your routine, especially if you’re looking for more support with a busy and stressful lifestyle. Tell-tale signs that you could benefit from adding an adaptogen into your routine might include insomnia, irritability, brain fog, anxiety and fatigue.
Adaptogens are thought to be safe to use for most people, but always check with a healthcare provider before taking any new supplements.
*IMPORTANT NOTE Adaptogens can interact with certain medications so check with your healthcare provider before using them.
How can I take Adaptogens?
Adaptogens comes in many forms including:
- In drinks such as teas, mushrooms coffees and latte mixes
The dose you need to take depends on several factors including which adaptogen you are taking and which purpose you are using it for. As a general guideline you can refer to the directions on the package of the product and consult your practitioner.
Examples of Adaptogens
Adaptogens can either be used individually or prepared in synergistic blends. The research on specific adaptogens is an emerging field, but their benefits have a long history of use in ancient medicines. They have such a broad, non-specific effect that some actions may sound contradictory, for example ‘boosting energy and calming’, but this is part of the way they work. They can work on several bodily systems at a time addressing any imbalances.
Here are some examples of individual adaptogens, their uses and benefits as well as ideas on how to add them to your day.
Ashwagandha (Withania Somnifera)
Ashwagandha is a great overall adaptogen for stress, anxiety, burnout and fatigue. It was traditionally used in Indian Ayurvedic medicine as a tonic to aid overall wellbeing. It is particularly good for reducing fatigue, balancing cortisol, rebuilding strength and encouraging a more restful sleep. It works by strengthening the nervous system which boosts resilience against stress and nourishing the endocrine system, ensuring that metabolism, hormones and sleep stay in balance.
Benefits include improving resistance towards stress, reducing the stress hormone cortisol, decreasing anxiety, reducing high blood sugar and high cholesterol, relieving insomnia, supporting thyroid health, enhancing immune health, reducing inflammation, and boosting mental performance and memory.
How to take it: ashwagandha comes as a powder which can be added to food and drink or it can be taken in capsule form or as a tincture. Look for a full spectrum extract like KSM-66.
Dosage: the dose you take depends on many factors, but it is recommended to take 200-500mg a day for general support. Take for at least three months to see a difference.
*NOTE ashwagandha is part of the nightshade family and therefore may not be suitable for those with sensitivity to this family of plants
Maca (Lepidium meyenii)
Maca is a traditional Peruvian food rich in vitamins and important minerals like iron and zinc. It’s also used medicinally for energy levels, stamina, hormonal balance and libido.
Benefits include hormone balancing, improving energy levels, improving physical stamina, increasing libido, improving fertility, easing menopausal symptoms, enhancing mood, and improving memory and concentration.
How to take: maca is best consumed in the gelatinized form which is when the starch has been broken so the nutrients and benefits are able to be digested and utilised. It comes as a powder which can be added to food and drink or it can be taken in capsule form.
Dosage: follow your practitioner’s recommendations and consult the package, but it’s generally considered safe to dose up to 3g a day.
Reishi (Ganoderma Lucidum)
Reishi is a type of medicinal mushroom with a history of traditional use in Asia. It is rich in several health-giving compounds and boasts a range of benefits. It’s most renowned for its immune and sleep supporting properties.
Benefits include supporting immune health, improving sleep latency and duration, balancing blood sugar, anti-ageing, anti-inflammatory, protecting brain health, and supporting cardiovascular health.
How to take: reishi can be taken as a powder, in a capsule, as a tincture or in a coffee mix.
Dosage: this varies greatly depending on which form you are taking the supplement in. Follow the guidelines on the bottle.
Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea)
Rhodiola is a herb also known as Arctic Root that has been traditionally used in Russia and Northern Europe for anxiety and low energy.
Benefits include reducing anxiety, increasing energy, improving endurance and stamina, protecting brain health, enhancing mental acuity, and improving symptoms of depression.
How to take: Rhodiola comes in powder or capsule form.
Dosage: 400-600mg per day or as directed by your practitioner.
Tulsi (Ocinum Sanctum)
Tulsi, also known as Holy Basil, is a herb native to Asia with history of use for disease prevention, and resilience against stress and easing anxiety.
Benefits include coping with stress, easing anxiety, improving mood, reducing blood sugar levels, normalising blood pressure and cholesterol, and as a potent antioxidant protecting cells from damage
How to take: As a tincture, tea or in capsules.
Dosage: follow directions on the supplement packaging and from your practitioner, anywhere from 300mg-1g a day can be used depending on needs. Tea can be used 2-3 times a day.
Brands to look for:
- Wild Nutrition
- Wunder Workshop
- Fushi Wellbeing
- Hifas Da Terra
Ready to reap the benefits of using adaptogens? There’s a lot to take into consideration when choosing which adaptogen is right for you. It’s best to seek guidance from a trained healthcare practitioner to choose the best ones for your needs so that you can get the most benefits.