Adaptogens are herbs and fungi that help the body deal with stress. They don’t stimulate or subdue you, instead, they strengthen your resilience to stress and promote a state of balance in the body’s systems. They help you ‘adapt’ to what life throws at you.
The world that we live in is highly stressful. On a daily basis, we encounter physical, emotional and environmental stressors, all of which add up and place a huge strain on the body. An overflowing inbox, an argument with a friend, outstanding bills, pollution, food intolerances, a heavy gym session – these all contribute to our stress load, and it is a lot for the body to cope with. Over time it can even lead to burnout. Adaptogens can increase our ability to cope with and react to stress, strengthening the body rather than acting as a crutch.
There are many different adaptogens, each with different, unique health-boosting properties. To qualify as an adaptogen, the herb or fungi must help the body adapt to stress without causing harm. Because of this, they are generally safe for most people to consume. However, not all herbs/supplements are suitable for all people at all times, so please consult your practitioner before starting a new supplement, particularly while pregnant or taking prescription medications. If you are taking adaptogens, it’s recommended to take them consistently for several weeks to fully experience their benefits and to pause or switch them up every few months to prevent adverse effects.
Following are my top 7 adaptogens and how I use them:
Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic herb, used in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years. It is known for its ability to reduce stress and anxiety by lowering cortisol levels, the hormone released by our bodies in response to stress. In addition to its stress-reducing properties, ashwagandha has been shown to improve sleep quality, reduce inflammation and enhance immunity. Ashwagandha can be taken in capsule form or is frequently found as part of stress-supporting supplement blends. I find it an excellent option if you’re looking for support with both stress and sleep.
Rhodiola rosea is an adaptogenic root that grows in mountainous Europe and Asia. Used for centuries in traditional medicine to improve resilience to stress, it works by regulating cortisol levels in the body. Studies have shown that taking Rhodiola supplements can help to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, which often come with increased stress levels. It also supports mood, can improve mental performance and reduce fatigue. It particularly well suited to those in high-performing jobs or who desire improved mental acuity and alertness alongside stress support.
Reishi is a medicinal mushroom, also called the queen of mushrooms, due to its abundance of health benefits and ties to longevity. As a powerful adaptogen, it improves our resilience, making stress feel more manageable and preventing exhaustion or burnout. It has a soothing effect on the nervous system, stimulating the brain to produce the calming neurotransmitters GABA and serotonin, and studies have shown it to both improve sleep quality and alleviate symptoms of anxiety. It can also help to balance hormones, which are known to have a direct impact on mood. DIRTEA’s Reishi extract powder is particularly effective due to its cultivation and extraction methods. It is my adaptogen of choice for help with anxiety and sleep difficulties. You can add 1 teaspoon to your morning coffee or smoothie for stress support throughout the day, or take it before bedtime to promote deeper, restorative sleep.
Lion’s mane is another medicinal mushroom with incredible benefits on the nervous system. While helping to reduce stress levels, it can boost mental performance, memory and focus. It can also balance mood, reduce inflammation and supports healthy digestion by nourishing the gut microbiome. Research suggests it may also be protective against dementia and supportive of those with Lyme disease, given its ability to stimulate the growth and repair of nerve cells. There is also some indication that it could be useful for symptoms associated with ADHD. I have a mug of naturally caffeine-free DIRTEA’s Lion’s Mane extract powder each morning to improve my clarity of mind, to support brain longevity and digestion.
Cordyceps, yet another medicinal mushroom, provides a natural, caffeine-free energy boost without the crash that we associate with other stimulants. Alongside its stress-relieving properties, it supports the body’s energy systems, oxygen delivery and respiratory health. It’s a popular pre-workout as it can enhance endurance, athletic performance and recovery. It supports the respiratory system, with studies showing it may be beneficial for those with asthma. It can also boost libido, help fight fatigue, and is full of antioxidants that lower inflammation and offer protection against the effects of ageing. DIRTEA’s Cordyceps extract powder is best used as part of your morning routine or pre-workout for a natural boost.
Panax or Asian Ginseng is used in traditional Chinese medicine for its powerful and diverse medicinal properties. Its name comes from a word meaning “cure-all”. Alongside improving stress resilience, this adaptogen provides a natural, caffeine-free energy boost and an increase in mental alertness. Studies show it can also improve memory and brain function, help control blood sugar, strengthen the immune system and improve blood circulation. Other types of ginseng include American and Siberian, which are also adaptogens with other, unique, health-giving properties. Ginseng and cordyceps are the adaptogens I turn to for improving energy levels.
Maca is a root found in the Andes mountains that has been used for centuries to improve energy, endurance and vitality. As an adaptogen, maca helps the body adapt to stress and maintain a state of balance. It has been found to reduce anxiety and depression, and enhance both cognitive and athletic performance. Studies also demonstrate its effects on hormone function and balance, including benefits on menopausal symptoms, PMS, libido and male fertility. Maca is the adaptogen I turn to for hormonal support.
words by Clarissa Berry, Nutritionist for DIRTEA, a unique range of powders and Super Blends which harness the healing powers of functional mushrooms, adaptogens and ayurvedic herbs to naturally enhance your wellbeing.
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